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Act IV, Scene 2 Summary
Troilus and Cressida enter. The scene begins with the couple alone together after their night of passion. Their lament that the night had been too brief. Troilus says, ‘Beshrew the witch! With venomous wights she stays/As tediously as hell, but flies the grasps of love /With wings more momentary-swift than thought.’
Pandarus enters and begins teasing Cressida about the night before and so it goes on until there is a knock on the door. Troilus and Cressida then retire to her bedchamber because she ‘would not for half Troy have you seen here.’ Aeneas enters and asks for Troilus and Pandarus feigns ignorance. Of course Aeneas knows. Then, Troilus enters and Aeneas tells him about the exchange of Cressida for Antenor and says that ‘within this hour, /We must give up to Diomedes’ hand/The Lady Cressida.’
When Cressida hears of the latest events from her uncle she refuses to 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!’ Then she pronounces the prophetic lines, which foreshadow her legendary death as a wandering leper.
The ambiguous tone hovering uneasily between levity and sadness, that marked the lovers’ coming together in Act III, Scene 1, is continued at the beginning of this morning scene. Again, this is very different from the ‘aubade’ in Romeo and Juliet, which is a romantic version of the same traditional situation. Here the lovers, not surprisingly, are subdued and full of foreboding. They are overtaken by the swiftness of destiny at the very moment when they came together.
Most remarkably, Shakespeare has altered the time scheme of his source in a way very similar to what he did with Romeo and Juliet. In Chaucer’s Troilus and Cresyde, the lovers are allowed almost a year of complete happiness. Shakespeare telescopes the event in such a way that the exchange of Cressida for Antenor, demanded by the traitor Calchas, is arranged while she is lying with Troilus, just as Romeo’s banishment is pronounced immediately before his wedding-night.
This speeding up of the action doesn’t allow the lovers any time to prove the sincerity of their love. They have had a moment of sensual satisfaction but it was not, as in Romeo and Juliet, meant as the final seal to their union, but as a first favor granted by Cressida. Her hysterical professions of everlasting faith cannot possibly be very deep-rooted as the lovers have not been in complete harmony for more than a few odd moments. This makes Cressida’s eventual betrayal of Troilus not so deeply moving as it is in Chaucer - the love she abandons was so brief, superficial and diffident. Her eventual faithlessness does not come as an unexpected shock.