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Act II, Scene 1 Summary
Ajax and Thersites enter. Thersites is railing at Agamemnon, wondering how he would be if he had running sores on his body. He puns that if he did, he would have a botchy core - a carbuncular boil or a lumpy heart. The punning Thersites says that if Agamemnon did have running boils then that would mean that he had some ‘matter’ - which can be interpreted as pus or good sense and reasoned argument - both of which Thersites can’t see in Agamemnon. Ajax keeps trying to interrupt, but Thersites goes on until the former is reduced to abuse and finally physical assault. Exasperated at being ignored, Ajax hits Thersites, who then curses him with the plague and calls him a mongrel - a reference to his half-Greek and half-Trojan parentage, and a ‘beef-witted lord.’ Ajax threatens to continue to beat Thersites unless he speaks the truth instead of indulging in malicious abuse.
Thersites replies that he would have attempted to rant Ajax into intelligence but he is so dumb that his horse would probably be more capable of learning something by rote than Ajax himself could learn a prayer without a book. Ajax commands him to tell him about the proclamation.
But Thersites rants on. Enraged, he asks Ajax if he thinks he is a creature of such a lack of intelligence that he could be struck. Ajax persists with asking about the proclamation.
Thersites says that Ajax has been proclaimed a fool. Next, Ajax calls him a porcupine and tells him not to continue in the same vein as his fingers are itching. Thersites who interrupts him, takes up the itching metaphor and turns it against Ajax. He hopes Ajax itched from head to food and that he himself could scratch him and makes of him the most horrible scab in Greece. Ajax still wants to hear the proclamation. Thersites says that Ajax is as envious of Achilles as the Cerberes, the three-headed dog guardian of Hades who is supposed to fight with and mutilate suitors for the hand of Proserpina, and is hence assumed to be envious of her beauty. Ajax calls him ‘Mistress Thersites’ - a jeering reference to Thersites’ scolding.
Achilles and Patroclus enter. Achilles asks Ajax why he is beating Thersites and then turns to the latter and asks him what the matter is Thersites points to Ajax begins playing the typical clown’s routine that makes use of repetition . He asks Achilles to look at Ajax so many times that Achilles himself grows exasperated. He then puns on Ajax’s name. ‘He is Ajax’ ( a jakes) he says. Achilles doesn’t get it. She is exasperated and says ‘I know that, fool,’ and the quick-witted Thersites takes the statement to mean that Achilles knows that fool Ajax. He replies that the fool Ajax didn’t know himself. Ajax says that’s why he beats him.