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Troilus and Cressida

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Act II, Scene 2

Troy. A room in Priam’s palace.



  • Priam. After so many hours, lives, speeches spent, 990
    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 consumed
    In hot digestion of this cormorant war— 995
    Shall be struck off.' Hector, what say you to't?
  • Hector. 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, 1000
    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 1005
    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, 1010
    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?
  • Troilus. Fie, fie, my brother! 1015
    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 1020
    With spans and inches so diminutive
    As fears and reasons? fie, for godly shame!
  • Helenus. 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, 1025
    Because your speech hath none that tells him so?
  • Troilus. 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; 1030
    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 1035
    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 1040
    With this cramm'd reason: reason and respect
    Make livers pale and lustihood deject.
  • Hector. Brother, she is not worth what she doth cost
    The holding.
  • Troilus. What is aught, but as 'tis valued? 1045
  • Hector. 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 1050
    And the will dotes that is attributive
    To what infectiously itself affects,
    Without some image of the affected merit.
  • Troilus. I take to-day a wife, and my election
    Is led on in the conduct of my will; 1055
    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 1060
    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 sieve,
    Because we now are full. It was thought meet 1065
    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 desired,
    And for an old aunt whom the Greeks held captive, 1070
    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, 1075
    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 1080
    And cried '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 prized
    Richer than sea and land? O, theft most base, 1085
    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!
  • Priam. What noise? what shriek is this?
  • Troilus. 'Tis our mad sister, I do know her voice.

[Enter CASSANDRA, raving]

  • Cassandra. Cry, Trojans, cry! lend me ten thousand eyes,
    And I will fill them with prophetic tears.
  • Hector. Peace, sister, peace!
  • Cassandra. Virgins and boys, mid-age and wrinkled eld,
    Soft infancy, that nothing canst but cry, 1100
    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. 1105
    Cry, Trojans, cry! a Helen and a woe:
    Cry, cry! Troy burns, or else let Helen go.


  • Hector. Now, youthful Troilus, do not these high strains
    Of divination in our sister work 1110
    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?
  • Troilus. Why, brother Hector, 1115
    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 1120
    Which hath our several honours all engaged
    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 1125
    To fight for and maintain!
  • Paris. 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 1130
    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, 1135
    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.
  • Priam. Paris, you speak 1140
    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.
  • Paris. Sir, I propose not merely to myself
    The pleasures such a beauty brings with it; 1145
    But I would have the soil of her fair rape
    Wiped 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 1150
    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 1155
    When Helen is defended, nor none so noble
    Whose life were ill bestow'd or death unfamed
    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. 1160
  • Hector. Paris and Troilus, you have both said well,
    And on the cause and question now in hand
    Have glozed, but superficially: not much
    Unlike young men, whom Aristotle thought
    Unfit to hear moral philosophy: 1165
    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 1170
    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, 1175
    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. 1180
    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, 1185
    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 1190
    Upon our joint and several dignities.
  • Troilus. 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 1195
    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; 1200
    For, I presume, brave Hector would not lose
    So rich advantage of a promised glory
    As smiles upon the forehead of this action
    For the wide world's revenue.
  • Hector. I am yours, 1205
    You valiant offspring of great Priamus.
    I have a roisting challenge sent amongst
    The dun and factious nobles of the Greeks
    Will strike amazement to their drowsy spirits:
    I was advertised their great general slept, 1210
    Whilst emulation in the army crept:
    This, I presume, will wake him.