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Daring in its conscious strength, the genius of Shakspeare turned aside from no encounter, however difficult or unpromising, that held out the most distant chance of conquest in the vast domain of human nature. In “TROILUS AND CRESSIDA” he has made a bold irruption into classic ground; and although the play does not rank among his greatest productions, he has yet shewn surprising art in rescuing the heroes and beauteous dames of Greece and Troy from the "cold obstruction" of antiquity, and placing them freshly before us as living, breathing beings, of a common nature with ourselves.
The wantonness of Cressida is from the first insinuated with consummate art, but with growing distinctness, till we are fully prepared to recognize the truth, as well as force, of the portrait of her presented by the sagacious Ulysses: —
“Fie, fie upon her!
At every joint and motive of ber body." Ulysses himself is delineated with great felicity. He exhibits those manifold phases of character which afford the fairest opportunity for the manifestation of dramatic skill. He plays upon Achilles and Ajax with varied and admirable cunning; yet his craftiness is not exerted to obtain advantages peculiar to himself: his object is to make their thews and sinews subservient to the great undertaking in which his country was engaged, and which only such a head as his could have brought to so prosperous a conclusion.
The magnanimous Hector — the pleasure-tuned, good-humored Paris — his fitting counterpart, Helen — Æneas, Agamemnon, Diomed, Nestor — indeed, all the multifarious characters who crowd the scene without encumbering it — are sketched in with every indication of vitality. We feel them to be instinct with life, and familiarly greet them on their resuscitation after a trance of so many centuries, as though all that passes were a matter of course, and they, like ourselves, were things of yesterday. .
The weak good-nature of Pandarus stands in excellent contrast with the splenetic “cob-loaf,” the “ crusty batch of nature,” Thersites; whose misanthropy, however, may claim the same palliation as Richard's — that "love foresworne him in his mother's womb." His wit, humor, and penetration make him agreeable even to those who suffer most from his sarcasm. Achilles calls him his “cheese,” his “ digestion ;” and Ajax, although the constant object of his open and unmitigated contempt, is angry with Achilles for having inveigled him away. In these cases, we recognize the power of even misapplied intellect, forcing its way through every obstacle, and winning the regard of duller spirits, who are content to endure its scorching qualities, for the sake of sharing in the general light and brilliancy that accompany them.
“TROILUS AND CRESSIDA” was first printed in quarto (1609). There are strong grounds for believing that there was an older play on the same subject; but to what extent, or whether at all, Shakspeare availed himself of it as a foundation for his own, can now be matter of conjecture only. The main incidents of the present drama were probably derived from Chaucer's tale of “TROILUS AND CRESSEIDE," and the popular works of Lydgate and Caxton on the destruction of Troy.
HELEN, Wife to MENELAUS.
Trojan and Greek Soldiers, and Attendants.
SCENE. Troy, and the Grecian Camp before it.
Troilus and Cressida.
In Troy, there lies the scene. From isles of Greece
| And Antenorides, with massy staples,
SCENE I. — Troy. Before Priam's Palace. for my part, I'll not meddle nor make no further.
He that will have a cake out of the wheat, must Enter TROILUS armed, and PANDARUS.
tarry the grinding. Tro. Call here my varlet, I 'll unarm again: 1 Tro. Have I not tarried ? Why should I war without the walls of Troy, Pan. Aye, the grinding; but you must tarry That find such cruel battle here within ? the bolting Each Trojan that is master of his heart,
Tro. Have I not tarried ?
Pan. Will this geer ne'er be mended ? leavening.
Pan. Ay, to the leavening: but here 's yet in Fierce to their skill, and to their fierceness valiant; the word “hereafter,” the kneading, the making But I am weaker than a woman's tear,
of the cake, the heating of the oven, and the Tamer than sleep, fonder than ignorance ; baking; nay, you must stay the cooling too, or Less valiant than the virgin in the night, you may chance to burn your lips. And skill-less as unpractised infancy.
Tro. Patience herself, what goddess e'er she be, Pan. Well, I have told you enough of this: Doth lesser blench at sufferanae than I do.
At Priam's royal table do I sit;
Tro. What, art thou angry, Pandarus ? what, And when fair Cressid comes into my thoughts —
with me? So, traitor! when she comes ! — when is she Pan. Because she is kin to me, therefore she's thence?
not so fair as Helen; an she were not kin to me, Pan. Well, she looked yesternight fairer than she would be as fair on Friday as Helen is on ever I saw her look, or any woman else.
Sunday. But what care I? I care not, an she Tro. I was about to tell thee:- When my heart, were a blackamoor ; 't is all one to me. As wedged with a sigh, would rive in twain; Tro. Say I, she is not fair ? Lest Hector or my father should perceive me, Pan. I do not care whether you do or no. I have (as when the sun doth light a storm) She's a fool to stay behind her father; let her to Buried this sigh in wrinkle of a smile :
the Grecks; and so I'll tell her the next time I But sorrow that is couched in seeming gladness, see her: for my part, I'll meddle nor makc no Is like that mirth fate turns to sudden sadness. more in the matter.
Pan. An her hair were not somewhat darker Tro. Pandarus, than Helen's (well, go to), there were no more Pan. Not I. comparison between the women — but, for my Tro. Sweet Pandarus, — part, she is my kinswoman ; I would not, as they | Pan. Pray you, speak no more to me; I will term it, praise her; but I would somebody had leave all as I found it, and there an end. heard her talk yesterday as I did. I will not dis
[Exit PANDARUS. An alarum. praise your sister Cassandra's wit; but —
Tro. Peace, you ungracious clamors ! peace, Tro. 0, Pandarus ! I tell thee, Pandarus, –
rude sounds! When I do tell thee, there my hopes lie drowned, Fools on both sides! Helen must needs be fair, Reply not in how many fathoms deep
When with your blood you daily paint her thus. They lie indrenched. I tell thee, I am mad I cannot fight upon this argument; In Cressid's love: thou answer’st, « She is fair;" It is too starved a subject for my sword. Pour'st in the open ulcer of my heart
But Pandarus — O gods, how do you plague Her eyes, her hair, her cheeks, her gait, her voice;
me! . Handlest in thy discourse, “Oh, that her hand, I cannot come to Cressid but by Pandar; In whose comparison all whites are ink,
And he's as tetchy to be wooed to woo, Writing their own reproach; to whose soft seizure As she is stubborn-chaste against all suit. The cygnet's down is harsh, and spirit of sense Tell me, A pollo, for thy Daphne's love, Hard as the palm of ploughman!” This thou | What Cressid is, what Pandar, and what we? tell’st me,
| Her bed is India; there she lies, a pearl : As true thou tell’st me, when I say, “ I love her;" Between our Ilium and where she resides, But saying thus, instead of oil and balm, Let it be called the wild and wandering flood; Thou lay'st in every gash that love hath given me, Ourself, the merchant; and this sailing Pandar, The knife that made it.
Our doubtful hope, our convoy, and our bark. Pan. I speak no more than truth. Tro. Thou dost not speak so much.
Alarum. Enter Æneas. Pan. 'Faith, I'll not meddle in 't. Let her be Æne. How now, prince Troilus? wherefore not as she is : if she be fair, 't is the better for her ;
afield ? an she be not, she has the mends in her own Tro. Because not there. This woman's answer hands.
sorts, Tro. Good Pandarus! How now, Pandarus ? For womanish it is to be from thence.
Pan. I have had my labor for my travel : ill- / What news, Æneas, from the field to-day? thought on of her, and ill-thought on of you; Æne. That Paris is returned home, and hurt. gone between and between, but small thanks for Tro. By whom, Æneas ? my labor.
Æne. Troilus, by Menelaus.