The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1836  Monday, 23 July 2001

From:           Mike Jensen <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 20 Jul 2001 10:07:25 -0700
Subject: 12.1822 Re: Cressida
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1822 Re: Cressida

I still disagree with Harry Teplitz on a couple of particulars.  Let's
begin with my comment to Harry.

> > The show very clearly takes the view that Cressida
> > really is a whore. This is made explicit by the staged
> > parallels of Helen's gown in the beginning and Cressida's > at the end.
>I didn't see that.  First of all, I'm not even sure the show took the
>position that *Helen* is a whore.  Helen is shown to be very sensual,
>yes, but does that make her a whore?

Harry has unintentionally put me in a difficult position.  I don't want
to call anybody a whore, ever.  When dealing with this play, the word is
the common currency, so I feel I must use the language even if I don't
believe in it.

Helen, in this production, is SUCH A WHORE!

>As far as I recall she is seen in
>a monogamous relationship with Paris.  Menelaes never gets our sympathy
>and those who know the story are reminded that Helen's attachment to
>Paris is sanctioned by a Goddess.  In fact, the production very clearly
>tells us that Helen is not committing a great crime since the opening
>image is used to underscore the scathing sarcasm of "Helen with Paris
>sleeps -- and that's the quarrel!".

We will not agree on this, since we experienced it differently, though
possibly the production evolved between the night I attended and the day
you saw it.

The prologue was Thersites.  I found a characteristic edge of disgust in
his description of Helen and Paris, and indeed they acted out in dumb
show what he described as he described it.  That is how it came across
to me.  If you didn't hear the disgust, I don't know what to say.  It is
common amongst scholars to question whether or not Thersites is right
about everything he says.  These days most doubt him.  But did OSF's
production doubt him?  It seemed to treat him as one of Shakespeare's
fools, the one reliable source of truth.  If this is indeed how Albers's
production portrayed Thersites, then Helen's whoredom is beyond
question, and the gimmick with her train an important clue.  I did not
notice anything in the production to undermine Thersites as a
spokesperson of truth.  You don't have to agree with my understanding of
Alber's Thersites, but one's view of Helen must flow from it.

>As far as Cressida goes, I don't see where she is
>staged as a whore.  It is fairly clear that she is willing (though not
>eager) to abandon
>Troilus for Diomedes.  After the harrowing arrival at the Greek camp, we
>can't blame her for choosing a protector.

I don't, but I think the production does blame her, even while it
understands the decision.  Poor broken hearted Troilus, betrayed by
popular Cressida, is what came across most strongly to me.  It is mostly
in the parallels of their trains in their twin dumb shows, and the lack
of support everywhere for Cressida's point of view, and all the sympathy
for Troilus's point of view.  I don't agree with the way you interpret
this, so again I don't know what else to say.

I think the *whorish* parallel between Helen and Cressida was very
clear.  It certainly wasn't an accident, so we are both right that the
production views them similarly.  Now if we could just get together on
how it views them, and whether or not it is correct.

>The parallel between Helen
>and Cressida is that they both find a way to live with (even enjoy)
>their captivity.

I don't think Cressida did, not the night I saw it.  She was never happy
with Diomedes, though relieved to have a protector.  Contrast this with
Helen constantly reveling in the arms of Paris.  Relived and Reveled.
Not the same.

I think the view of the production is that Cressida has to embrace being
whore, where it comes naturally to Helen.  But both embrace it in their
way, so Cressida ends up just like Helen.

My reading of the play is that Cressida does not embrace it.  She
accepts Diomedes protection, but she struggles against him as best she
can, and the price of her compromise is great.  This was kind of in
OSF's production, but not in the staging and all that encompasses.  I
only saw it in the portrayal of Cressida by Tyler Layton, who I thought
played with the text, but against the production, and in all the ways it
did not question Troilus's point of view.

I don't have much patience with the still too common notion that
Cressida has lose morals.  My interpretation is that the play is about
how everyone behaves badly during war, and that there is no honor for

Or is that two ways of saying the same thing?

Of all the people forced to morally compromise, Cressida is the one who
struggles the most against this (unless you count Thersites as
struggling against it), and even she loses in the end.  My point about
this production, and we seemed to focus on different things, Harry, is
that Taylor Leighton struggled against it far more than the other actors
or the director did.

> > Achilles speech to his lads, telling
> > them how to kill Hector, was addressed to the audience.
>I believe the Myrmidons were standing at the top the aisle ramps.  They
>may have been hard to see, though, which I agree would be a mistake.
>However, my wife understood the scene and had never heard of the
>Myrmidons before.

I am glad to bow to this point, and I'm not passionate enough about the
others to argue.  We experienced it differently, and that's OK.

All the best,
Mike Jensen

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