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MonkeyNotes-Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
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Act IV, Scene 5 corresponds to Act III, Scene 3. Like the previous one, this scene is long and demonstrative, and has a compound structure. But whereas one can draw simple parallels in structure between the Greek and Trojan debate scenes, you can’t do that with these. Act III, Scene 3 demonstrated the psychological and theatrical attributes of Pride, while hinting at the relative nature of reputation. ActV, Scene 5 on the other hand, shows the integrity of both Hector and Troilus described, and Hector demonstrated, together with the dual nature of Ajax and the further frustrations that attend on human action. This scene finds its climax in the frustrated plot of Ulysses. Its center is a duel, which comes to nothing. At the same time, much of its dramatic force comes from a variety of demonstrations of the nature of a man. Achilles grows surly, Hector is magnificent or wrathful, and Ajax behaves with unexpected courtesy.

The opening of the scene is an anti-climax as Ajax adopts an inflated heroic stance.


The trumpet sounds and nothing follows at all. Ulysses’ dry comment, however leads to Agamemnon’s brief inquiry.

What follows is the metamorphosis of Cressida. She is transformed as she enters the Greek camp. We are presented with a round game - Cressida is kissed in turn, sometimes by the true man, sometimes by her surrogates (Patroclus for Paris, for Menelaus) and sometimes not at all, as Ulysses contrives to snub her, insult Menelaus and avoid demeaning himself by kissing ‘a whore.’

Cressida’s reception is usually interpreted as if she has turned whore as soon as she is out of Troilus’ sight. In fact, her reaction is not very different from that in her first encounter with Pandarus, and her witty replies only show that she attempts to meet the merry Greeks on their own level. She has certainly lost none of her self-possession or her basic distrust of men.

The kissing scene need not be seen as Ulysses sees it. He seems to compare Cressida with Helen as Patroclus does earlier in the same scene. The reminder of what the whole War is really about implicates the men as much as it does Cressida because they are the ones who first put an exaggerated price on the woman and then abuse her when she does not live up to it. Ulysses’ disgust is obviously not only occasioned by the scene just witnessed, and should not be taken as an authorial appraisal of Cressida. It expresses his angry impatience with a War fought in a ridiculous cause.

But the kissing is a momentary interlude: what failed to happen in answer to Ajax and his trumpet and what was almost forgotten in the round game, now occurs as the Trojans enter. The symmetry of the scene is manifested in the patterning - the formal kissing early on is balanced against the formal introductions of heroes near the end. The Greek generals in much the same order as that, in which they kissed Cressida, greet Hector. The Trojan entry provokes a tart comment from Achilles. In his eyes, secure pride and contempt for an opponent are enough to confirm that the challenger is Hector.

Aeneas then employs a logical syllogism to identify Achilles, and proceeds to distinguish the virtues in which Hector excels - generosity and courtesy. Similarly, the hybrid nature of Ajax, and hence the divided motives of Hector are the preliminary to the duel, as Aeneas explains.

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