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Act IV, Scene 1 Summary
Enter on one side Aeneas and a servant with a torch, and Paris, Deiphobus, Antenor, Diomedes and others with torches on the other side. In this scene, Paris sends Aeneas to accompany Diomedes to Calchas’ house where Cressida would be given to him in exchange for Antenor. He tells him to rush there ahead of the rest of the party to warn Troilus who is spending the night there and tell him about the circumstances.
Aeneas says that Troilus would rather that ‘Troy were borne to Greece/Than Cressid borne from Troy.’ Paris says the whole thing can’t be avoided. After Aeneas’ exit, Paris turns to Diomedes and asks him who deserves Helen - Menelaus or himself, he gets a bitter speech about the worthlessness of the prize for which so many have died. Diomedes contrasts Menelaus and Paris, and both of them come out looking terrible.
Diomedes’ vision is clear and he sees, instead of Paris’ ‘Nell,’ a whore who is responsible for the deaths of countless Greeks and Trojans. His anger at the loss of life all for Helen whom he does not deem worth all the trouble, is expressed unflinchingly. The scene ends with Paris saying that though the Greeks like chapmen ‘Dispraise the thing that they desire to buy’, but still practice the buyer’s art, they will not fall into the sellers role and sell Helen. ‘We’ll not commend, that not intend to sell’ says Paris before he exits at the end of the scene.
This scene introduces us to the character of Diomedes. We learn here that like Thersites, he is a hardheaded character who reduces everything to its parts - something you learn from his bitter vocabulary and his unattractive honesty. When Paris asks him who deserves Helen, himself or Menelaus, Diomedes blasts him with:
‘Both alike:/He merits will to have her that doth seek her, / Not making any scruple of her soilure, /With such a hell of pain and world of charge;/And you as well to keep her that defend her, /Not palating the taste of her dishonour, /With such a costly loss of wealth and friends.’
As if that was not enough, he brings Menelaus and Paris together in a devastating comparison:
‘He like a puling cuckold, would drink up/The lees and dregs of a flat tamed piece;/You, like a lecher, out of whorish loins/Are pleas’d to breed out your inheritors./Both merits pois’d, each weighs nor less nor more, /But he as thee, each heavier for a whore.’
As if even that wasn’t enough, he launches into a further gruesome picture of the destruction brought about by Helen - the ostensible cause of the Trojan conflict:
‘For every false drop in her bawdy veins/A Grecian’s life hath sunk; for every scruple/Of her contaminated carrion weight/A Trojan hath been slain. Since she could speak, /She hath not given so many good words breath/As for her Greeks and Trojans suffer’d death.’
Diomedes is not a character who deludes himself; he goes straight to the heart of the matter and unflinchingly describes what he sees. He is unable to hide his bitterness and his belief that all the destruction is like Thersites believes, over a whore, a cuckold and a cuckold-maker.