Troilus and Cressida
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
TROILUS AND CRESSIDA
Paris’ servant impudently engages in chop-logic with Pandarus, who requests Paris to make Troilus’ excuses for not showing up at dinner. Here again, Pandarus represents the prolix and Polonius-like Burghley (Ogburn and Ogburn 624).
“The only scene in which Helen speaks shows her as so irredeemably silly that we cannot feel much confidence in the wisdom of those who regard her as a fit cause for war” (Wells 221). More than silly, Helen is rather given to smutty innuendo. “She appears as a vain, silly woman, with an empty head, unaware of (or uncaring about) what she has caused, and incapable, apparently, of making an intelligent remark” (Asimov 111).Pandarus sings a somewhat inane song with bawdy implications (particularly involving the word die = experience orgasm) and Paris requests that Helen “unarm” Hector.
The Elizabeth/Raleigh relationship may obliquely be alluded to in the implication that “O” (Oxford) has been made to look ridiculous (III.i.118) (Ogburn and Ogburn 614).
Troilus waits for Pandarus to bring Cressida along and indulges in anticipation (III.ii.16-27); “he expresses his longing for her in terms that complexly envisage the sense of destruction of the self in sexual passion” (Wells 216). He also disturbingly blurs the distinction between love and war. We get an instance of the “prevalence throughout the play of this language of appetite and scraps” (Garber 554).
Pandarus vicariously hovers about as Troilus and Cressida exchange confessions of love. He is impatient of words and sees courtship as dull prelude to animal passion: “a kind of voyeur, in fact — and so unashamed in his vicarious delight over the whole matter that he has given the word ‘pander’ to the English language” (Asimov 79). Some think Pandarus represents Cecil, “winking” about the affair between Oxford and Elizabeth (Anderson xxxiii, 68). In May 1572, when newlywed Oxford was enjoying his first period of being the favorite of Queen Elizabeth, Gilbert Talbot wrote regarding Burghley: “At all these love-matters my Lord Treasurer winketh and will not meddle in any way” (qtd. in Ogburn and Ogburn 659; cf. 124). Not surprising then that neither this play nor Hamlet was published during Burghley’s lifetime (Ogburn and Ogburn 651). The reference to the “burr,” like that in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, also refers us to Anne Cecil (Ogburn and Ogburn 583, 625).
Standard interpretation is that all of Cressida’s shilly-shallying is part of her act, but it’s oddly self-degrading. She does seem divided against herself. In any case, it succeeds in fanning Troilus’ flames.
The three vow via speculations that would yield linguistic inheritances in the forms of proverbial phrases: “As true as Troilus,” “As false as Cressid,” and “all brokers-between Pandars.” Finally, “not pathos but self-estrangement is conveyed by this tableau” (Bloom 336).
In particular, “the vows of constancy made by Troilus suggest that they are such vows that the Earl of Oxford must have been making to the Queen since he has been taken back into favor in June of 1583” (Clark 632). But possibly, as with Antony and Cleopatra, we have a conflation of Elizabeth with the other “Dark Lady,” Anne Vavasour. Bloom recognizes the “Dark Lady” in Cressida (328) and even says the play “shares the concerns and sufferings of the Sonnets” (Bloom 344). The elder Ogburns emphasize Anne Cecil as Cressida, at a time originally when Oxford “felt that she was tricky, capable of being false” (Ogburn and Ogburn 598). Pandarus’ efforts to join the couple reflect Burghley’s efforts to reconcile Oxford and Anne in 1581 (Ogburn and Ogburn 614). And Cressida’s return to her father is the Ophelia-like prioritizing of Anne’s loyalty to Burghley over and above her own husband, which Oxford obviously took bitterly (Ogburn and Ogburn 619).
Calchas, Cressida’s father, finagles a swap of prisoners which will bring his daughter among the Greeks. Ulysses comes up with a rather junior-high-schoolish game whereby the commanders will wander by Achilles non-chalantly; then he, Ulysses, will be interrogated by Achilles, giving him the opportunity to manipulate the warrior. It works, lowering our opinion of Achilles.
Ulysses warns that renown wanes, that one must renew it with further feats. The report that Achilles is in love with one of Priam’s daughters comes up and Ulysses gives a chilling speech (III.iii.195-205) that Shakespeare might be using “both against the Intelligence Service and (by implication) against the divine mystery for which the state apparatus professes to work, Church and state being one, then and (increasingly) now” (Bloom 341). No wonder he suppressed the play, or that the play was stopped. The reference to Priam’s daughter alludes to Queen Elizabeth also (Ogburn and Ogburn 623).
The extraordinarily vivid, allegorical, and cartoonlike image of Time, wearing a backpack of things forgotten and welcoming the newcomer ‘like a fashionable host’ while he coldly ushers a previous favorite out the door, is as recognizable in a modern world of ‘celebrity culture’ as it was in a world of courts and courtiers” (Garber 549).
“What makes the whole world kin is the flightiness of the human attention span, the persistent preference for the flashy over the solid, the new rather than the enduring” (Garber 550).
Thersites rants about Ajax’s idiotic anticipation of battle with Hector, and with Achilles and Patroclus more mockery ensues.