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MonkeyNotes-Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
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Notes

The audience first meets the Greek leadership in this scene. Its elaborate rhetoric suggests high seriousness, but there is an uncomfortable discrepancy between the ideal concepts and the actual performance. There are five or six scenes that are crucial to any discussion of Troilus and Cressida, this is one of them.. The Greek council scene and the Trojan council scene are nearly symmetrical, reflect one another. They are built on a similar pattern of discussion/interruption/resumption or fresh topic/change of course by a major speaker.

What is usually referred to as the Greek debate occupies only the first half of the scene. Actually, there is no debate because there is no real meeting of minds.

The Greek leaders are in no doubt about the general justification of the War, but they are genuinely concerned about the deeper reasons for the lack of effective unity and purposeful enthusiasm among their forces. Agamemnon offers consolation and moral encouragement to a general staff that has become disheartened. Nestor glosses and develops the latter part of Agamemnon’s speech. Ulysses with extreme deference and elaborated complement offers to comment, and it is only when he is encouraged to proceed that he propounds his thesis. Ulysses speaks thrice. When he is done, the so-called debate is over.

The style of Ulysses’ first tentative speech in which he is elaborate and long winded, is almost a parody of what his superiors have described and enacted. But when he launches himself, he is brisk and confident. He begins his famous ‘degree’ speech - on the basis of which he has been praised as a conservative idealist, an intelligent man, and a pragmatic realist, by saying that Troy would have fallen and Hector killed for the neglect of single rule and unity.


Beginning with the relationship of worth and identity, he erects a theory of value upon an assertion. He points to the many Grecian tents that stand empty upon the plain and suggests that there are as many empty, unproductive factions. Arguing that since difference of rank is disregarded, no further order can be expected, he says that once you allow disorder at all, you decline into chaos. Ulysses says that all order and all distinction of individuals, rank and order of precedence - hierarchy in the state or the army, and the idea of order itself - all possibility of recognizing one man from another is gone if degree is overshadowed. If the principle of order is hidden, then value is also lost. Then the unworthy appears worthwhile; if a mask hides both the ruler and the subject, both become indistinguishable.

He elaborates that the heavens, the planets and the central earth - the point about which all other heavenly bodies moved in the Ptolemaic systems - observe the order of precedence, priority, place, and principle of order. Therefore the glorious sun - considered a planet as late as 1727 - whose curative eye corrects the influence of evil planets, travels as fast as and as unchecked as the commandment of a king. The sun equated with Agamemnon, has a medicinal eye and rulers were not only holy, but also healing. But when the planets drift towards evil, disorder ensues, and plagues, portents, mutinies, raging seas, earthquakes, high winds, frightening events, and horrors change the course of nature, and uproot the calm of states from their stability.

Leaping from the natural world to that of the Greek army, he illustrates that chaos from the effects of planetary disorder, and proceeds to a vision of ultimate anarchy in which degree is lost and the growing evil of individual license proves self-destructive. He says that communities, academic ranks in schools, guilds and societies in cities, peaceful commerce, right of secession and inheritance of the first-born, prerogatives of age, crowns, scepters, laurels, all stand in their places because of hierarchy. Once the hierarchy was taken away, once that string was untuned, discord follows - seas overrun the shores and make a sop of the solid earth.

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