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MonkeyNotes-Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
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Act V, Scene 8 Summary

Hector enters. He has just killed the finely armored warrior and has found a diseased body inside. ‘Thy goodly armor thus hath cost thy life.’ he says. Then considering his day’s work done, Hector decides to relax and setting his sword which ‘hast thy fill of blood and death’ aside, he disarms.

Enter Achilles and the Myrmidons. Achilles tells Hector to look at how the sun was setting and how night ‘comes breathing at his heels.’ He continues that as the sun sets at the close of day, Hector’s life too is done. Hector tells Achilles that he is unarmed and that he should spare him, ‘forego this vantage.’

But Achilles is not the gentleman that Hector is, and he commands his Myrmidons to ‘Strike, fellows strike: this is the man I seek’ and Hector falls. Achilles knows that the death of Hector is synonymous with the destruction of Troy and says as much when he refers to Hector in ‘Here lies thy heart, thy sinews, and thy bone.’ He then exhorts his Myrmidons to shout out: ‘Achilles hath the mighty Hector slain.’ A retreat is sounded and Achilles notes that the Greeks are retiring from battle.

The Myrmidons note that the Trojan trumpets too were sounding the end of the day’s battle. Sounding very lyrical for such a murderer. Achilles says that as night falls the armies separate as though they have been commanded to do so by a fair umpire, and his sword though it has not yet had its fill, he is content to be pleased with its light meal, and is now sheathed. He tells the Myrmidons to tie Hector’s body to the tail of his horse so that he can trail him along the battlefield. They exit as another retreat is sounded.


Notes

The death of Hector is a crucial scene. It marks the exact point where the Trojan fortunes begin to sink. We already know of Hector’s excessive generosity - something that Troilus and Ajax have both commented upon. Hector often neglects to kill adversaries whom he has knocked down - a habit that will lead to his doom, and one that prompts Troilus to comment: ‘Brother you have a vice of mercy in you, /which better fits a lion than a man.’

Even doltish Ajax knows that Hector’s magnanimity is not in keeping with the times:

‘Thou art too gentle and too free a man,’ he says.

Yet the great Hector reveals an unpleasant side in this scene. At the beginning, Hector has just discovered that the finely armored soldier has a putrefying body. The diseased body in the sumptuous armor is emblematic of the hopelessness for that war and the disjunction between appearance and reality. Disturbingly, the warm-hearted, generous Hector stoops to kill a man for his ‘hide,’ only to uncover revulsion and disease.

‘Most putrefied core, so fair without, /Thy goodly armor thus hath cost thy life...’ he says before he disarms and is then struck down by Achilles and his savage Myrmidons. That Hector becomes even more vulnerable through acquisitiveness is another irony of the situation. He dies, paradoxically through both fulfilling and violating his code. Hector’s tragic naiveté obscures his vision - he fails to see that Achilles is a ruthless coward willing to put aside all principles of ‘fair play’ to murder ‘the pillar of Troy.’ His lack of guile at the point of death is breathtaking.

Excessive generosity costs him his life. Achilles then confirms that he is a tasteless thug. In the ultimate act of savagery, he trails Hector’s body, which his Myrmidons have tied to the tail of his horse, through the battlefield. The scene leaves the audience and the reader with a sense of deep horror and outrage and also makes them reflect on the appalling nature of the entire conflict.

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