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William Shakespeare (1564–1616). The Oxford Shakespeare. 1914.

Act I. Scene III.

Troilus and Cressida

The Grecian Camp.Before AGAMEMNON’S Tent.



What grief hath set the jaundice on your cheeks?

The ample proposition that hope makes

In all designs begun on earth below

Fails in the promis’d largeness: checks and disasters

Grow in the veins of actions highest rear’d;

As knots, by the conflux of meeting sap,

Infect the sound pine and divert his grain

Tortive and errant from his course of growth.

Nor, princes, is it matter new to us

That we come short of our suppose so far

That after seven years’ siege yet Troy walls stand;

Sith every action that hath gone before,

Whereof we have record, trial did draw

Bias and thwart, not answering the aim,

And that unbodied figure of the thought

That gave ’t surmised shape. Why then, you princes,

Do you with cheeks abash’d behold our works,

And call them shames? which are indeed nought else

But the protractive trials of great Jove,

To find persistive constancy in men:

The fineness of which metal is not found

In Fortune’s love; for then, the bold and coward,

The wise and fool, the artist and unread,

The hard and soft, seem all affin’d and kin:

But, in the wind and tempest of her frown,

Distinction, with a broad and powerful fan,

Puffing at all, winnows the light away;

And what hath mass or matter, by itself

Lies rich in virtue and unmingled.

Nest.With due observance of thy god-like seat,

Great Agamemnon, Nestor shall apply

Thy latest words. In the reproof of chance

Lies the true proof of men: the sea being smooth,

How many shallow bauble boats dare sail

Upon her patient breast, making their way

With those of nobler bulk!

But let the ruffian Boreas once enrage

The gentle Thetis, and anon behold

The strong-ribb’d bark through liquid mountains cut,

Bounding between the two moist elements,

Like Perseus’ horse: where’s then the saucy boat

Whose weak untimber’d sides but even now

Co-rivall’d greatness? either to harbour fled,

Or made a toast for Neptune. Even so

Doth valour’s show and valour’s worth divide

In storms of fortune; for in her ray and brightness

The herd hath more annoyance by the breese

Than by the tiger; but when the splitting wind

Makes flexible the knees of knotted oaks,

And flies fled under shade, why then the thing of courage,

As rous’d with rage, with rage doth sympathize,

And with an accent tun’d in self-same key,

Retorts to chiding fortune.


Thou great commander, nerve and bone of Greece,

Heart of our numbers, soul and only spirit,

In whom the tempers and the minds of all

Should be shut up, hear what Ulysses speaks.

Besides the applause and approbation

The which,[To AGAMEMNON.]most mighty for thy place and sway,

[To NESTOR.]And thou most reverend for thy stretch’d-out life,

I give to both your speeches, which were such

As Agamemnon and the hand of Greece

Should hold up high in brass; and such again

As venerable Nestor, hatch’d in silver,

Should with a bond of air, strong as the axletree

On which heaven rides, knit all the Greekish ears

To his experienc’d tongue, yet let it please both,

Thou great, and wise, to hear Ulysses speak.

Agam.Speak, Prince of Ithaca; and be ’t of less expect

That matter needless, of importless burden,

Divide thy lips, than we are confident,

When rank Thersites opes his mastick jaws,

We shall hear music, wit, and oracle.

Ulyss.Troy, yet upon his basis, had been down,

And the great Hector’s sword had lack’d a master,

But for these instances.

The specialty of rule hath been neglected:

And look, how many Grecian tents do stand

Hollow upon this plain, so many hollow factions.

When that the general is not like the hive

To whom the foragers shall all repair,

What honey is expected? Degree being vizarded,

The unworthiest shows as fairly in the mask.

The heavens themselves, the planets, and this centre

Observe degree, priority, and place,

Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,

Office, and custom, in all line of order:

And therefore is the glorious planet Sol

In noble eminence enthron’d and spher’d

Amidst the other; whose med’cinable eye

Corrects the ill aspects of planets evil,

And posts, like the commandment of a king,

Sans check, to good and bad: but when the planets

In evil mixture to disorder wander,

What plagues, and what portents, what mutiny,

What raging of the sea, shaking of earth.

Commotion in the winds, frights, changes, horrors,

Divert and crack, rend and deracinate

The unity and married calm of states

Quite from their fixure! O! when degree is shak’d,

Which is the ladder to all high designs,

The enterprise is sick. How could communities,

Degrees in schools, and brotherhoods in cities,

Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,

The primogenitive and due of birth,

Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,

But by degree, stand in authentic place?

Take but degree away, untune that string,

And, hark! what discord follows; each thing meets

In mere oppugnancy: the bounded waters

Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores,

And make a sop of all this solid globe:

Strength should be lord of imbecility,

And the rude son should strike his father dead:

Force should be right; or rather, right and wrong—

Between whose endless jar justice resides—

Should lose their names, and so should justice too.

Then every thing includes itself in power,

Power into will, will into appetite;

And appetite, a universal wolf,

So doubly seconded with will and power,

Must make perforce a universal prey,

And last eat up himself. Great Agamemnon,

This chaos, when degree is suffocate,

Follows the choking.

And this neglection of degree it is

That by a pace goes backward, with a purpose

It hath to climb. The general’s disdain’d

By him one step below, he by the next,

That next by him beneath; so every step,

Exampled by the first pace that is sick

Of his superior, grows to an envious fever

Of pale and bloodless emulation:

And ’tis this fever that keeps Troy on foot,

Not her own sinews. To end a tale of length,

Troy in our weakness lives, not in her strength.

Nest.Most wisely hath Ulysses here discover’d

The fever whereof all our power is sick.

Agam.The nature of the sickness found, Ulysses,

What is the remedy?

Ulyss.The great Achilles, whom opinion crowns

The sinew and the forehand of our host,

Having his ear full of his airy fame,

Grows dainty of his worth, and in his tent

Lies mocking our designs. With him Patroclus

Upon a lazy bed the livelong day

Breaks scurril jests,

And with ridiculous and awkward action—

Which, slanderer, he imitation calls—

He pageants us. Sometime, great Agamemnon,

Thy topless deputation he puts on

And, like a strutting player, whose conceit

Lies in his hamstring, and doth think it rich

To hear the wooden dialogue and sound

’Twixt his stretch’d footing and the scaffoldage,—

Such to-be-pitied and o’er-wrested seeming

He acts thy greatness in:—and when he speaks,

’Tis like a chime a mending; with terms unsquar’d,

Which, from the tongue of roaring Typhon dropp’d,

Would seem hyperboles. At this fusty stuff

The large Achilles, on his press’d bed lolling,

From his deep chest laughs out a loud applause;

Cries, ‘Excellent! ’tis Agamemnon just.

Now play me Nestor; hem, and stroke thy beard,

As he being drest to some oration.’

That’s done;—as near as the extremest ends

Of parallels, like as Vulcan and his wife:—

Yet good Achilles still cries, ‘Excellent!

’Tis Nestor right. Now play him me, Patroclus,

Arming to answer in a night alarm.’

And then, forsooth, the faint defects of age

Must be the scene of mirth; to cough and spit,

And with a palsy-fumbling on his gorget,

Shake in and out the rivet: and at this sport

Sir Valour dies; cries, ‘O! enough, Patroclus;

Or give me ribs of steel; I shall split all

In pleasure of my spleen.’ And in this fashion,

All our abilities, gifts, natures, shapes,

Severals and generals of grace exact,

Achievements, plots, orders, preventions,

Excitements to the field, or speech for truce,

Success or loss, what is or is not, serves

As stuff for these two to make paradoxes.

Nest.And in the imitation of these twain—

Whom, as Ulysses says, opinion crowns

With an imperial voice—many are infect.

Ajax is grown self-will’d, and bears his head

In such a rein, in full as proud a place

As broad Achilles; keeps his tent like him;

Makes factious feasts; rails on our state of war,

Bold as an oracle, and sets Thersites—

A slave whose gall coins slanders like a mint—

To match us in comparison with dirt;

To weaken and discredit our exposure,

How rank soever rounded in with danger.

Ulyss.They tax our policy, and call it cowardice;

Count wisdom as no member of the war;

Forestall prescience, and esteem no act

But that of hand: the still and mental parts,

That do contrive how many hands shall strike,

When fitness calls them on, and know by measure

Of their observant toil the enemies’ weight,—

Why, this hath not a finger’s dignity:

They call this bed-work, mappery, closet-war;

So that the ram that batters down the wall,

For the great swing and rudeness of his poise,

They place before his hand that made the engine,

Or those that with the fineness of their souls

By reason guides his execution.

Nest.Let this be granted, and Achilles’ horse

Makes many Thetis’ sons.[A tucket.

Agam.What trumpet? look, Menelaus.

Men.From Troy.

Enter ÆNEAS.

Agam.What would you ’fore our tent?

Æne.Is this great Agamemnon’s tent, I pray you?

Agam.Even this.

Æne.May one, that is a herald and a prince,

Do a fair message to his kingly ears?

Agam.With surety stronger than Achilles’ arm

’Fore all the Greekish heads, which with one voice

Call Agamemnon head and general.

Æne.Fair leave and large security. How may

A stranger to those most imperial looks

Know them from eyes of other mortals?



I ask, that I might waken reverence,

And bid the cheek be ready with a blush

Modest as morning when she coldly eyes

The youthful Phœbus:

Which is that god in office, guiding men?

Which is the high and mighty Agamemnon?

Agam.This Trojan scorns us; or the men of Troy

Are ceremonious courtiers.

Æne.Courtiers as free, as debonair, unarm’d,

As bending angels; that’s their fame in peace:

But when they would seem soldiers, they have galls,

Good arms, strong joints, true swords; and, Jove’s accord,

Nothing so full of heart. But peace, Æneas!

Peace, Trojan! lay thy finger on thy lips!

The worthiness of praise distains his worth,

If that the prais’d himself bring the praise forth;

But what the repining enemy commends,

That breath fame blows; that praise, sole pure, transcends.

Agam.Sir, you of Troy, call you yourself Æneas?

Æne.Ay, Greek, that is my name.

Agam.What’s your affair, I pray you?

Æne.Sir, pardon; ’tis for Agamemnon’s ears.

Agam.He hears nought privately that comes from Troy.

Æne.Nor I from Troy come not to whisper him:

I bring a trumpet to awake his ear,

To set his sense on the attentive bent,

And then to speak.

Agam.Speak frankly as the wind:

It is not Agamemnon’s sleeping hour;

That thou shalt know, Trojan, he is awake,

He tells thee so himself.

Æne.Trumpet, blow aloud,

Send thy brass voice through all these lazy tents;

And every Greek of mettle, let him know,

What Troy means fairly shall be spoke aloud.[Trumpet sounds.

We have, great Agamemnon, here in Troy.

A prince called Hector,—Priam is his father,—

Who in this dull and long-continu’d truce

Is rusty grown: he bade me take a trumpet,

And to this purpose speak: kings, princes, lords!

If there be one among the fair’st of Greece

That holds his honour higher than his ease,

That seeks his praise more than he fears his peril,

That knows his valour, and knows not his fear,

That loves his mistress more than in confession,

With truant vows to her own lips he loves,

And dare avow her beauty and her worth

In other arms than hers,—to him this challenge.

Hector, in view of Trojans and of Greeks,

Shall make it good, or do his best to do it,

He hath a lady wiser, fairer, truer,

Than ever Greek did compass in his arms;

And will to-morrow with his trumpet call,

Mid-way between your tents and walls of Troy,

To rouse a Grecian that is true in love:

If any come, Hector shall honour him;

If none, he’ll say in Troy when he retires,

The Grecian dames are sunburnt, and not worth

The splinter of a lance. Even so much.

Agam.This shall be told our lovers, Lord Æneas;

If none of them have soul in such a kind,

We left them all at home: but we are soldiers;

And may that soldier a mere recreant prove,

That means not, hath not, or is not in love!

If then one is, or hath, or means to be,

That one meets Hector; if none else, I am he.

Nest.Tell him of Nestor, one that was a man

When Hector’s grandsire suck’d: he is old now;

But if there be not in our Grecian host

One noble man that hath one spark of fire

To answer for his love, tell him from me,

I’ll hide my silver beard in a gold beaver,

And in my vantbrace put this wither’d brawn;

And, meeting him, will tell him that my lady

Was fairer than his grandam, and as chaste

As may be in the world: his youth in flood,

I’ll prove this truth with my three drops of blood.

Æne.Now heavens forbid such scarcity of youth!


Agam.Fair Lord Æneas, let me touch your hand;

To our pavilion shall I lead you first.

Achilles shall have word of this intent;

So shall each lord of Greece, from tent to tent:

Yourself shall feast with us before you go,

And find the welcome of a noble foe.[Exeunt all but ULYSSES and NESTOR.


Nest.What says Ulysses?

Ulyss.I have a young conception in my brain;

Be you my time to bring it to some shape.

Nest.What is ’t?

Ulyss.This ’tis:

Blunt wedges rive hard knots: the seeded pride

That hath to this maturity blown up

In rank Achilles, must or now be cropp’d,

Or, shedding, breed a nursery of like evil,

To overbulk us all.

Nest.Well, and how?

Ulyss.This challenge that the gallant Hector sends,

However it is spread in general name,

Relates in purpose only to Achilles.

Nest.The purpose is perspicuous even as substance

Whose grossness little characters sum up:

And, in the publication, make no strain,

But that Achilles, were his brain as barren

As banks of Libya,—though, Apollo knows,

’Tis dry enough,—will with great speed of judgment,

Ay, with celerity, find Hector’s purpose

Pointing on him.

Ulyss.And wake him to the answer, think you?

Nest.Yes, ’tis most meet: whom may you else oppose,

That can from Hector bring those honours off,

If not Achilles? Though ’t be a sportful combat,

Yet in the trial much opinion dwells;

For here the Trojans taste our dear’st repute

With their fin’st palate: and trust to me, Ulysses,

Our imputation shall be oddly pois’d

In this wild action; for the success,

Although particular, shall give a scantling

Of good or bad unto the general;

And in such indexes, although small pricks

To their subsequent volumes, there is seen

The baby figure of the giant mass

Of things to come at large. It is suppos’d

He that meets Hector issues from our choice;

And choice, being mutual act of all our souls,

Makes merit her election, and doth boil,

As ’twere from forth us all, a man distill’d

Out of our virtues; who miscarrying,

What heart receives from hence the conquering part,

To steel a strong opinion to themselves?

Which entertain’d, limbs are his instruments,

In no less working than are swords and bows

Directive by the limbs.

Ulyss.Give pardon to my speech:

Therefore ’tis meet Achilles meet not Hector.

Let us like merchants show our foulest wares,

And think perchance they’ll sell; if not,

The lustre of the better yet to show

Shall show the better. Do not consent

That ever Hector and Achilles meet;

For both our honour and our shame in this

Are dogg’d with two strange followers.

Nest.I see them not with my old eyes: what are they?

Ulyss.What glory our Achilles shares from Hector,

Were he not proud, we all should share with him:

But he already is too insolent;

And we were better parch in Afric sun

Than in the pride and salt scorn of his eyes,

Should he ’scape Hector fair: if he were foil’d,

Why then we did our main opinion crush

In taint of our best man. No; make a lottery;

And by device let blockish Ajax draw

The sort to fight with Hector: among ourselves

Give him allowance as the worthier man,

For that will physic the great Myrmidon

Who broils in loud applause; and make him fall

His crest that prouder than blue Iris bends.

If the dull brainless Ajax come safe off,

We’ll dress him up in voices: if he fail,

Yet go we under our opinion still

That we have better men. But, hit or miss,

Our project’s life this shape of sense assumes:

Ajax employ’d plucks down Achilles’ plumes.


Now I begin to relish thy advice;

And I will give a taste of it forthwith

To Agamemnon: go we to him straight.

Two curs shall tame each other: pride alone

Must tarre the mastiffs on, as ’twere their bone.[Exeunt.