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MonkeyNotes-Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
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Notes

The scene begins with a picture of events in the war story - the audience hears about Hector’s frame of mind and his anger at being struck down by Ajax, all from the conversation between Cressida and her servant. Here, Shakespeare introduces his heroine as a spirited and independent maiden who is not taken in by the cynical go-between Pandarus. He has decided that a non- committal attitude is, for the time being, her best defense against the clichés of romantic love as well as against the clumsy tactics of Pandarus. Throughout this scene, the protestations of the high meet the skepticism’s of the unimpressed - this is true in descriptions of Ajax as ‘gouty Briareus’, in Pandarus encomium of the dimple on Troilus’ chin, and in the procession of heroes. Pandarus tone during the procession gets increasingly uncontrolled compared to the wryness of Cressida’s comments.

Troilus enters. The officious pander tries to interest Cressida in Troilus’ qualities as a man and a lover, while all the time she sees through him and plays her own game. It is a battle of wits in the manner of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies with Cressida enjoying her command of quick repartee, as Portia, Beatrice and Rosalind do. Cressida is revealed to be an intelligent, witty woman with a propensity for double entente. In fact, she is so clever that she reduces Pandarus to exasperation.

When she says ‘my secrecy...honesty’, she means her power to keep a secret, to maintain her reputation for chastity; she refers to the ‘mask’ because sunburned faces were reckoned ugly; ‘and you, to defend all these...’ is her sardonic reference to her uncle Pandarus’ position as her guardian. Continuing with her innuendo, Cressida says that even if she could not protect her virginity, she could still stop him from telling how she lost it, unless of course, she got pregnant and the whole thing could not be hidden anymore.


Clearly, Cressida is quick witted and not given to painful bouts of modesty. Throughout the scene, she adapts herself to the frivolous tone of Pandarus, and it is only when she is alone that her style changes. A realist, her final soliloquy expresses the pose of the young girl determined not to be caught by love because she does not trust in the traditional clichés and fears the loss of her liberty. An adept at sexual politicking she knows the power games that are played within relationships and the usual treatment meted out to over-generous women.

Cressida is not a fixed type. She is a character capable of unpredictable reactions and surprising development, though the scene can easily be played in such a way that the audience finds her exactly in keeping with her reputation, which traditionally emphasizes her infidelity. The text, however, allows for a more sympathetic interpretation and for the possibility of complex emotions. In this scene at least, Cressida is revealed as intelligent, witty and clear-sighted.

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