William Shakespeare: Troilus and Cressida, Act I, Scene III

Scene III

The Grecian camp. Before Agamemnon's tent

Sennet. Enter Agamemnon, Nestor, Ulysses, Menelaus, and others

Agamemnon

Princes, 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 promised largeness: cheques 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 affined 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.

Nestor

With due observance of thy godlike 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 breeze 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 roused with rage with rage doth sympathize, And with an accent tuned in selfsame key Retorts to chiding fortune.

Ulysses

Agamemnon, 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 To 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 axle-tree On which heaven rides, knit all the Greekish ears To his experienced tongue, yet let it please both, Thou great, and wise, to hear Ulysses speak.

Agamemnon

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 mastic jaws, We shall hear music, wit and oracle.

Ulysses

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 enthroned and sphered Amidst the other; whose medicinable eye Corrects the ill aspects of planets evil, And posts, like the commandment of a king, Sans cheque 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 shaked, Which is the ladder to all high designs, Then 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, an universal wolf, So doubly seconded with will and power, Must make perforce an 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 stands, not in her strength.

Nestor

Most wisely hath Ulysses here discover'd The fever whereof all our power is sick.

Agamemnon

The nature of the sickness found, Ulysses, What is the remedy?

Ulysses

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 unsquared, 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, as like as Vulcan and his wife: Yet god 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.

Nestor

And in the imitation of these twain— Who, 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 comparisons with dirt, To weaken and discredit our exposure, How rank soever rounded in with danger.

Ulysses

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 guide his execution.

Nestor

Let this be granted, and Achilles' horse Makes many Thetis' sons.

A tucket

Agamemnon

What trumpet? look, Menelaus.

Menelaus

From Troy.

Enter Aeneas

Agamemnon

What would you 'fore our tent?

Aeneas

Is this great Agamemnon's tent, I pray you?

Agamemnon

Even this.

Aeneas

May one, that is a herald and a prince, Do a fair message to his kingly ears?

Agamemnon

With surety stronger than Achilles' arm 'Fore all the Greekish heads, which with one voice Call Agamemnon head and general.

Aeneas

Fair leave and large security. How may A stranger to those most imperial looks Know them from eyes of other mortals?

Agamemnon

How!

Aeneas

Ay; 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 Phoebus: Which is that god in office, guiding men? Which is the high and mighty Agamemnon?

Agamemnon

This Trojan scorns us; or the men of Troy Are ceremonious courtiers.

Aeneas

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, AEneas, Peace, Trojan; lay thy finger on thy lips! The worthiness of praise distains his worth, If that the praised himself bring the praise forth: But what the repining enemy commends, That breath fame blows; that praise, sole sure, transcends.

Agamemnon

Sir, you of Troy, call you yourself AEneas?

Aeneas

Ay, Greek, that is my name.

Agamemnon

What's your affair I pray you?

Aeneas

Sir, pardon; 'tis for Agamemnon's ears.

Agamemnon

He hears naught privately that comes from Troy.

Aeneas

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.

Agamemnon

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.

Aeneas

Trumpet, blow loud, 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 call'd Hector,—Priam is his father,— Who in this dull and long-continued 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 Midway 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.

Agamemnon

This shall be told our lovers, Lord AEneas; 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.

Nestor

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.

Aeneas

Now heavens forbid such scarcity of youth!

Ulysses

Amen.

Agamemnon

Fair Lord AEneas, let me touch your hand; To our pavilion shall I lead you, sir. 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

Ulysses

Nestor!

Nestor

What says Ulysses?

Ulysses

I have a young conception in my brain; Be you my time to bring it to some shape.

Nestor

What is't?

Ulysses

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.

Nestor

Well, and how?

Ulysses

This challenge that the gallant Hector sends, However it is spread in general name, Relates in purpose only to Achilles.

Nestor

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.

Ulysses

And wake him to the answer, think you?

Nestor

Yes, 'tis most meet: whom may you else oppose, That can from Hector bring his honour 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 finest palate: and trust to me, Ulysses, Our imputation shall be oddly poised 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 supposed 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 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.

Ulysses

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.

Nestor

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

Ulysses

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 for the better 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.

Nestor

Ulysses, 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