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Troilus and Cressida

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Act I, Scene 3

The Grecian camp. Before Agamemnon’s tent.


[Sennet. Enter AGAMEMNON, NESTOR, ULYSSES,] [p]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 455
    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 460
    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, 465
    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 470
    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: 475
    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. 480
  • 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 485
    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, 490
    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 495
    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, 500
    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, 505
    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, 510
    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 515
    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 520
    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, 525
    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. 530
    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, 535
    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, 540
    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, 545
    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! 550
    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, 555
    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, 560
    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 565
    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, 570
    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, 575
    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 580
    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 585
    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. 590
  • 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 595
    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 600
    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, 605
    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 610
    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, 615
    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 620
    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 625
    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 630
    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, 635
    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. 640
    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, 645
    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, 650
    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 655
    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, 660
    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. 665

[A tucket]

[Enter AENEAS]

  • Agamemnon. What would you 'fore our tent? 670
  • Aeneas. Is this great Agamemnon's tent, I pray you?
  • 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 675
    '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? 680
  • 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 685
    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. 690
  • 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, 695
    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, 700
    That breath fame blows; that praise, sole sure,
  • Agamemnon. Sir, you of Troy, call you yourself AEneas?
  • Aeneas. Ay, Greek, that is my name.
  • Agamemnon. What's your affair I pray you? 705
  • 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, 710
    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. 715
  • 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] 720
    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! 725
    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, 730
    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, 735
    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: 740
    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; 745
    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, 750
    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, 755
    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 760
    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!
  • Agamemnon. Fair Lord AEneas, let me touch your hand; 765
    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. 770

[Exeunt all but ULYSSES and NESTOR]

  • Ulysses. I have a young conception in my brain;
    Be you my time to bring it to some shape. 775
  • 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, 780
    Or, shedding, breed a nursery of like evil,
    To overbulk us all.
  • Ulysses. This challenge that the gallant Hector sends,
    However it is spread in general name, 785
    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 790
    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? 795
  • 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 800
    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; 805
    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 810
    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, 815
    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: 820
    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 825
    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, 830
    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, 835
    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; 840
    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, 845
    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, 850
    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. 855