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MonkeyNotes-Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
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There is also the metamorphosis of Cressida: the divided girl of Act III, Scene 2 is transformed as she enters the Greek camp. We are presented with a round game - Cressida is kissed in turn, sometimes by the true man, sometimes by his surrogate (Patroclus for Paris, for Menelaus) and sometimes not at all, as Ulysses snubs her. The kissing scene need not be seen as Ulysses sees it: he seems to compare Cressida with Helen. Ulysses’ disgust only expresses his angry impatience with War fought in a ridiculous cause. But the kissing is a momentary interlude, and the Trojans enter. The symmetry of the scene is manifested in the patterning - the formal kissing early on is balanced against the formal introductions of heroes near the end - Hector is greeted by the Greek generals in much the same order as that in which they kissed Cressida.

Aeneas explains that the hybrid nature of Ajax, and hence the divided motives of Hector are preliminary to the duel. While the marshals determine the order of the fight, Ulysses defines the Liberal man - the qualities that are attributed to Troilus. After the duel, Hector develops his own stylized account of the double nature of his cousin Ajax, and then the Greek generals arrive in sequence and greet Hector.

Just as Cressida teases Menelaus in the earlier part of the scene, Hector also mocks him. The sequence ends with the direct confrontation of Hector by Achilles who invokes the gods that they may foretell the manner of Hector’s death. At the end, the scene gathers up into itself before the action suddenly accelerates into the fifth act.


The strands that were drawn up in the previous scene begin to be unraveled in Act V, Scene 1. Here also we begin to see the depths to which Achilles who plans to get Hector inebriated, will sink. His later act of murder doesn’t come as a surprise. Here again, Theresites presents an honest picture of the other characters - Patroclus is ‘Achilles male varlet’; Menelaus is ‘the bull, the primitive statue and oblique memorial of cuckolds’; Diomedes is ‘a false-hearted rogue, a most unjust knave.’ Thersites also gives the first hint of Cressida and Diomedes’ entanglement. A link scene, this one also leads onto the crucial scene where Troilus views the betrayal of Cressida - it is in this scene that Ulysses and Troilus decide to follow Diomedes to Calchas’ tent.

Scene 2, which is a brilliant one of double eavesdropping has been called ‘the most complex scene in all Shakespeare’s works.’ What distinguishes it is its unusual staging in which Troilus and Ulysses watch the unsavory flirtation of Diomedes and Cressida, and all four are observed by Thersites who in turn is viewed by the entire audience. Thersites provides a third comment on the wooing. Here, the audience enjoys the advantage of two wholly opposite ways of apprehending. The simultaneous presence of both points of view gives the scene its comic as well as its painful character.

In Scene 3, Troilus repudiates Hector’s ‘vice of mercy’ and reveals that what he has witnessed has changed his character. He is completely disillusioned and he dismisses Cressida’s letter as ‘Words, words, mere words.’ One of the quick succession of brief scenes that conclude the play, this one hastily brings together the various strands of the action: it show the way to the total collapse of Trojan idealism and hope of survival as well as the temporary triumph of Grecian brutality and purpose.

In Scene 4, Thersites comments bitingly on everyone from Nestor and Ulysses to Ajax and Achilles. We see him grow excited at the prospect of the duel between Troilus and Diomedes and from him we learn about the failure of Ulysses’ plans to put Achilles in his place. Instead of spurring Achilles into action, Ajax himself has grown so proud that he, like Achilles, refuses to go into battle. The scene then presents Troilus and Diomedes fighting each other while Thersites looks on. Just as the action between the two warriors shifts outside the stage, Hector enters and attempts to fight Thersites. The comic Thersites who is the ultimate realist, manages to wriggle out of a fight and certain death. This scene belongs to the fool, or rather the denigrator, and prepares us for the greater hilarity of the later scene with Margarelon. But that’s not all, as a link to the next scene, Thersites goes looking for Diomedes and Troilus commenting that they have probably eaten each other up just like lechery consumes the lecher.

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