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MonkeyNotes-Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
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Notes

Much of the comedy in this scene is due to Thersites, the professional railer who wise cracks at the expense of the ‘mongrel beef-witted lord’ Ajax. The seriousness of the debates that precede and follow is underlined rather than invalidated by Thersites who is deliberately offensive and sweepingly cynical. Yet he firmly belongs to the tradition of the licensed fool, and when Ajax hits him he exposes himself as boorish and uncouth.

Thersite’s language is cutting and uncompromising. So, when he calls Ajax ‘a sodden-witted lord,’ and ‘cur’, the reader and the audience guesses that he is probably right. Thersites is possessed of an understanding of others in the play, and precludes sentimentality by constantly reminding the audience of stark realities. He is a denigrator who exposes the boils on the body politic with his insights - no one is safe from his savage tongue. When Patroclus attempts to pacify him he turns on him with ‘I will hold my peace when Achilles’ brach bids me, shall I?’ - the first of Thersites’ imputations of a homosexual relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. He strips everybody down to bare essentials. Of Achilles he pronounces: ‘a great deal of your wit too lies in your sinews, or else there be liars.’


Without being present at the preceding debate scene he has realized that Achilles and Ajax are only instruments in the hands of the Greek leadership. ‘There’s Ulysses, and old Nestor, whose wit was moldy ere your grandsires had nails on their toes, yoke you like draught-oxen and make you plough up the wars.’ Though he can be seen as a comic character, the scenes in which Thersites appears are often as uncomic and venomous as the blackest Jacobean satire and his words of truth are uncompromising and often unpleasant.

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