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

Act II. Scene II.

Troilus and Cressida

Troy.A Room in PRIAM’S Palace.


Pri.After so many hours, lives, speeches spent,

Thus once again says Nestor from the Greeks:

‘Deliver Helen, and all damage else,

As honour, loss of time, travail, expense,

Wounds, friends, and what else dear that is consum’d

In hot digestion of this cormorant war,

Shall be struck off.’ Hector, what say you to ’t?

Hect.Though no man lesser fears the Greeks than I,

As far as toucheth my particular,

Yet, dread Priam,

There is no lady of more softer bowels,

More spongy to suck in the sense of fear,

More ready to cry out ‘Who knows what follows?’

Than Hector is. The wound of peace is surety,

Surety secure; but modest doubt is call’d

The beacon of the wise, the tent that searches

To the bottom of the worst. Let Helen go:

Since the first sword was drawn about this question,

Every tithe soul, ’mongst many thousand dismes,

Hath been as dear as Helen; I mean, of ours:

If we have lost so many tenths of ours,

To guard a thing not ours nor worth to us,

Had it our name, the value of one ten,

What merit’s in that reason which denies

The yielding of her up?

Tro.Fie, fie! my brother,

Weigh you the worth and honour of a king

So great as our dread father in a scale

Of common ounces? will you with counters sum

The past proportion of his infinite?

And buckle in a waist most fathomless

With spans and inches so diminutive

As fears and reasons? fie, for godly shame!

Hel.No marvel, though you bite so sharp at reasons,

You are so empty of them. Should not our father

Bear the great sway of his affairs with reasons,

Because your speech hath none that tells him so?

Tro.You are for dreams and slumbers, brother priest;

You fur your gloves with reason. Here are your reasons:

You know an enemy intends you harm;

You know a sword employ’d is perilous,

And reason flies the object of all harm:

Who marvels then, when Helenus beholds

A Grecian and his sword, if he do set

The very wings of reason to his heels,

And fly like chidden Mercury from Jove,

Or like a star disorb’d? Nay, if we talk of reason,

Let’s shut our gates and sleep: manhood and honour

Should have hare-hearts, would they but fat their thoughts

With this cramm’d reason: reason and respect

Make livers pale, and lustihood deject.

Hect.Brother, she is not worth what she doth cost

The holding.

Tro.What is aught but as ’tis valu’d?

Hect.But value dwells not in particular will;

It holds his estimate and dignity

As well wherein ’tis precious of itself

As in the prizer. ’Tis mad idolatry

To make the service greater than the god;

And the will dotes that is inclinable

To what infectiously itself affects,

Without some image of the affected merit.

Tro.I take to-day a wife, and my election

Is led on in the conduct of my will;

My will enkindled by mine eyes and ears,

Two traded pilots ’twixt the dangerous shores

Of will and judgment. How may I avoid,

Although my will distaste what it elected,

The wife I chose? there can be no evasion

To blench from this and to stand firm by honour.

We turn not back the silks upon the merchant

When we have soil’d them, nor the remainder viands

We do not throw in unrespective sink

Because we now are full. It was thought meet

Paris should do some vengeance on the Greeks:

Your breath of full consent bellied his sails;

The seas and winds—old wranglers—took a truce

And did him service: he touch’d the ports desir’d,

And for an old aunt whom the Greeks held captive

He brought a Grecian queen, whose youth and freshness

Wrinkles Apollo’s, and makes stale the morning.

Why keep we her? the Grecians keep our aunt:

Is she worth keeping? why, she is a pearl,

Whose price hath launch’d above a thousand ships,

And turn’d crown’d kings to merchants.

If you’ll avouch ’twas wisdom Paris went,—

As you must needs, for you all cried ‘Go, go,’—

If you’ll confess he brought home noble prize,—

As you must needs, for you all clapp’d your hands,

And cry’d ‘Inestimable!’—why do you now

The issue of your proper wisdoms rate,

And do a deed that Fortune never did,

Beggar the estimation which you priz’d

Richer than sea and land? O! theft most base,

That we have stol’n what we do fear to keep!

But thieves unworthy of a thing so stol’n,

That in their country did them that disgrace

We fear to warrant in our native place.

Cas.[Within.]Cry, Trojans, cry!

Pri.What noise? what shriek?

Tro.’Tis our mad sister, I do know her voice.

Cas.[Within.]Cry, Trojans!

Hect.It is Cassandra.

Enter CASSANDRA, raving.

Cas.Cry, Trojans, cry! lend me ten thousand eyes,

And I will fill them with prophetic tears.

Hect.Peace, sister, peace!

Cas.Virgins and boys, mid-age and wrinkled eld,

Soft infancy, that nothing canst but cry,

Add to my clamours! let us pay betimes

A moiety of that mass of moan to come.

Cry, Trojans, cry! practise your eyes with tears!

Troy must not be, nor goodly Ilion stand;

Our firebrand brother, Paris, burns us all.

Cry, Trojans, cry! a Helen and a woe!

Cry, cry! Troy burns, or else let Helen go.[Exit.

Hect.Now, youthful Troilus, do not these high strains

Of divination in our sister work

Some touches of remorse? or is your blood

So madly hot that no discourse of reason,

Nor fear of bad success in a bad cause,

Can qualify the same?

Tro.Why, brother Hector,

We may not think the justness of each act

Such and no other than event doth form it,

Nor once deject the courage of our minds,

Because Cassandra’s mad: her brain-sick raptures

Cannot distaste the goodness of a quarrel

Which hath our several honours all engag’d

To make it gracious. For my private part,

I am no more touch’d than all Priam’s sons;

And Jove forbid there should be done amongst us

Such things as might offend the weakest spleen

To fight for and maintain.

Par.Else might the world convince of levity

As well my undertakings as your counsels;

But I attest the gods, your full consent

Gave wings to my propension and cut off

All fears attending on so dire a project:

For what, alas! can these my single arms?

What propugnation is in one man’s valour,

To stand the push and enmity of those

This quarrel would excite? Yet, I protest,

Were I alone to pass the difficulties,

And had as ample power as I have will,

Paris should ne’er retract what he hath done,

Nor faint in the pursuit.

Pri.Paris, you speak

Like one besotted on your sweet delights:

You have the honey still, but these the gall;

So to be valiant is no praise at all.

Par.Sir, I propose not merely to myself

The pleasure such a beauty brings with it;

But I would have the soil of her fair rape

Wip’d off, in honourable keeping her.

What treason were it to the ransack’d queen,

Disgrace to your great worths, and shame to me,

Now to deliver her possession up,

On terms of base compulsion! Can it be

That so degenerate a strain as this

Should once set footing in your generous bosoms?

There’s not the meanest spirit on our party

Without a heart to dare or sword to draw

When Helen is defended, nor none so noble

Whose life were ill bestow’d or death unfam’d

Where Helen is the subject: then, I say,

Well may we fight for her, whom, we know well,

The world’s large spaces cannot parallel.

Hect.Paris and Troilus, you have both said well;

And on the cause and question now in hand

Have gloz’d, but superficially; not much

Unlike young men, whom Aristotle thought

Unfit to hear moral philosophy.

The reasons you allege do more conduce

To the hot passion of distemper’d blood

Than to make up a free determination

’Twixt right and wrong; for pleasure and revenge

Have ears more deaf than adders to the voice

Of any true decision. Nature craves

All dues be render’d to their owners: now,

What nearer debt in all humanity

Than wife is to the husband? if this law

Of nature be corrupted through affection,

And that great minds, of partial indulgence

To their benumbed wills, resist the same;

There is a law in each well-order’d nation

To curb those raging appetites that are

Most disobedient and refractory.

If Helen then be wife to Sparta’s king,

As it is known she is, these moral laws

Of nature, and of nations, speak aloud

To have her back return’d: thus to persist

In doing wrong extenuates not wrong,

But makes it much more heavy. Hector’s opinion

Is this, in way of truth; yet, ne’ertheless,

My spritely brethren, I propend to you

In resolution to keep Helen still;

For ’tis a cause that hath no mean dependance

Upon our joint and several dignities.

Tro.Why, there you touch’d the life of our design:

Were it not glory that we more affected

Than the performance of our heaving spleens,

I would not wish a drop of Trojan blood

Spent more in her defence. But, worthy Hector,

She is a theme of honour and renown,

A spur to valiant and magnanimous deeds,

Whose present courage may beat down our foes,

And fame in time to come canonize us;

For, I presume, brave Hector would not lose

So rich advantage of a promis’d glory

As smiles upon the forehead of this action

For the wide world’s revenue.

Hect.I am yours,

You valiant offspring of great Priamus.

I have a roisting challenge sent amongst

The dull and factious nobles of the Greeks

Will strike amazement to their drowsy spirits.

I was advertis’d their great general slept

Whilst emulation in the army crept:

This, I presume, will wake him.[Exeunt.