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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: February ::
Re: Cressida
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0452  Monday, 26 February 2001

From:           Ann Carrigan <
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 >
Date:           Saturday, 24 Feb 2001 13:41:44 EST
Subject:        Cressida

I do hope I haven't waited too long to ring in on the "Cressida
question."

Robert Peters <
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 > originally asked, "Are Ulysses
and Thersites right: Is Cressida a whore?"

I read all the responses with interest.  So many good points were made
and I noted some resources I've not read.  I find the Troilus-Cressida
relationship as fascinating as any other in the canon, and the play
itself  seems to be so enigmatic, as Mary Jane Miller pointed out in her
list of  "defenses"
students may choose: ("Cresssida is a victim "/ "Cressida is a
whore"/"Cressida is a survivor"/ "This is a play primarily about Love."/
"This is a play focussed on politics and War." / "This is a satire." /
"This is a tragedy." / "the genre depends on the section or scene" /
"Thersites is right about
Troilus, about Cressida, about all of the other characters - and the
war.")

I happen to have mentioned my interest in T&C in a separate Email
dialogue just before the Cressida thread started here.  I think the
Troilus/Cressida situation is as "he said/she said" as any in the canon,
and set out to explain why I see Cressida as having already had her
faith "in Troy and Troilus" shattered before she takes on Diomedes. I
hope no one minds that I pass along what I wrote. I'd like the feedback.
However, I'll understand if Hardy Cook thinks it's just plain too long
for SHAKSPER!

***************
I'm inspired to focus on T and C's pledges of "truth" in III.ii. for
starters. Note that neither of them really defines what their "truth" is
-- such as, I'll never leave you, or I'll never sleep with another.

TROILUS. I am as true as truth's simplicity,
  And simpler than the infancy of truth.
CRESSIDA. In that I'll war with you.
TROILUS. O virtuous fight,
  When right with right wars who shall be most right!
  True swains in love shall in the world to come
  Approve their truth by Troilus, when their rhymes,
  Full of protest, of oath, and big compare,
  Want similes, truth tir'd with iteration-
  As true as steel, as plantage to the moon,
  As sun to day, as turtle to her mate,
  As iron to adamant, as earth to th' centre-
  Yet, after all comparisons of truth,
  As truth's authentic author to be cited,
  'As true as Troilus' shall crown up the verse
  And sanctify the numbers.
CRESSIDA. Prophet may you be!
  If I be false, or swerve a hair from truth,
  When time is old and hath forgot itself,
  When waterdrops have worn the stones of Troy,
  And blind oblivion swallow'd cities up,
  And mighty states characterless are grated
  To dusty nothing-yet let memory
  From false to false, among false maids in love,
  Upbraid my falsehood when th' have said 'As false
  As air, as water, wind, or sandy earth,
  As fox to lamb, or wolf to heifer's calf,
  Pard to the hind, or stepdame to her son'-
  Yea, let them say, to stick the heart of falsehood,
  'As false as Cressid.'

Note that he swears by essentially eternal things, and her oaths are all
on Troy, on the everlasting city [which we know is about to be
destroyed.] It's Pandarus who comes closest to making this oath-scene
into something tangible:

PANDARUS. Go to, a bargain made; seal it, seal it; I'll be the
  witness. Here I hold your hand; here my cousin's. If ever you
  prove false one to another, since I have taken such pains to
  bring you together, let all pitiful goers- between be call'd to
  the world's end after my name-call them all Pandars; let all
  constant men be Troiluses, all false women Cressids, and all
  brokers between Pandars. Say 'Amen.'

[I had initially been asked to explain my assertion that Cressida seemed
to *expect* Troilus to fight for her to remain with him. I made
reference to this passage.]

PANDARUS. Thou must be gone, wench, thou must be gone; thou art
  chang'd for Antenor; thou must to thy father, and be gone from
  Troilus. 'Twill be his death; 'twill be his bane; he cannot bear it.
CRESSIDA. O you immortal gods! I will not go.
PANDARUS. Thou must.
CRESSIDA. I will not, uncle. I have forgot my father;
  I know no touch of consanguinity,
  No kin, no love, no blood, no soul so near me
  As the sweet Troilus. O you gods divine,
  Make Cressid's name the very crown of falsehood,
  If ever she leave Troilus! Time, force, and death,
  Do to this body what extremes you can,
  But the strong base and building of my love
  Is as the very centre of the earth,
  Drawing all things to it. I'll go in and weep-
PANDARUS. Do, do.
CRESSIDA. Tear my bright hair, and scratch my praised cheeks,
  Crack my clear voice with sobs and break my heart,
  With sounding 'Troilus.' I will not go from Troy.      [Exeunt]

Let me reiterate: she says, "Make Cressid's name the very crown of
falsehood, If ever she **leave** Troilus!"  [And, "I will not go from
Troy."] To her, "false" and "separated" seem synonymous. Why? Perhaps
because her father 'abandoned' her? [Because of the Helen-Menelaus
example?]  I find Cressida to be spouting someone else's
feminine-wisdom, too, both in her first soliloquy ("Women are angels,
wooing: Things won are done; joy's soul lies in the doing,") and in her
first chide to Troilus as he slips from her bed, "You men will never
tarry."  [Whose? Her friend Helen's? I've often wanted to see a
production make use of   Pandarus' offer that, "My niece is horribly in
love with a thing you have, sweet queen," to show the influence that
Helen may
have had on young Cressid.]

Anyway, all her answers to Pandarus are an emphatic "no." It's also
significant that she can't quite conceive of herself as belonging in any
way to her father Calchas. But she sees herself as belonging to, and
with, Troilus.  He, on the other hand, has tremendous comprehension of
family loyalty and family duty. It must be what makes him so clear on
his course of action: his first remark on the imminent parting is, "How
my achievements mock me!" He never even considers trying to
renegotiate--though, as we have seen, he speaks his mind about keeping
Helen in front of his father and brothers.

Anyway, back to the parting:

TROILUS. Cressid, I love thee in so strain'd a purity
  That the bless'd gods, as angry with my fancy,
  More bright in zeal than the devotion which
  Cold lips blow to their deities, take thee from me.
CRESSIDA. Have the gods envy?
PANDARUS. Ay, ay, ay; 'tis too plain a case.
CRESSIDA. And is it true that I must go from Troy?
TROILUS. A hateful truth.
CRESSIDA. What, and from Troilus too?
TROILUS. From Troy and Troilus.
CRESSIDA. Is't possible?
TROILUS. And suddenly; where injury of chance
  Puts back leave-taking, justles roughly by
  All time of pause, rudely beguiles our lips
  Of all rejoindure, forcibly prevents
  Our lock'd embrasures, strangles our dear vows
  Even in the birth of our own labouring breath.
  We two, that with so many thousand sighs
  ***Did buy each other, must poorly sell ourselves**
  With the rude brevity and discharge of one.
  Injurious time now with a robber's haste
  Crams his rich thievery up, he knows not how.
  As many farewells as be stars in heaven,
  With distinct breath and consign'd kisses to them,
  He fumbles up into a loose adieu,
  And scants us with a single famish'd kiss,
  Distasted with the salt of broken tears.

Let's pause there. Look what she asks: "From Troy and Troilus?" And he
rips into a speech declaring that they have purchased each other and now
must be sold off. This was the guy who had said, "We turn not back the
silks upon the merchant / When we have soil'd them."  Ironic, isn't it?
At this stage, they can both process their newly-consummated
relationship rather differently: it
is Cressid who is now "soil'd", it is she that could have become
pregnant ("if my lord get a boy of you, you'll give him me," Pandarus
interjects oddly), and it is she who has compromised her own values
("Achievement is command; ungain'd, beseech"). And, it is she who must
leave her home.

And then the "be true" bout begins. It's clear they're not on the same
page, but nothing Troilus does to try to adjust his tone works.  He's
clearly saying he has some concern about her faithfulness, and (I
strongly feel) she asked him twice already about whether she must indeed
go because she was hoping for him to make a stand for her. She was
pretty clear on not going
before she talked with him.

CRESSIDA. My lord, will you be true?
TROILUS. Who, I? Alas, it is my vice, my fault!
  Whiles others fish with craft for great opinion,
  I with great truth catch mere simplicity;
  Whilst some with cunning gild their copper crowns,
  With truth and plainness I do wear mine bare.
  Fear not my truth: the moral of my wit
  Is 'plain and true'; there's all the reach of it.

Maybe I'm being over-sensitive, but I hate this answer of Troilus's. It
sounds just a little too cocky and cavalier under the circumstances. And
note how, earlier, he said the haste of the situation prevented them
from having time to embrace--yet it's his lecture that curtails the
time, really.

  Welcome, Sir Diomed! Here is the lady
  Which for Antenor we deliver you;
  At the port, lord, I'll give her to thy hand,
  And by the way possess thee what she is.
  Entreat her fair; and, by my soul, fair Greek,
  If e'er thou stand at mercy of my sword,
  Name Cressid, and thy life shall be as safe
  As Priam is in Ilion.
DIOMEDES. Fair Lady Cressid,
  So please you, save the thanks this prince expects.
  The lustre in your eye, heaven in your cheek,
  Pleads your fair usage; and to Diomed
  You shall be mistress, and command him wholly.
TROILUS. Grecian, thou dost not use me courteously
  To shame the zeal of my petition to the
  In praising her. I tell thee, lord of Greece,
  She is as far high-soaring o'er thy praises
  As thou unworthy to be call'd her servant.
  I charge thee use her well, even for my charge;
  For, by the dreadful Pluto, if thou dost not,
  Though the great bulk Achilles be thy guard,
  I'll cut thy throat.
DIOMEDES. O, be not mov'd, Prince Troilus.
  Let me be privileg'd by my place and message
  To be a speaker free: when I am hence
  I'll answer to my lust. And know you, lord,
  I'll nothing do on charge: to her own worth
  She shall be priz'd. But that you say 'Be't so,'
  I speak it in my spirit and honour, 'No.'

Didn't he just hand her over to a man who, right in front of everyone,
basically says he will "use her" to his own lust? Would Romeo have put
up with that? I know, it's life during wartime, and all, but I just
can't imagine why Troilus doesn't break his resolve and interfere with
the agreement right there.  Except that his truth to his family and
position were overriding his passion to Cressida.

Perhaps you would be interested in seeing what Joseph Papp pointed out
in the preface to the Festival Shakespeare edition: he showed just
Cressida's lines from the delivery of the blow (the news that she must
leave) to her exit with Diomedes and Troilus.  I found this a rather
profound look at her character transformation.

"How now! What's the matter? Who was here?

Why sigh you so profoundly? Where's my lord? Gone? Tell
me, sweet uncle, what's the matter?

O the gods! What's the matter?

Good uncle, I beseech you, on my knees I beseech you,
what's the matter?

O you immortal gods! I will not go.

I will not, uncle. I have forgot my father;
I know no touch of consanguinity,
No kin, no love, no blood, no soul so near me
As the sweet Troilus. O you gods divine,
Make Cressid's name the very crown of falsehood,
If ever she leave Troilus! Time, force, and death,
Do to this body what extremes you can,
But the strong base and building of my love
Is as the very centre of the earth,
Drawing all things to it. I'll go in and weep-

Tear my bright hair, and scratch my praised cheeks,
Crack my clear voice with sobs and break my heart,
With sounding 'Troilus.' I will not go from Troy.

Why tell you me of moderation?
The grief is fine, full, perfect, that I taste,
And violenteth in a sense as strong
As that which causeth it. How can I moderate it?
If I could temporize with my affections
Or brew it to a weak and colder palate,
The like allayment could I give my grief.
My love admits no qualifying dross;
No more my grief, in such a precious loss.

O Troilus! Troilus!

Have the gods envy?

And is it true that I must go from Troy?

What, and from Troilus too?

Is't possible?

I must then to the Grecians?

A woeful Cressid 'mongst the merry Greeks!
When shall we see again?

I true! how now! What wicked deem is this?

O, you shall be expos'd, my lord, to dangers
As infinite as imminent! But I'll be true.

And you this glove. When shall I see you?

O heavens! 'Be true' again!

O heavens! you love me not.

Do you think I will?

My lord, will you be true?"

It's always seemed to me that T&C is a much more realistic portrayal of
young love hastily consummated than R&J. Of course, there are big
differences: R&J is set in Christian Verona, and they are married first.
Despite the same mercantile language with regard to love, there is no
such contract between the young lovers of Troy.

T&C is also the only play I can think of which seems to betray one
Shakespearean convention: soliloquies generally reveal deep truths about
the speakers, whether they are declaring their fundamental evil (Aaron)
or their basic resolve (All's Well's Helena.) But what Cressida tells
herself in confidence, she doesn't keep. So, not only is this play full
of external contradictions (Troilus' reasoning on keeping Helen seeming
out of sorts with his not reasoning to keep Cressida in Troy, and
Ulysses' big speech about "degree" and order not fitting with how
they've let Achilles behave) but also internal ones (what Cressida
believes will happen if she gives herself to Troilus, and the fact that
she suddenly does, without our witnessing the transformation of her
mind.)

Sorry, this is too long.  But I'm eager to keep the discussion going.
I'll also look for Rene Girard's "A Theatre of Envy" which Chris
Stroffolino mentioned.

Peace and joy,
Ann Carrigan
 

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