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Group Readings > Act 4-Troilus and Cressida Jan 16-22

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message 1: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2724 comments Mod
Is anyone still around and reading?

I am still working on Act 4.

Why don't we try this idea of having each Act in it's own topic heading?


message 2: by DavidE (new)

DavidE (shaxton) | 358 comments I second the idea.


message 3: by DavidE (new)

DavidE (shaxton) | 358 comments “But still sweet love is food for Fortune's tooth” (IV, v, concluding line)

Well, what on earth are we to make of the last scene of Act 4? Seldom it is that Shakespeare can keep from smiling at human behavior (“Lord what fools these mortals be,” as Puck sums up), but there are two bits of Act 4 that seem to me so bizarre that I wonder if some other writer has made unwanted contributions.

The first, and most obvious, is the kissing gauntlet when Cressida is brought into the Greek camp. I can't think of anything else in all of Shakespeare that comes close to the bizarreness of this scene. I suspect most modern productions will show Cressida as an unwilling participant in this curious show, but I'm not sure the text supports such an interpretation. I'd be most curious to know how it was staged 400 years ago.

The second, almost like something out of a modern drag show, finds Achilles and Hector inspecting one another's bodies:

HECTOR
Stand fair, I pray thee: let me look on thee.
ACHILLES
Behold thy fill.
HECTOR
Nay, I have done already.
ACHILLES
Thou art too brief: I will the second time,
As I would buy thee, view thee limb by limb.
. . .
Tell me, you heavens, in which part of his body
Shall I destroy him? whether there, or there, or there?
That I may give the local wound a name
And make distinct the very breach whereout
Hector's great spirit flew: answer me, heavens!

Did the dates not jar so, I'd be tempted to think Marlowe wrote this. As it is, I can't help but wonder how the writer wanted the bit to be staged. One can well imagine the 'palm comical' (was that the phrase?) kicking into high gear.

But perhaps others in the forum have a different take?


message 4: by DavidE (new)

DavidE (shaxton) | 358 comments BTW, Candy, I think it might be the case that others in the Shakespeare Fans group are not receiving email notifications of the new threads you've started. I know I didn't--I just stumbled across the ones you'd set up for Act 4 and Act 5.


message 5: by Gabriel (new)

Gabriel | 175 comments I'm slightly confused about the parallel trails, but anyway, (1) my vote would be for 'Two gentlemen of verona' next, and (2) thanks for David for getting the focus squarely back on T&C act IV. I agree the last scene is extraordinary but it does seem to me to be the effective culmination of what's gone before. We've already had hints of the hate-love relationship between the Greeks and Trojans, to the extent that the war seems futile, and here this is intensified. There seems to be to be a strong element of homoeroticism in it, which, if only they could let go of their warrior pride, they could simply acknowledge instead of killing each other. But the characters get more clearly differentiated. Hector is generous in battle, sparing weaker adversaries, and offering to fight with only half his strength against Ajax, who is his cousin - 'this blended knight, half Trojan and half Greek'. Achilles has a nasty side to his attraction to Hector, more deadly than loving, as you've quoted. Troilus seems to be genuinely in love, but Cressida is an enigma. She could be played different ways, but I think it would lose pathos to play her as out and out promiscuous. I think she becomes so in self-protection. At first she genuinely meant to be faithful to Troilus, and kicked up a big fuss when she was arbitrarily sent away, but after that loss, and surrounded by a load of men who are clearly going to try and corrupt her, she has to think how to survive.
I don't see all this as funny, but as starting from satire and moving towards a deeply critical view of that world, or perhaps of humanity in general, half way towards the tragicness of Lear or the almost crazy bitterness of Timon of Athens, anticipated by Thersites.
I'm interested, David, in why you think it could have been Marlowe. Do you see Marlowe as having a more jaundiced view of humanity altogether? Perhaps we should read a Marlowe play some time.


message 6: by Thomas (new)

Thomas (Thomas156) | 16 comments Gabriel wrote: "I'm slightly confused about the parallel trails, but anyway, (1) my vote would be for 'Two gentlemen of verona' next, and (2) thanks for David for getting the focus squarely back on T&C act IV. I a..."

Well, I do not think that Troilus is genuinely in love with Cressida; at any rate, his love is not as generous as that of Romeo, or Juliet. In the parting scene (4.4) his long speeches are full of self-pity, rather than concern for Cressida, or hope for a future together. He repeated exhorts Cressida to be true to him, thereby indicating in a depressingly obvious way that he mistrusts her, that he knows that he cannot take her truth for granted.
Cressida seems to be unaware of the implications of her sexual relationship with Troilus, but notices that he doubts her, insults her.
Well this is my understanding of the parting Scene - How do you read it?
I do not think we can avoid the conclusion that she enjoys being kissed by the Greek 'heroes'; she seems to be annoyed that Ulysses refuses the kiss offered. I do not think there is any 'pathos' involved; rather the pathos which Troilus' attitude implied is rendered ridiculous. Cressida does not take kissing, being in love, sexuality seriously. Why should she? It was not her own responsible decision to go to bed with Troilus; she gave in to the 'authority' of her uncle. To use that phrase again, all of this is too funny to be tragic; and the fun is mingled with a sense of (as you put it, Gabriel) crazy bitterness, a devastatingly disillusioned view of humanity.


message 7: by DavidE (new)

DavidE (shaxton) | 358 comments Gabriel wrote: "I'm slightly confused about the parallel trails, but anyway, (1) my vote would be for 'Two gentlemen of verona' next, and (2) thanks for David for getting the focus squarely back on T&C act IV. I a..."

Interesting commentary, Gabriel. I feel like I'm at a distinct disadvantage in this forum because I do not put a lot of emphasis on characterization in a Shakespeare play--and I'm inclined to think S didn't either, preferring to emphasize what works well on stage (not on the page). But I'm the first to admit that in 'Troilus and Cressida' Shakespeare has not been particularly consistent, with much of anything. It's pretty much impossible to reconcile the Cressida we see in the scenes with Troilus and those when Troilus is absent.

There have been attempts in recent times to see this play as voicing the despair and cynicism of our age, but I'm not convinced that Shakespeare was any more cynical, if that's the right word, in this play than he was in many other plays (Lear, for example). As with all his plays, he just can't seem to stop laughing, or at least smiling, at what all we humans get up to.

As for Marlowe, well, it's just that Marlowe is ten times more in-your-face than 'gentle Shakespeare' could ever be. And parts of the last scene in Act 4 struck me as too outlandish for Shakespeare but maybe just the sort of thing Marlowe would love (especially in a play like Tambulaine).

Tackling one of Marlowe's plays might be a lot of fun, but I don't know if others in a group called 'Shakespeare Fans' would be amenable to the idea.


message 8: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) Candy, I think dividing the Acts into separate threads is an excellent idea, especially since the reading schedule adheres to the same divisions. I belong to other groups whose reading schedules dictate the division of reading threads, and it's much easier to discuss the sections in depth without having to worry about spoilers.

I've just begun Act 4, and I feel as if I have gotten to know these characters fairly well by now. I thought the question of who Helen should be with was interesting.


message 9: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2724 comments Mod
Great comments and thanks for the feedback on dividing the threads into separate posts here.

I have found the Act 4, Scene 4...so sad and depressing. I can not shake the feeling that Troilus and Cressida were in love...yes, perhaps Troillus is "less in love" than Cressida...and I put that as something of a personality or social training...perhaps he is more able to compartmentalize his emotions?

But the way they talk to each other...for me, was terribly terribly depressing and emotional. I feel convinced of their love....

I feel as if it is a situation where young people believe love is so strong...and it will stay exactly the same despite time grinding or lives ups and downs.

There is a scene in the move THE HOURS...here it is...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHlMm...

To me....Meryl Streep is looking back...


And for Troillus and Cressida I think they believe that day (or the night) was "the beginning of love) and they had this idea it would be it's own force with it's own propelling through events...

It's just tragic. So in this way I see the play as tragic, at this moment of reading Act 4, Scene 4.

More in a bit....


message 10: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) After a while all of Act 4 started to sound like a mash-up to me. Everyone was trading places, enemies hugged, women exchanged, a great time was had by all...

Which made me think that S was making another statement about war and love -- war as an abstract concept and men just play at it like it's a game. Achilles is the epitome of the ego at play. Maybe all wars are fought over women -- or rather, the idea of the possession of women. Maybe love is also just an abstract concept, and men and women just play at it. Troilus didn't love Cressida as much as he needed to feel her dedication and loyalty to him. He wanted to be able to depend on her as a possession. Cressida saw through him immediately. I don't know if she enjoyed the kisses, I think she saw the situation - her situation - as inescapable... just another possession to be bartered and passed around, not unlike Helen. How can you invest in anyone or anything when your fate is decided by the whim of men who play at love and war?


message 11: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 161 comments David wrote: "“The second, almost like something out of a modern drag show, finds Achilles and Hector inspecting one another's bodies:"

I didn't take it like this. To bring it into modern times, I likened this to two boxers getting measured in their underwear prior to the big fight. In my view, they were sizing each other up before the main event. The dialogue here is just trash talk.


message 12: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 161 comments Gabriel wrote: "Perhaps we should read a Marlowe play some time. " Despite the fact that the whole notion is sacrosanct, I would be up for re-reading Doctor Faustus. Also, perhaps we could take a 1 week break between plays for slower readers and through some sonnets in for that week. I would enjoy that!


message 13: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 161 comments David wrote: " I do not put a lot of emphasis on characterization in a Shakespeare play--and I'm inclined to think S didn't either, preferring to emphasize what works well on stage (not on the page)."

Wow! Part of me agrees with this statement. You certainly do not get a full characterization in a S play like you would get in Dickens novel, what with the missing narrator to tell you their thoughts. Certainly, by reading the play vs. watching it acted out, we miss out on subtle nuances which would help us understand the character better. But, there are some round characters in S. The epitome of that would be Hamlet, of course. The long soliloquies help paint a detailed portrait.

In many places, though, I find S's characters to be allegorical in nature. Some represent a tragic flaw, like Othello, whose distrusting nature and jealousy led to his downfall.

There is always the clown, even if he doesn't go by the name. Thersites is a good example in T & C. A lot of critics and readers love Falstaff, but clearly he is just a "rounder" edition of S's clowns. Interesting statement, though.


message 14: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 161 comments Janice(JG) wrote: " I think she saw the situation - her situation - as inescapable... just another possession to be bartered and passed around, not unlike Helen. "

That brings up an interesting point. Since Cressida is more of a main character in this play, I would say it is clear that Helen is a foil of C. There are some comparisons and contrasts to be made here between the two characters. I'm going to search my notes, and see if there is anything interesting here.


message 15: by Gabriel (new)

Gabriel | 175 comments On the 'lack' of characterisation (David's point and Jonathan's 'part agreement'): I don't see a lack of characterisation, rather an extraordinary skill in capturing the ambivalence of human behaviour. The discussion about Cressida illustrates this. We can see alternative possible meanings in her behaviour. This is more true to life than if Shakespeare had pinned her down unambiguously as one thing or another - we have the same puzzles about people we know. I think this is what makes S's main characters seem to transcend time and be able to come alive today despite the completely different context. But I think there are also many clues in the details, as you say, Jonathan, which sometimes pass by too quickly in reading.


message 16: by Martin (last edited Jan 25, 2017 04:52AM) (new)

Martin | 39 comments I think we are missing the very important point David is making here. S writes verse plays, not novels. The characters are defined by the few lines they are given to speak, and the few lines given to others to speak about them. They are fleshed out on stage by the actors, who have a very wide latitude of interpretation.

I opted out of the discussion here for several weeks to try an reorientate myself in reading the play -- apologies. I felt the Homeric and Chaucerian backgrounds had become distracting, and the over-loaded notes of the Arden edition too directing. So I read the plain text, trying to forget what we already know about Helen of Troy and the rest. Returning to this goodreads thread (or threads, which I find a bit confusing!), I do feel that S's play, with its structure and poetry, have got a bit lost in the other dicussions of gender politics, warfare, what-Shakespeare-believed, what is in the minds of the different characters, and so on.

Gabriel is absolutely right when he says of Cressida, "We can see alternative possible meanings in her behaviour," and I see this as central to the play. But we must search for the meanings in the play's structure. For example, she has one soliloquy, at the end of 1.2, in a play fairly empty of soliloquies, and a second in the last six lines she speaks, three rhyming couplets, in 5.2. Otherwise she has not even an aside (as far as I can recall) although she says things that seem as much to herself as to the person addressed,

"Oh heavens! You love me not."

For me the central problem of this most problematical of the "problems plays" is what is it that ties the two plots together:

Plot: The Troilus-Cressida love story, with the "prisoner exchange" that brings Cressida into the Greek camp,

Subplot: The events of the war, which divide again (one might say) into Hector versus Ajax, and Achilles not fighting.

?


message 17: by Martin (new)

Martin | 39 comments I'll put my own "Cressida idea" into the Act 5 thread to avoid spoilers . . .


message 18: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 161 comments Martin wrote: "The characters are defined by the few lines they are given to speak, and the few lines given to others to speak about them. They are fleshed out on stage by the actors, who have a very wide latitude of interpretation."

I agree that in any play the actors help form the characters. Where is the poetic license in this, though? Does it only matter how S painted the character? Or is the character a combination of how S wrote him or her and how he or she is portrayed on stage? If it is the latter, then we miss part of the characterization, being centuries away from how Shakespeare intended it to be performed. Unless we say that a modern actor performing the part has a poetic license to shape the character according to his or her interpretation. Well, then the play is still being written! That's interesting.


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