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MonkeyNotes-Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
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Achilles avers that this is not strange, that a physically beautiful person does not know it unless others think so. The unaided eye being unable to divide itself, and hence leave itself, cannot see itself, he says. But two eyes, each looking at the other can act as a mirror to the other and show the other itself, he says continuing that the eye cannot see itself until it has been projected upon some reflecting surface. Ulysses says he does not disagree - the idea is familiar enough - but he cannot quite agree with the author’s general line of argument. He says that the author believes that no man is the lord of anything though he might have a lot, unless he communicates it to others. He says that the author believes that a man does not know of his own qualities until others applaud him, and that those qualities would exist only in a conceptual sense, if they were not recognized. Such a person, Ulysses’ author says, is like an arch, which reverberates with the voice, or like a gate of steel facing the sun that returns to the sun, his figure and his heat.

Ulysses then says he was very impressed with this argument and perceived in it immediately the figure of the unknown Ajax who hadn’t yet done anything to gain a reputation. He says that the fight with Hector will ‘create’ an Ajax of great consequence and it is the fame, which will effect it. Ulysses then comments about how some men advance surreptitiously in ‘‘skittish Fortune’s hall, / while others play the idiots in her eyes! How one man takes advantage of the idle pride of another, while the proud man perversely destroys his reputation just as a fasting man starves himself. Ulysses is subtly inciting Achilles. He then draws Achilles’ attention to how the Grecian lords were clapping the stupid Ajax on the shoulder as if he had already vanquished Hector and as if Troy was already shrieking.


Achilles asks Ulysses if his own deeds have been forgotten. Ulysses replies that ‘Time hath, my lord a wallet at his back/Wherein he puts alms for oblivion, /A great-siz’d monster of ingratitudes./Those scraps are good deeds past, which are devour’d/As fast as they are made, forgot as soon/As done.’

Ulysses concerns himself with the honor, which is manifested in external display. He means that perseverance keeps a polish on honor while momentary inaction leaves one unfashionable, making one no better than the rusty armor on a tomb - impressive but useless. ‘‘Take the instant way;/For honor travels in a strait so narrow/Where one but goes abreast. Keep then the path;/For emulation hath a thousand sons/That one by one pursue; if you give way’’ he says.

He means that so many are vying for supremacy that if you hesitate for a moment from the straight path that lies ahead. They will rush by like the tide and leave you behind, like the ones that come after will trample upon the horse that is fallen from the first rank. Then, their deeds will overshadow what you did in the past for Time is like a fashionable host who shakes his parting guest by the hand even as he embraces the newcomer.

‘Welcome ever smiles, /And farewell goes out sighing.’

.’..beauty, wit, /High birth, vigor of bone, desert in service, /Love, friendship, charity, are subjects all/To envious and calumniating Time’ says Ulysses referring to how time which destroys evidence and leaves only fragmentary traces misrepresents what once was. He continues that not merely is honor to be kept bright by perseverance, but that such constant action is necessary because all men are alike in loving the new and despising the old. ‘One touch of nature makes the whole world kin - ’ he says, meaning that mankind shows its kinship by acting discreditably. Everybody praises toys and worthless objects, although there may be nothing truly new in them and they might just be old things thinly disguised.

‘The present eye praises the present object: /Then marvel not, thou great and complete man, /That all the Greeks begin to worship Ajax/Since things in motion sooner catch the eye/Than what stirs not.’

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