David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TROILUS AND CRESSIDA: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scene 1

— 5.1 —

Achilles and Patroclus talked together in front of Achilles’ tent.

Achilles said about Hector, “I’ll heat his blood with Greek wine tonight, and tomorrow with my curved sword I’ll cool his blood by making it spurt from his body. Patroclus, let us feast him to the uttermost tonight.”

“Here comes Thersites,” Patroclus replied.

Thersites walked over to the two men.

“Hello, now, you core of envy!” Achilles said. “You crusty botch of nature, what’s the news?”

Achilles was insulting Thersites by calling him a boil — a botch — that had crusted over. The core was the center of the boil.

“Why, you picture of what you seem to be, and idol of idiot worshippers, here’s a letter for you,” Thersites said.

Thersites had in return insulted Achilles by saying that Achilles had no substance. To Thersites, Achilles was all picture — all appearance — with nothing underneath.

“A letter from where, fragment?” Achilles asked.

A fragment was a small piece of food.

“Why, you full dish of fool, from Troy,” Thersites replied.

“Who keeps the tent now?” Patroclus asked.

Previously, Achilles had kept to his tent and stayed close to it or in it, but now things seemed to be in motion for him to go to the battlefield in the morning and fight Hector. Now, Thersites kept — cleaned — the tent.

Deliberately misunderstanding the word “tent” to mean a surgeon’s probe for wounds, Thersites replied, “The surgeon’s box, or the patient’s wound.”

“Well said, Adversity!” Patroclus said. “And what is the need for you to use these tricks of wordplay?”

“Please, be silent, boy,” Thersites said. “I do not profit by your talk. You are thought to be Achilles’ male varlet.”

More insults: “boy” and “male varlet.”

“Male varlet, you rogue!” Patroclus said. “What’s that?”

“Why, you are Achilles’ masculine whore,” Thersites said. “Now, may the rotten venereal diseases of the south, guts-griping hernias, colds and phlegm-producing illnesses, loads of kidney stones, unnatural drowsiness, cold paralysis of the limbs, sore eyes, dirt-rotten livers, wheezing lungs, bladders full of internal abscesses, sciaticas, psoriasis in the palm, incurable bone-ache, and wrinkle-causing chronic skin lesions take and take again — attack repeatedly — suchabsurd monstrosities as you!”

“Why, you damnable box of envy, thou, what do you mean by cursing like this?” Patroclus asked.

“Am I cursing you?” Thersites asked.

Patroclus was unwilling to admit that he was the target of these insults, so he replied, “Why, no, you ruinous butt, you bastard misshapen cur, no.”

“No! Why are you then exasperated, you idle flimsy skein of silk thread, you green thin-silk flap for a sore eye, you tassel of a prodigal’s purse, thou? Ah, how the poor world is pestered with such waterflies — mosquitoes, diminutives of nature!”

Thersites was gifted at invective. These insults compared Patroclus to flimsy decorations. A tassel is a hanging decoration, and a purse is a bag in which such things as precious stones can be carried. Thersites was calling Patroclus a penis and scrotum. But since the penis and scrotum belonged to a pauper, the penis was spent — limp — and the purse was empty.

“Get out, gall!” Patroclus shouted at Thersites.

“Finch-egg!” Thersites shouted at Patroclus.

Patroclus was much smaller than Achilles, and so many of Thersites’ insults referred to Patroclus’ diminutive stature. A finch and its egg are both small.

Achilles, who had been reading the letter he had received from Troy, interrupted the quarrel by saying, “My sweet Patroclus, I am thwarted entirely in my great plan to fight Hector in tomorrow’s battle. Here is a letter from Queen Hecuba and a love token from Polyxena, her daughter, my fair love. Both Queen Hecuba and Polyxena are badgering me and requiring me to keep an oath that I have sworn. I will not break my oath. Let the Greeks fall in battle; let my reputation vanish, let my honor either go or stay — my major vow lies here, and this vow I’ll obey.”

Achilles had vowed not to fight the Trojans and to try to bring the Trojan War to a peaceful end because he had fallen in love with Polyxena.

Achilles then said, “Come, come, Thersites, help to straighten up my tent. This night in banqueting must all be spent. Let’s go, Patroclus!”

Achilles and Patroclus exited.

Alone, Thersites said to himself, “With too much anger and too little brain, these two may run mad; but if they run mad with too much brain and too little anger, then I’ll be a curer of madmen.

“Here’s Agamemnon, an honest fellow enough and one who loves quails.”

The word “quails” was used as slang for “prostitutes,” as well as referring to the game birds.

Thersites continued, “But Agamemnon has not as much brain as he has earwax, and just consider the goodly transformation of Jupiter there, his brother, the bull — the primitive statue and oblique memorial of cuckolds.”

Jupiter had transformed himself into a bull so that he could run away with the beautiful mortal woman Europa. Menelaus was similar to Jupiter’s transformation because bulls have horns and Menelaus had the horns of a cuckold. However, Jupiter’s transformation into a bull is only an “oblique memorial of cuckolds” because Jupiter was not a cuckold although he was wearing horns.

Thersites continued, “Menelaus is a thrifty shoeing-horn in a chain, hanging at his brother’s leg.”

Thersites was comparing Menelaus to a shoehorn, a curved tool used to help ease one’s heel into a shoe. Menelaus’ brother, Agamemnon, used Menelaus as a thrifty tool and so kept him nearby.

Consider this. Why would the Greeks and Trojans spend years fighting over Helen? Many warriors lost their lives, many Greek husbands were separated from their wives and children for years, and for many years, two groups of people were unable to do anything constructive such as build cities, raise herding animals, or grow crops. Thersites knew that Helen wasn’t worth all this death, despair, and destruction, and therefore Agamemnon must be using Menelaus’ cuckoldry as an excuse for attacking Troy in order to sack and take its treasures as the spoils of war.

In addition, Menelaus was like a tool hanging from Agamemnon’s belt — he was a hanger-on.

Thersites continued, “Into what form should I transform Menelaus, other than what he is, if my wit could be intermingled with my malice and my malice stuffed with my wit? To transform Menelaus into an ass would be to do nothing; he is both ass and ox. He is a fool, and he is a horned cuckold. To transform him into an ox would be to do nothing; he is both ox and ass.

“How about if I were transformed? If I were to be a dog, a mule, a cat, a polecat, a toad, a lizard, an owl, a greedy puttock such as a hawk or kite, or a herring without a roe, I would not care; but if I were to be Menelaus, I would conspire against my destiny and resist it every way I could.

“Don’t ask me what I would be if I were not Thersites, for I would not care if I were a louse on a leper, as long as I were not Menelaus!”

He saw some torches and said, “Hey-day! Spirits and fires!”

The torches were lighting the way of Hector, Troilus, Ajax, Agamemnon, Ulysses, Nestor, Menelaus, and Diomedes.

Some of the Greeks had had too much to drink, and they were lost in their own camp.

Agamemnon said, “We are going the wrong way. We are going the wrong way.”

“No, yonder Achilles’ tent is,” Ajax said. “There, where we see the lights.”

“I am a trouble to you,” Hector said.

“No, not a whit,” Ajax replied.

“Here comes Achilles himself to guide you,” Ulysses said.

Achilles walked over to the group and said, “Welcome, brave Hector; welcome, all you Princes.”

“So now, fair Prince of Troy,” Agamemnon said to Hector, “I bid you good night. Ajax commands the guards who will see that you return safely to Troy.”

“Thanks and good night to the Greeks’ general,” Hector said to Agamemnon.

“Good night, my lord,” Menelaus said to Hector.

“Good night, sweet lord Menelaus,” Hector replied.

“Sweet draught,” Thersites said to himself. “‘Sweet’ says he! Sweet sink, sweet sewer.”

The words “draught,” “sink,” and “sewer” all referred to cesspools and waste pits. Such was Thersites’ opinion of Menelaus.

“Good night and welcome, both at once, to those who go or tarry,” Achilles said.

“Good night,” Agamemnon replied.

Agamemnon and Menelaus exited.

Achilles said, “Old Nestor tarries and stays here; and you also, Diomedes, should keep Hector company for an hour or two.”

“I cannot, lord,” Diomedes replied. “I have important business that I must attend to now.”

He then said, “Good night, great Hector.”

“Give me your hand,” Hector said.

They shook hands.

Ulysses said quietly to Troilus, “Follow Diomedes’ torch; he is going to Calchas’ tent. I’ll go with you and keep you company.”

“Sweet sir, you honor me,” Troilus said quietly to Ulysses.

“And so, good night,” Hector said to Diomedes.

Diomedes exited. Ulysses and Troilus followed him.

Achilles said to his guests, “Come, come, enter my tent.”

Achilles, Hector, Ajax, and Nestor entered Achilles’ tent.

Alone, Thersites said to himself, “That same Diomedes is a false-hearted rogue, a most unjust scoundrel. I will no more trust him when he leers than I will trust a serpent when it hisses. Diomedes will open his mouth and make promises, exactly like Brabbler the hound that brays although it has no scent. But when Diomedes actually delivers on a promise, astronomers foretell it; it is a rare and unusual portent, and there will occur some major change in the world — the Sun borrows light from the Moon when Diomedes keeps his word.”

Is Thersites always accurate in his assessment of other people? Doesn’t Diomedes at least usually actually do what he says he will do?

Thersites continued, “I prefer to not see Hector than to not dog and follow Diomedes: They say that Diomedes keeps a Trojan whore, and uses the traitor Calchas’ tent. I’ll follow Diomedes. Nothing but lust and lechery! They are all unchaste varlets who cannot control their sexual urges!”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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