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Act III, Scene 1 Summary
Pandarus and a servant enter. The servant tells Pandarus that the music that is being played within is being played at the request of Paris who is out with ‘‘the mortal Venus, the heart-blood of beauty, love’s visible soul’.’ Pandarus takes this to refer to his cousin Cressida but the servant is actually talking of Helen. Pandarus states his business: he has been sent by Prince Troilus to speak with Paris, and says that he has to make an assault of complimentary speeches on Paris as he (Pandarus), is in a hurry.
Paris and Helen enter with attendants. Pandarus breaks out into a speech that uses the word ‘fair’ in various different ways. ‘Fair be to you, my lord, and to all this fair company; fair desires in all fair measure fairly guide them - especially to you, fair queen: fair thoughts be your fair pillow.’ and so it goes on. Helen caps his compliments by telling him he is ‘full of fair words.’ Throughout the scene, Helen gently teases Pandarus with mocking compliments.
He then makes a reference to the good ‘broken music’ or polyphonic music that is being played. Paris says that Pandarus has ‘broke it’ or interrupted it, and insists that he make up for that with a performance. Pandarus says he is lacking in accomplishments. From this point onward he tries to distract Helen’s attention with trivialities while conveying his message to Paris. Helen constantly attempts to persuade Pandarus to sing, Pandarus just as constantly fends her off and does his embassy. Helen never finds out what they discuss. He conveys Troilus’ message to Paris that if the king Priam call for him at supper, Paris should make excuses for him. As the scene progresses, Pandarus speaks more and more to Helen as one might to a small child.
Paris guesses correctly and says so, and Pandarus at length consents to sing, in order to turn the conversation and evade the teasing of Paris. Helen still does not see what is going on. Then Pandarus includes Helen once more in the conversation. He tells her that his niece is ‘horribly in love with a thing you have, sweet queen.’ This means that Helen has a lover and Cressida has not. Helen half suspects an affair between Paris and Cressida and says that she can have whatever she wants as long as it is not Paris.
Pandarus says Cressida won’t want him as they are on ill terms. Helen says ‘‘Falling in after falling out may make them three’.’ Her wit is bawdy - she means that copulation may well lead to conception. Then to finally turn the conversation, Pandarus consents to sing. and breaks into a song on love. After this Helen says Pandarus seems to be in love to the tip of his nose. Paris says that he eats nothing but doves, which like pigeons, were associated with love (because of their billing and cooing behavior and because of the association with the doves that drew Venus’ chariot). He says facetiously that doves breed hot blood which is an aphrodisiac that begets hot thoughts which in turn beget hot deeds, and hot deeds are love.
After carrying the point to where he says hot blood, thoughts and deeds are vipers, and asking if love is ‘a generation of vipers’, Pandarus drops it to ask ‘who’s afield today?’ Paris replies that Hector, Deiphobus, Helenus, Antenor and all the nobility of Troy. He says that he would have armed himself but Helen, whom he addresses affectionately as ‘Nell’, wouldn’t allow it. He asks Pandarus why Troilus didn’t go.
Helen again suspects that Pandarus knows something she doesn’t and is hiding something. Pandarus slips back into flattery calling her ‘honey-sweet queen’ to distract her and says that he longs to know the progress that day. Then in an aside he makes sure Paris won’t forget about Troilus’ excuse. Then before he gets entangled in further dialogues with Helen, he leaves.
Sounds of a retreat filter in. Paris says the warriors have come from the field, and suggests that they go to Priam’s hall, where Helen must help unarm Hector with her ‘‘white enchanting fingers’.’ Helen agrees, and the scene ends with Paris telling her, ‘above thought I love thee.’ Then they exit.