David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TROILUS AND CRESSIDA: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scene 2

— 5.2 —

Diomedes walked over in front of Calchas’ tent and called, “Are you still up? Speak to me.”

From inside the tent, Calchas replied, “Who is calling?”

“I am Diomedes. You are Calchas, I think. Where’s your daughter?”

From within the tent, Calchas said, “She will come out to you.”

Troilus and Ulysses arrived, but they stayed out of sight of Diomedes. Thersites followed them, and he stayed out of sight of Diomedes as well as of Troilus and Ulysses.

Ulysses whispered to Troilus, “Stand where the torch will not reveal our presence.”

Cressida came out of the tent.

Troilus said quietly, “Cressida comes forth to Diomedes.”

“Hello, my charge!” Diomedes said to Cressida.

“Hello, my sweet guardian!” Cressida replied.

Diomedes had been given the task of taking Cressida out of Troy, and so for that period of time, at least, he had been her guardian and she had been his charge or responsibility.

Cressida said to Diomedes, “Listen, I want to have a word with you.”

She whispered to him.

“They are so familiar with each other!” Troilus said.

“She will sing with any man at first sight,” Ulysses replied.

He meant that Cressida would make advances to any man she saw. He also meant that she could look at a man and “read” him as if she were playing music at first sight, or sight-reading the music.

Thersites, who could hear what Troilus and Ulysses were saying, said to himself, “And any man may make music with her, if he can take her clef; she’s noted.”

The word “clef” referred to a musical note, but Thersites was punning on “cleft” — Cressida’s vulva was cleft. By “noted,” Thersites meant “notorious.”

Diomedes said to Cressida, “Will you remember?”

“Remember?” Cressida replied. “Yes.”

“Do it, and not just remember it,” Diomedes said. “Let your mind be coupled with your words.”

“What should she remember?” Troilus asked quietly.

“Listen,” Ulysses replied.

“Sweet honey Greek, tempt me no more to sin,” Cressida said.

“This is roguery!” Thersites said to himself.

“No, then —” Diomedes said.

“I’ll tell you what —” Cressida began.

Diomedes interrupted, “Tell me nothing. You have forsworn yourself. You said that you would do it, but you won’t do it.”

“Truly, I cannot,” Cressida said. “What then would you have me do?”

Thersites said to himself, “A juggling trick — to be secretly open.”

Thersites understood Diomedes and Cressida to be talking about sex. The juggling trick would be for Cressida to pretend to be chaste in public while having an affair with Diomedes in private — Cressida would open her private parts for Diomedes secretly and in private.

Diomedes asked Cressida, “What did you swear you would bestow on me?”

“Please, do not hold me to my oath,” Cressida said. “Bid me do anything but that, sweet Greek.”

“Good night,” Diomedes said curtly.

Troilus said, “Stop! Patience!”

Troilus was praying for calmness when he said, “Patience!”

“What is wrong, Trojan?” Ulysses asked Troilus.

“Diomedes —” Cressida began.

“No, no, good night,” Diomedes replied. “I’ll be your dupe no more.”

Troilus said, “A better man than you will be her dupe.”

Troilus was referring to himself.

“Listen,” Cressida said. “Let me say one word in your ear.”

“Oh, plague and madness!” Troilus said.

“You are angry, Prince,” Ulysses said. “Let us depart, I beg you, lest your displeasure should grow and make you act in anger. This place is dangerous for you; the time is very deadly for you. I beg you, go now.”

“Let’s stay and watch, I beg you!” Troilus said.

“No, my good lord, leave now,” Ulysses said. “Your anger is reaching high tide; come with me, my lord.”

“Please, let’s stay here awhile.”

“You are not calm enough to stay. Come with me.”

“Please, let’s stay here,” Troilus said. “I promise by Hell and all Hell’s torments that I will not speak a word!”

“And so, good night,” Diomedes said.

Cressida replied, “But you are departing in anger.”

“Does that grieve you?” Troilus said. “Oh, withered truth and faithfulness!”

“How are you now?” Ulysses asked.

“By Jove, I will be calm and patient,” Troilus said.

Diomedes turned to leave, and Cressida said to him, “Guardian — why, Greek!”

“Bah!” Diomedes said. “Goodbye. You are jerking me around.”

“Truly, I am not,” Cressida replied. “Come here once again.”

Ulysses said to Troilus, “You are shaking, my lord, at something. Will you go now? You will break out in an angry fit.”

Troilus said, “Cressida is stroking Diomedes’ cheek!”

“Come, come,” Ulysses said.

“No, let’s stay,” Troilus said. “By Jove, I will not speak a word. There is between my will and all offences against me a guard of calmness and patience. Stay a little while longer.”

“How the Devil named Lechery, with his fat rump and potato-finger, tickles these together!” Thersites said. “Fry, lechery, fry!”

In this culture, potatoes were regarded as aphrodisiacs. The kind of tickling that Thersites was referring to is a sexual tickling, and a kind of sexual tickling was going on between Cressida and Diomedes. As for frying, the sexual tickling was heated and burning, sexual tickling can lead to the burning sensation of venereal disease, and mortals who die without sincerely repenting the sin of lechery end up burning in Hell.

“But will you, then?” Diomedes asked.

“Truly, I will,” Cressida replied. “Never trust me again if I don’t keep my word.”

“Give me some token as a guarantee that you will keep your word,” Diomedes requested.

“I’ll fetch you a token,” Cressida said.

She exited.

Ulysses said to Troilus, “You have sworn to be calm.”

“Don’t worry about me, sweet lord,” Troilus said. “I will not be myself, nor will I allow myself to have knowledge of what I feel. I am all patience and nothing but calm.”

Cressida returned, carrying the sleeve that Troilus had earlier given to her as a love token.

Thersites said, “Now the pledge that she will keep her word! Now! Now! Now!”

“Here, Diomedes, keep this sleeve,” Cressida said as she handed him the sleeve.

“Oh, Beauty!” Troilus said. “Where is your faith? Where is your loyalty to me?”

“My lord —” Ulysses began.

“I will be calm,” Troilus said. “Outwardly I will.”

“Look upon that sleeve; behold it well,” Cressida said, “He loved me — oh, I am a false wench! — give it back to me.”

“Whose was it?” Diomedes asked.

He knew it must have belonged to Troilus, but he wanted her to say it.

“It doesn’t matter, now that I have it again,” Cressida said, holding the sleeve she had snatched back from Diomedes. “I will not meet with you tomorrow night. Please, Diomedes, visit me no more.”

“Now she sharpens,” Thersites said. “Well said, whetstone!”

Thersites thought that Cressida was playing hard to get. By doing so, she was sharpening Diomedes’ desire for her.

“I shall have it,” Diomedes said.

“What, this sleeve?” Cressida asked.

“Yes, that.”

“Oh, all you gods!” Cressida said. “Oh, pretty, pretty pledge! Your master is now lying in his bed and thinking of you and me, and he sighs, and he takes my glove that I gave to him, and he gives it dainty kisses as he remembers me, just as I kiss the sleeve he gave to me.”

Diomedes snatched the sleeve away from her.

She said, “No, do not snatch it from me. He who takes that takes my heart with it.”

“I had your heart before,” Diomedes said. “This follows it.”

Troilus said to himself, “I swore to be calm and patient.”

“You shall not have it, Diomedes; indeed, you shall not,” Cressida said. “I’ll give you something else.”

“I will have this sleeve,” Diomedes said. “Whose was it?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Come, tell me whose it was.”

“It belonged to one who loved me better than you will,” Cressida said. “But, now you have it, take it.”

“Whose was it?” Diomedes asked again.

“By all Diana’s waiting-women yonder, and by herself, I will not tell you whose.”

Diana was the Moon-goddess, and her waiting women were the stars near the Moon. Diana was a virgin goddess.

Diomedes replied, “Tomorrow I will display this sleeve on my helmet, and it will grieve the spirit of a man who dares not challenge it.”

Troilus said to himself, “If you were the Devil himself, and you wore it on your horn, it would be challenged.”

“Well, well, it is done, it is past,” Cressida said, “and yet it is not; I will not keep my word.”

“Why, then, farewell,” Diomedes said. “You shall never mock Diomedes again.”

“You shall not go,” Cressida replied. “One cannot speak a word without it immediately disturbing you.”

“I do not like this fooling,” Diomedes said.

Thersites said to himself, “Nor I, by Pluto, but whatever you don’t like pleases me best.”

“Shall I come and visit you?” Diomedes asked. “At what time?”

“Yes, come — oh, Jove! — do come — I shall be plagued,” Cressida said.

“Farewell until then.”

“Good night,” Cressida said. “Please, come.”

Diomedes exited.

“Troilus, farewell!” Cressida said to herself. “One eye still looks on you, but my other eye sees with my heart. Ah, we poor women! I find that this fault is in us: The error — the straying — of our eye directs our mind. What error leads must err. Oh, then conclude that minds swayed by eyes are full of turpitude and wickedness.”

Cressida went back into her father’s tent.

Thersites said to himself, “A stronger proof of what she is she could not make clearer unless she said, ‘My mind is now turned whore.’”

“All’s done, my lord,” Ulysses said to Troilus. “There’s nothing more to see.”

“You are right,” Troilus said.

“Why are we staying here, then?”

“To make a record in my soul of every syllable that here was spoken,” Troilus replied. “But if I tell how these two carried on together, shall I not lie in publishing a truth? I still have a belief in my heart, a hope so obstinately strong that it inverts the testimony of my eyes and ears, as if those organs had deceptive functions that were created only to defame and slander. Was Cressida here?”

“I am not a magician,” Ulysses replied. “I cannot conjure her spirit and make it appear, Trojan.”

“Cressida was not here, I am sure.”

“Most surely and definitely Cressida was here,” Ulysses replied.

“Why, my negation of your assertion has no taste of madness,” Troilus said.

“Nor does my assertion have a taste of madness, my lord,” Ulysses said. “Cressida was here just now.”

“Let it not be believed for the sake of womanhood!” Troilus said. “Remember, we had mothers; do not give advantage to stubborn critics and satirists who are apt, without a credible reason for believing in female depravity, to judge the female sex in general by Cressida’s example. It is much better to think that this woman we just saw is not Cressida.”

“What has she done, Prince, that can soil our mothers?” Ulysses asked.

“Nothing at all, unless this woman we saw just now were in fact Cressida,” Troilus replied.

Thersites said to himself, “Will he force himself not to believe his own eyes?”

“Is this woman my Cressida?” Troilus asked. “No, this is Diomedes’ Cressida. If beauty has a soul, this is not my Cressida. If souls guide vows, if vows be sanctimonious, if sanctimony be the gods’ delight, if there be rule in unity itself and if one thing can be only one thing, then this is not my Cressida.

“Oh, what a mad argument — it gives reasons for and against itself! This argument has twofold authority! In it reason can revolt against itself without perdition, and madness — the loss of reason — can assume all reason without revolt. In this argument reason can contradict itself without being insane, and insanity can be rational without contradicting itself.

“The conclusion of this argument is that this woman we saw just now is, and is not, Cressida.

“Carrying on within my soul is a fight of this strange nature — a thing that is inseparable divides much wider than the sky and Earth, and yet the spacious breadth of this division admits no opening for a point through which it can enter Ariachne’s broken threads.”

Troilus was trying to understand the two Cressidas: the Cressida who had been attracted to him and whom he loved and the Cressida who was attracted to Diomedes and who had surrendered to Diomedes. The two Cressidas shared the same body and yet they seemed to be as far from each other as the sky is to the Earth.

The dual nature of the two Cressidas appeared in the dual nature of Ariachne, a name that combined the names of Arachne and Ariadne.

Arachne was a mortal woman who was skilled at weaving and who challenged the goddess Minerva to a weaving contest. The gods punish such mortal pride. Minerva tore the weaving that Arachne had created, and then Minerva turned Arachne into a spider.

Ariadne fell in love with Theseus, who had come to Crete to rid the island of the monstrous half-man, half-bull Minotaur, which lived in a maze and feasted on the flesh of the youths and maidens whom Athens sent each year to Crete as tribute. Ariadne gave Theseus a spool of thread that he could unwind in the maze and so find his way out after killing the Minotaur. Theseus and Ariadne left Crete together after he killed the Minotaur, but Theseus was soon unfaithful to her.

Troilus continued, “Here is an excellent piece of evidence — it is as strong as the gates that lead to the god Pluto’s realm: Hell! Cressida is mine, tied with the bonds of Heaven.

“Here is another excellent piece of evidence — it is as strong as Heaven itself. The bonds of Heaven are slipped, dissolved, and loosed, and with another knot, five-finger-tied as she holds hands with Diomedes, the fractions of her faith, the tiny bits of her love, and the fragments and scraps, the bits and greasy relics of her over-eaten and finished faith — the faith that she had given to me — are now bound to Diomedes.”

“Is worthy Troilus even half as seized with great emotion as he appears be?” Ulysses asked, drily.

“Yes, Greek,” an upset Troilus replied, “and that shall be divulged well in symbolic wounds written in blood as red as Mars’ heart when it was inflamed with sexual passion for Venus. Never has a young man loved with as eternal and as constant a soul as I have loved.

“Listen, Greek. As much as I love Cressida, by that much I hate her Diomedes. That sleeve is mine that he’ll bear on his helmet. Even if the skill of the blacksmith-god Vulcan created that helmet, my sword will bite into it. Not even the dreadful hurricane-caused waterspout that sailors call the hurricano, gathered together in mass as it rises high and approaches the almighty Sun, shall dizzy with more clamor the ears of the sea-god Neptune as the waterspout falls back into the sea than shall my eager sword as it falls on Diomedes.”

Thersites said to himself, “He’ll tickle it for his concupy.”

“Concupy” was a word combining the meanings of “concubine” and “concupiscence,” or lust. Thersites meant that Troilus would rain blows on Diomedes’ helmet to get revenge for taking Troilus’ concubine — concupiscence, aka lust, both Troilus’ and Diomedes’, for Cressida would make Troilus do this.

Troilus said, “Oh, Cressida! Oh, false Cressida! False, false, false! Unfaithful, unfaithful, unfaithful! Let all untruths stand by your stained name, and they’ll seem glorious by comparison.”

“Oh, control yourself,” Ulysses said to Troilus. “Your passionate outburst draws ears hither.”

Aeneas walked over to Troilus and said, “I have been seeking you for the past hour, my lord. Hector, by this time, is arming himself in Troy. Ajax, your guard, is waiting to conduct you home.”

“I’m coming, Prince,” Troilus replied to Aeneas.

He then said to Ulysses, “My courteous lord, farewell.”

He looked at the tent where Cressida was staying and said, “Farewell, faithless but fair woman! And, Diomedes, prepare yourself, and wear a castle on your head!”

Troilus felt that Diomedes would need strong protection for his head in this day’s battle.

“I’ll take you to the gates,” Ulysses said.

“Accept my agitated thanks,” Troilus said.

Troilus, Aeneas, and Ulysses exited.

Alone, Thersites said to himself, “I wish I could meet that rogue Diomedes! I would croak like a raven, that bird of omens; I would bode, I would bode. I would be an omen, I would prophesy.

“Patroclus will give me anything for information about this whore. A parrot will not do more for an almond than he will for a commodious drab — an accommodating whore.

“Lechery, lechery; always, there are wars and lechery; nothing else is fashionable. May a burning Devil take people who engage in wars and lechery! Let them burn with lust and combativeness and then burn with venereal disease and wounds and finally burn in Hell!”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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