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Group Readings > Act 5-Troilus and Cressida Jan.23-31

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message 1: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2748 comments Mod
Discussion of Act 5 , Jan23-31 in Troillus and Cressida could begin here...


message 2: by Steve (new)

Steve Evans (steveevansofpahiatua) | 47 comments Thersites really lets rip, doesn't he? He would rather be a louse on a leper than to be Menelaus. The implication of this is that Menelaus had choices; he could have swallowed his pride, or at least said good riddance to bad rubbish, and saved the lives of thousands. Of course all the others are drawn in by their own pride, once the fighting started, but his cuckolding is the proximate cause of the war.

This act's beginning is another of the pointed contrasts I see Shakespeare making in this play between how people value themselves and what they actually do. The war is a monstrosity, men playing boys. When they are not slaughtering one another, they can have a quiet cuppa in Achilles tent. . .no wonder Thersites starts raging.

Thersites' exchange with Patroclus is ambiguous I reckon. Patroclus is outraged that others think him gay, but it doesn't necessarily mean that he isn't. It's the kind of gay that is implied. Male sexual relationships between warriors were common among the Greeks and others - Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great's father, was allegedly assassinated in a homosexual love triangle.

Thersites himself says he is not insulting Patroclus but only passing on the views of others. Patroclus' own pride sends him out into the field the next day to show he is a man; his death prompts Achilles to fight and ends up in Hector's death. One of the productions I saw had Ulysses murder Patroclus as the means to get Achilles to fight.


message 3: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2748 comments Mod
Yes he does.

I'm still finishing this last Act...just wanted to let you know I'm still here.

I will say this has been the most difficult play for me to get into....but the last Act really came together for me.

I also want o say I got a message from Dawn...and she wants you all to know she is here her computer isn't working....but she has been following along on her phone.

She will return to a more active level of participation when her computer is fixed.


message 4: by DavidE (new)

DavidE (shaxton) | 358 comments petering out

I finished the play a couple of days ago, and when I was thinking back on the story I realized I didn't remember exactly what happened to the two title characters!

Imagine someone finishing 'Romeo and Juliet' and not remembering how it ends--no, can't imagine such a thing. Why? Because death (especially dramatic death, with long soliloquies and poisons and 'happy daggers') provides just the finishing touch we've come to expect from our more serious stories.

But what do we get in T&C? What is Cressida's last scene? When she's talking to Diomede? And then she sends a letter, of all things, to Troilus, by way of now-sickly Pandarus. "Words, words, mere words!" That seems to sum up Troilus's reaction, if I recall--and we never learn anything specific about the contents of the letter, do we?

And what happens to Troilus? I'm too indifferent to look it up, but I believe he more or less just wanders off. Hmmm. Hardly dramatic, hardly memorable.

OK, Hector does die, and a bit dramatically (one imagines it was a very bloody death indeed on the Globe theater--gotta please the crowd!). But I, for one, didn't find myself much broken up--and the scene, at least on the page, is absurdly brief (no rousing speeches!). Still, Martin brings up a very important point--trying to read the story as if we do not already know it. Unfortunately, I found myself unable to do that.

Should we just conclude that even Shakespeare had his bad days and wrote a crappy play?

Or might something else be at play? I find myself wondering if the text of the play as we have it is simply not intact. Has anyone in the forum perchance read up on the textual history of the play?

As I read the play, especially the last three acts, I found myself time and time again wondering why I was not stumbling across those passages of verse that so delight me in the other plays. And I can't help but notice that almost no one in this forum has bothered to quote this or that passage--as if the language is just so humdrum that any paraphrase will suffice just as well.


message 5: by Steve (new)

Steve Evans (steveevansofpahiatua) | 47 comments David I have read this play four times. It's not just the words but what they mean that are provocative. If you think that Shakespeare is just about memorable phrases, well, fine. I don't. T & C is a very able attack on the hypocrisy bound up in "medieval" values and more; as a summary of the nature of the male of the species it is to my mind perceptive and challenging, and it is not at all surprising that the previous century and our present one have seen a great number of productions.

There are only two passages usually quoted as "significant" - Ulysses' speech to Achilles and Troilus' perplexed "this is and is not Cressid".

But there are many more for me. Thersites in particular is a treasure trove of insult and Pandarus' jousting with Cressida, is extremely clever as his peroration is uncomfortable. These are only examples.

It is not clear that this play was produced during Shakespeare's life or immediately after, and it may not have even been intended to be produced. All the plays printed as quartos and those in the folio were also meant to be read. The preface to the second impression of the quarto suggests it was directed at readers. There is a great number of possibilities in this - for example, that Shakespeare took a play he'd written for performance and added some extra text to give it a cachet so it could be marketed to the "ever reader".

The preface suggests that the play is a comedy. Reading it trying to see this in full is not easy, but I have seen a production treating it as laughable. Some critics agree. See the Bevington edition page 428.

This play shows more than many others how important it is to have a good edition. A lot of the text is about venereal disease, in particular syphilis. Syphilis aka "bone ache" or "Neapolitan bone ache" arrived via the Spanish and Portuguese and swept through Europe as a genuine plague and had tremendous consequences. Gordon Williams' dictionary goes into this in some detail. To read and understand these references - and get something out of them - needs a decent post-Williams edition. Many of the words used in T & C were not used otherwise by Shakespeare, and I understand at least one has never been used by anyone else.

You may think this of no account, but consider another play - Romeo and Juliet. In this play the nurse, who is typically portrayed as ridiculous, and whose dialogue with Juliet after going to check out Romeo, begins with her exclaimation, "My bones! My aching bones!" Shakespeare's audience would have recognised immediately that she had the pox. Productions I've seen play it for laughs. A "frankly annotated" first folio edition of R and J by Dmitra Paradinis finds more sexual allusion than even someone like myself can credit. These are not "memorable" perhaps - but they are definitely enlightening.

So from where I sit there is a lot there. I'll read it again. I agree with David Bevington, whose edition I like best. "This is an amazing play."


message 6: by Martin (last edited Jan 26, 2017 03:41AM) (new)

Martin | 39 comments Steve, I think you're being a little unfair on David, who I know does not think S is just "memorable phrases". His reaction to T&C I've seen before (see possible later post). I personally got on better without Bevington, despite no doubt missing some of the sense, but in any case I think T&C is a great play, full of great poetry.

The Troilus-Cressida love story does remind me so much of Proust.

I've tried to escape from the Chaucer influence, but the opening words of his poem,

The double sorwe of Troilus to tellen,
That was the king Priamus sone of Troye,
In lovinge, how his aventures fellen
Fro wo to wele, and after out of joye,
My purpos is . . .

promise the "double sorrow", and S follows this, with Troilus' melancholy in Act 1 being the first, and his despair and frenzy in Act 5 being the second, of the two types of sorrow that sandwich between them his brief joy in Act 3.

Unfortunately drawing out the Proustian parallels would introduce spoilers for those who haven't yet read Proust, and I wouldn't want to do that! But Proust's themes are love as a long illness, the algebra of jealousy, the beloved as something that can never be known. At the centre of it all is the act of possession, "in which paradoxically the lover possesses nothing" as Proust says, either Troilus responding to "Will you walk in, my Lord?", or Swann rearranging the cattleyas in Odette's bosom.

William Burroughs used the phrase "the algebra of need" to explain how the addict concentrates all intellectual energy on getting the necessary drug, in the way the study of algebra requires the full concentration of intellectual energy. Similarly the jealous man, in Proust, who might have used his gifts to write and create spends his powers trying to find out, say, what the woman he loves was doing in a shop at 3.45 yesterday afternoon. Jealousy takes over. And he never really finds out, because he can never get exact information about the thoughts inside her head.

Tillyard judges 5.2 to be among the greatest of S's scenes. He points to the four "planes" of action, Cressida with Diomedes, Troilus emotionally engaged, Ulysses emotionally detached, Thersites judging. I saw the similarity with the "eavesdropping" scene in LLL. Troilus and Ulysses overhear Cressida and Diomedes, at least in part, while Thersites, invisible to the rest, overhears all four.

But what is really happening? Is Ulysses acting as a detached but sympathetic companion to Troilus, or is he hatching another of his plots? Thersites' comments are like a nightmare going on in Troilus' head. And does Troilus really know what Cressida is doing?

The Cressida-Diomedes exchanges are a little fragmented. Parts are perhaps not heard. Cressida needs Diomedes, but at the same time is pushing him away. He threatens to walk away from her, because she is making a fool of him. Each time, she draws him back. Finally she give him a token to wear that belonged to Troilus, although she can hardly bear to part with it. Then she makes him a further promise which satisfies him, and he goes. Her final lines are,

"Troilus, farewell! one eye yet looks on thee
But with my heart the other eye doth see.
Ah, poor our sex! this fault in us I find,
The error of our eye directs our mind:
What error leads must err; O, then conclude
Minds sway'd by eyes are full of turpitude."

The first two lines can be read,

"Troilus, farewell! one I yet looks on thee
But with my heart the other I doth see."

One half of her is with Troilus, the other half is with her heart. This could mean that Troilus, who did not furiously resist her being taken to the Greek camp, is someone she cannot now see as a protector for her. The other half of her is now with her own self-interest.

In any case, her actions seem to me ambiguous.

Here Cressida is like an object of jealousy in Proust: we see her through the eyes of the jealous lover, and we can never learn more about her than the lover can. And this is important for the end of the play. Cressida manages to get a letter to Troilus. The possible staging here is significant: it may either be a short letter which he reads through quickly, or a long letter which he glances at superficially, if at all. If the latter (which I prefer), we can only wonder what its contents might have been. It might say, for example, that she gave Diomedes the love-token to make it easier for Troilus to track hime down on the battlefield. Troilus judges it as "wind" and scatters it to the wind, "go wind, to wind". In other words tears it up.


message 7: by Martin (new)

Martin | 39 comments Okay, here is an old "negative post". Candy and I used to belong to an online reading group called "constant reader", and T & C was classic of the month in July 2004 -- some years before I joined. Pres Lancaster was an old guy there, held in some esteem (he has now passed on). He did not like the play, and wrote:

----------------------------
I did not enjoy reading this play. The words, except for the questionable ending, are obviously Shakespeare’s, but they are like a fierce thunder storm, roiling black clouds lit by blinding flashes of lightening. The intertwined stories of “love and war” are brought together but neither truly serves the other. The “difficulties” of the play are such that, though it is seldom performed, it is a juicy subject for analysis and explication. I have enjoyed reading various writers on the subject.

[He then quotes Wilson Knight and W W Lawrence at length, and goes on]

Mark Van Doren and the poet, John Wain, speak more harshly. But I have made up my own mind – along the same lines.

There is great language in the play, but it is like wading through mud to grasp an orchid.

I find it appropriate that Edward Gorey drew the cover for a 1957 edition of Chaucer’s Troilus and Cressida.
----------------------------(end)


message 8: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 161 comments Steve wrote: "Thersites in particular is a treasure trove of insult and Pandarus' jousting with Cressida, is extremely clever as his peroration is uncomfortable."

I agree more with Steve. I found myself saying to myself that this is a great play as I read Act 5.

However, I can see David's point. Nothing more dramatic than Cressida sharing a secret with Diomed happens between T & C at the end. That is a let down. The sleeve is an important image, but we have to strain to see its significance. Surely, it reminds us of Desdemona's handkerchief in Othello. I did have to read the spy scene twice to make sure there was some "cheating" going on here.

Thersites was, without a doubt, my favorite character. I laughed out loud at least 3 times during the final act. I especially enjoyed his "we are both bastards" speech to excuse himself from fighting. He may be my favorite S clown. I'll hold back on that though until we get another dose of Falstaff.


message 9: by Martin (last edited Jan 26, 2017 03:36AM) (new)

Martin | 39 comments Jonathan, hence I think, the useful comparison with Proust (Temps Perdu), where nothing could be more worth reading, nothing less dramatic. Although for me, the story of Troilus and Cressida (leaving out the Achilles/Ajax subplot) was perfectly complete in itself. Another similarity: Proust is interested in evil, but from a psychological, not a moral point of view. T & C (for me at any rate) has no moral centre.


message 10: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 161 comments Martin wrote: "Although for me, the story of Troilus and Cressida (leaving out the Achilles/Ajax subplot) was perfectly complete in itself." The Proust references are lost on me, as I have not read more than a few pages of Remembrance of Things Past. However, I will say that S succeeded in surprising me at the end, by not tragically ending T or C's life as is his custom.


message 11: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 161 comments Earlier we were talking about which character spoke for S. I will just throw this out there. Thersites! Clearly.


message 12: by Gabriel (new)

Gabriel | 180 comments I find real pathos as well as absurdity in the death of Hector. He's the nicest guy on either side, tries to stop Troilus from risking his life, spares Thersites because it wouldn't be a fair match - and then gets killed because he liked the look of someone's armour better than his own - and because Achilles has no equivalent code of honour but is quite happy to take advantage of Hector's being unarmed for a moment, and then, while using all his Myrmidons to ambush him, orders them to proclaim 'Achilles hath the mighty Hector slain'. But there's an even greater pathos in the NECESSARY spoiler - that while Troilus and others, even Cassandra in anticipation, are grieving Hector as their greatest loss, we know that this is just the beginning - Troy itself will be destroyed, and all who are in it, warriors and civilians alike. I feel that this silent denouement is intentional, as if it was, say, a film about the Spanish Civil War just hinting at WWII on the horizon, with people feeling they have just endured the worst - but they haven't. That's why I mentioned some while back that the ending of this play is actually in Hamlet (in the travelling players' scene). Read that as a kind of added final scene, and it kind of confirms and redoubles tenfold the feeling conveyed at various points in T&C that in going to war for trivial reasons people haven't the faintest idea how much damage they are about to do, to themselves as well as others. Curiously, although England had just survived a defensive war which it couldn't avoid (against the Spanish Armada), Shakespeare rarely (or perhaps never? - any views?) writes about purely defensive war, which would pose the question of the justification of war more acutely - you surely have to defend yourself. Apart from civil wars, all the others, as far as I can remember, are 'voluntary' as far as the main protagonists are concerned - and notably Henry V's.


message 13: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 161 comments Gabriel wrote: "He's the nicest guy on either side, tries to stop Troilus from risking his life, spares Thersites because it wouldn't be a fair match. Achilles has no equivalent code of honour but is quite happy to take advantage of Hector's being unarmed for a moment"

Hector I loved, Achilles I hated. A was disgusting in his tent and on the battlefield. A aside, both sides were following a code of honor and thus A should have challenged H to a fair fight. Isn't this the paradigm we see in any duel in literature? Besides, if A is as insuperable as he is depicted, it would not be a problem for him. The Trojans constantly remind us that they are driven more by glory and honor than anything else. A is driven by nothing more than pure rage.


message 14: by DavidE (new)

DavidE (shaxton) | 358 comments It's funny, because when I first read T&C, maybe 15 years ago, I found it absolutely delightful and found it curious, even suspicious, that the play was so seldom read. Like some of the other less read plays (Timon, All's Well, Measure for Measure), it did not conform to modern sensibilities, I reckoned. Not nearly nice enough.

Years later, I still rather like the dark side of T&C, but I have not found the play holds up to multiple readings. And the chief reason, I think, is that the poetry in the play can't really hold a candle to that in those plays I find it delight to read time and time again (MND, Macbeth, R2, Hamlet, Lear, Tempest, Winter's Tale).

I argue, more generally, that the greatness of Shakespeare does not lie in his stories and his characters but in his language. Those who have read Shakespeare in other languages might want to offer their views on this, and I welcome those views. When I taught Shakespeare to ESL students, I found that without exception they did not like reading Shakespeare in their native language and preferred him in the original English. It could have been a case of bad translations, but it could also be that, quite simply, something essential is lost in translation.

At the same time, it's hard, if not impossible, to put one's finger on exactly why it's the language that plays the dominant role in Shakespeare (in a way it may not in other writers, say Tolstoy or Proust). Of course there are a variety of reasons why we like Shakespeare's language. It can be simply charming (as when perfume becomes “a liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass”); it can be pithy (“The error of our eye directs our mind”); it can be oddly pithy (“Time and the hour runs through the roughest day”); it can be beautiful (“The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne . . .”); it can be poignant (“Of comfort no man speak! Let's talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs . . . “). Even the prose can be captivating (Hath not prose its jewels?).

But above and beyond these delights is something far more important, something that characterizes the English verse of the period in general and Shakespeare's language specifically. It is a freedom of language that, IMHO, no longer exists, a freedom that allowed Shakespeare (and others) to tongue it with abandon (if you'll indulge me). Shakespeare eyed “the promised largeness,” one might say, and set it in verse. No small feat, I submit. Centuries before the Deconstructionists arrived in the hallowed halls of Academe, Shakespeare took a chisel to both the old and the new words and gave us glimpses of where the English language gives us truth and where it lies.


message 15: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 161 comments David wrote: "the greatness of Shakespeare does not lie in his stories and his characters but in his language."

I doubt that many S scholars and readers would disagree with you here. Isn't this pretty much a general consensus? Reading his plays is like watching Tom Brady throw a pass, Michael Jordan slam a basketball, Babe Ruth hit a home run, or taking a trip to the nearest art museum to view the masterpieces of the great artists. He was the best ever to use words. His stories are run-of-the-mill. Most of the time, he was using other people's plots. But, no one could play with words and metaphors anything like what the Bard has done.


message 16: by Jonathan (last edited Jan 28, 2017 12:17AM) (new)

Jonathan Moran | 161 comments What is the most important thing S had to say with this work? I believe it is that people are not what they purport to be. There is an interesting dichotomy between brains and brawn that runs throughout the play. Certain characters are known either for their wisdom or for their might. Those on opposite sides of this dichotomy do not get along. This leads to the main conflict in the Greek camp. But, S shows us that those who are supposedly wise act very foolishly. Those who are mighty, such as Achilles, stand idly by and watch as their compatriots fight to a stalemate. If each party did what he was best at, then the Greeks would have won this battle without much struggle. At length, strength prevails once A turns his anger from the Greeks to the Trojans. Ultimately, wisdom brings the conflict to an end, when the Greeks trick the Trojans.


message 17: by Martin (last edited Jan 28, 2017 02:26AM) (new)

Martin | 39 comments I would agree with David's emphasis on the language of S, and only disagree in his judgement of the inferiority of the poetry of T&C to those of his better known plays. To pick out something almost at random from 5.2, the scene I was talking about above,

Diomedes: Whose was it?
Cressida: By all Diana's waiting-women yond,
And by herself, I will not tell you whose.

This has all the excellencies of which David would customarily approve. The scene is under the night sky, Diana is the moon and her waiting women are the stars. Cressida's very special oath here draws attention to her loneliness and poverty. The token from Troilus she is giving away, it is as if all she has left is the sight of the stars under the vast night sky. Unchaste herself, she swears by the goddess of chastity. Diana's waiting women remind us of the women surrounding Diana when she was disturbed by Actaeon, and it is as if Cressida would like to see a similar fate given Diomedes.

My own experience is that in reading T&C you can miss so much of the beauty of the poetry as you struggle to understand its sense, but as you turn back and reread you find it again.


message 18: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 161 comments Martin wrote: "only disagree in his judgement of the inferiority of the poetry T&C to those of his better known plays. "

Neither do I find this play's language inferior at all.


message 19: by Martin (last edited Jan 28, 2017 02:11AM) (new)

Martin | 39 comments For Jonathan, and anyone else who insists this play is tragedy, I would recommend seeing the 1981 bbc version on film, I think one of the best of the series of S plays they did then. It has so much rich humour in it. The setting is purely Elizabethan, the Homeric story is forgotten. (So Aeneas is a very old man, not the future lover of Dido and killer of Turnus.)

Benjamin Whitrow (Mr Bennet in the Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth) is brilliant as the sly Ulysses, Nestor is an old fool, Aeneas is played by the actor who did Socrates in "Bill and Ted". Pandarus is done by Charles Gray, who I think was a villain in one of the Bond movies. The Greek camp is a shanty town with constant background noise. Priam is senile, Cassandra is quite mad, and has to be dragged off by carers, much to the embarrassment of the enormous royal family of Troy.

A must see!


message 20: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 161 comments Martin wrote: "For Jonathan, and anyone else who insists this play is tragedy, I would recommend seeing the 1981 bbc version on film, I think one of the best of the series of S plays they did then. It has so much..."

I did not necessarily read this as a tragedy. Thersites has too large of a role for this to be classified as such. The clown character is what impressed me most. I laughed out loud at this play more than at most S comedies. Plus, the innocuous split of T & C is rather disappointing for a tragedy; especially after the false foreshadowing of T promising not to kill C if he meets her on the battlefield. I was duped into believing that's where S was headed with this.


message 21: by Gabriel (new)

Gabriel | 180 comments I'm not sure that classifying T&C as either a comedy or tragedy captures its particular brand of tragicomedy. It certainly invites being played as funny in many (not all) sections, but it's a kind of humour that is at the same time sordid (eg Pandarus in the epilogue) and absurd, perhaps like the theatre of the absurd. It's quite close to tragedy, a sort of helpless, hopeless laughter at humanity's casual, unthinking self-destructiveness, but unlike tragedy in that it doesn't lead to some sort of redemptive or cathartic resolution. It's virtually a critique of tragedy for being too neat and of comedy for happy endings. I take all the hints at 'what may happen later' as deliberately pointing to a beyond-the-play implosion of Troy, which we are implicitly invited to imagine, swamping all personal issues like whether T and C could ever have got back together.


message 22: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) Gabriel wrote: "It's quite close to tragedy, a sort of helpless, hopeless laughter at humanity's casual, unthinking self-destructiveness, but unlike tragedy in that it doesn't lead to some sort of redemptive or cathartic resolution. It's virtually a critique of tragedy for being too neat and of comedy for happy endings..."

I agree. This play felt like neither/both comedy/tragedy, but in the end it seemed as if S had become both edgier and more deeply serious than I had expected.

Thomas wrote: "What is the most important thing S had to say with this work? I believe it is that people are not what they purport to be... "

This is also how it felt to me. I always believed Shakespeare to be the master of perceptive insight into the human predicament that seems always to be ignorantly and blindly led by ego/pride.

Poor Hector. Begged by everyone to forego the battle because he was certain to be killed, he refuses the satisfaction of a life of love and warmth and friendship in order to uphold his "honor." It was the thing he valued and cherished above all other things.

And how did he die? Unarmed, unprepared, and outnumbered, cut down not for the glory of Troy or honor, but out of Achilles' vengeful rage over the death of his lover Patroclus.

I think Cressida is misunderstood and mistreated throughout the play, but she remains in many ways enigmatic because, except for when the men declared her a whore for her behavior (especially Thersites, and his is a tongue-in-cheek narrative exposing the flaws in everyone's reasoning), no one ever really knows what she is thinking. Her speech in Act 5 is the closest we come to knowing her ie women - they live in the now, a survivor's skill:

Ah, poor our sex! this fault in us I find,
The error of our eye directs our mind:
What error leads must err; O, then conclude
Minds sway'd by eyes are full of turpitude.

For me, this was an interesting and unexpected play by Shakespeare. I can understand why it has been considered very modern, despite the subject matter. Which reminds me that altho' I find references to the time and space and manners of when Shakespeare lived and wrote very interesting, I never try to interpret or analyze or enjoy his plays in that mode - I am only interested in the story, the characters, whatever message the play may contain, and of course the language. I figure the only reason Shakespeare has continued to flourish into the 21st century is because his plays and his writing are universal and beyond space and time.


message 23: by Steve (new)

Steve Evans (steveevansofpahiatua) | 47 comments Jancie this is very perceptive. It does seem to me that Hector brings on his demise by chasing and killing an unidentified Greek for his plumage - excuse me, armour. He too is not noble. In a blog post I wrote about this, I called it "soldier bling" and it seems apt.

Achilles' use of his "Myrmidons" (auxilaries apparently descended from ants) to despatch Hector is ambiguous to me - it shows him coldly realistic and even cruel in choosing to destroy his rival in a "dishonourable" way and opening himself to charges of cowardice.


message 24: by DavidE (new)

DavidE (shaxton) | 358 comments Martin wrote: "but in any case I think T&C is a great play, full of great poetry."

A very well thought-out comment, Martin, and I've been trying to mull the matter over. I've read and re-read V.2 many times now, and though I'm not quite sure I'd agree with Tillyard that it's one of Shakespeare's greatest, I am coming round . . . it's definitely better than I first thought.

I too was reminded of the eavesdropping scene in LLL, but here the eavesdropping seems much more complicated . . . and far more difficult to stage well. If it's not done with finesse, I should think it might come across as rather silly--with Diomedes and Cressida standing idly by while Troilus and Ulysses finish up their lines!

Do you happen to remember how the scene was done in the 1981 film version you mention (in a later note, I think)? Also, do you know where one might find that film?

I am especially intrigued by your idea that Thirsites acts as a sort of nightmare going on in Troilus's mind in this scene. I am trying to work out the 'algebra of jealousy,' as you aptly call it.


message 25: by DavidE (new)

DavidE (shaxton) | 358 comments Jonathan wrote: "I doubt that many S scholars and readers would disagree with you here."

I wish you were right on this point, Jonathan, but it's my experience that far too many readers of Shakespeare rush by the language in their effort to "see what happens." Witness the popularity of such Internet sites as No Fear Shakespeare, which 'translates' the original language into contemporary English. I shudder to think how many people read those uninspired versions. I've also heard many predict that within a generation or two Shakespeare will be as incomprehensible to modern readers as Chaucer is now--and then S will suffer the same fate as Chaucer.

You might also take note of how many film versions of Shakespeare simply ignore the original language altogether, or cut a huge percentage. And what's left of the original language in some cases is, one way or another, set to song and dance. A good example is Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, a film which proved immensely popular. I would argue that its fans were responding to 'the story' and the cinematic artistry, not Shakespeare's language.


message 26: by DavidE (new)

DavidE (shaxton) | 358 comments Martin wrote: "To pick out something almost at random from 5.2, the scene I was talking about above,

Diomedes: Whose was it?
Cressida: By all Diana's waiting-women yond,
And by herself, I will not tell you whose. "


Kudos on picking out a great example, Martin. And as I said above, I'm coming round to your view, but I'm not yet quite as enthusiastic. Feel free to post a few more examples!


message 27: by Gabriel (new)

Gabriel | 180 comments David wrote: "Jonathan wrote: "I doubt that many S scholars and readers would disagree with you here."I wish you were right on this point, Jonathan, but it's my experience that far too many readers of Shakespe..."
Thanks for these reflections on whether Shakespeare will become incomprehensible and neglected over the next generation. It's sort of happening now, as you say via dumbing down in films etc. This relates to the question of spoilers. I find that when I see a Shakespeare play with people who are not familar with him, they are preoccupied with trying to work out what's going on in the plot, often ending up baffled, or just about work it out by the end, having struggled through the language. It seems to me that appreciating the language and other complexities only begins after that point, so we might as well tell people the story in advance, as they used to do in old novels ('Chapter five, in which X happens...'), or as the 'dumb show' does in the play within the play in Hamlet. I've been producing experimentally a show consisting of excerpts from several of the plays, linked by a thematic narrative, which seems to have helped some people break through their bafflement. It's a risk, but the idea is to be a bridge back to the whole plays. I'm amazed by how many people after seeing it say things like 'I must admit I've always had a bit of a block about Shakespeare... Hated it at school... This has opened it up for me' etc. This also relates to the issue raised earlier about translations. How is it that Shakespeare is so popular internationally when there must be a huge sacrifice of language and complexity in translations? The plots do matter, and somehow some of the distinctive quality of thought filters through. But all this could disappear if there isn't a cohort of people in each generation willing to risk being called elitist by saying 'There's more to this than meets the eye - look deeper'. In fact I think this was probably happening from the word go: in the preface to the first folio Heminge and Condell already say 'Read him again and again, and if you do not like him, surely you are in some manifest danger not to understand him'. Isn't that amazing?


message 28: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2748 comments Mod
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message 29: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2748 comments Mod
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message 30: by Candy (last edited Jan 30, 2017 08:47AM) (new)

Candy | 2748 comments Mod
I found this very apt, posted by Martin...."we see her through the eyes of the jealous lover, and we can never learn more about her than the lover can. And this is important for the end of the play. "

(message 6)

The idea of an unreliable narrator....in romance. Haven't we all heard two people, who fight, or break up...then tell us their side of the story....we have to know it is only a part of the whole.


message 31: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2748 comments Mod
Gosh....the quote of Pres Lancaster by our old reading bookclub..."constant reader" is so interesting. Yes, he has gone on to glory, but his authoritative dismissive tone lives on!

(message 7)


message 32: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2748 comments Mod
I have really loved the arguments between the language of Shakespeare ...Jonathan, your points about the struggle to find out what the sleeve meant, if there was some dark activity hidden in the poverty and how to find it....

I also love hearing what David experienced this reading to his reading 15 years ago...and how things changed for him...

the disagreement between readers here....has actually helped me try to follow the action.

I find this play a problem...and my problem with it is always understanding....what is happening between the characters and action. I have a comprehension problem. The comments here in this whole thread...including the disgreements have really helped me see what is happening.

And this is quite fascinating to me.

I'm still processing my feelings about this play....I don't actually hate any Shakespeare's plays. I find something in a ll of them...but yes, like others I have my favorites but that doesn't seem to stop me from enjoying, or suffering and learning something valuable in my less favourite LOL

I remember someone writing...perhaps Roger Ebert....that a very bad Martin Scorsese film was still a hundred times better than many directors best films.


message 33: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2748 comments Mod
Gabriel...a lot of meaning and structure is sorted out in your message 12.

I really thought you got to something in that whole post.

I think these two observations are deeply profound and could open up a analysis even broader than the ones you elaborate on....

"I feel that this silent denouement is intentional, as if it was, say, a film about the Spanish Civil War just hinting at WWII on the horizon, with people feeling they have just endured the worst - but they haven't. That's why I mentioned some while back that the ending of this play is actually in Hamlet (in the travelling players' scene)."


message 34: by Martin (last edited Jan 30, 2017 09:19AM) (new)

Martin | 39 comments Candy, I'm seeing "image error" in your posts above.

David, I've been watching the 1981 bbc version this week (I have the whole series as a box set.) It is not too hard to film 5.2: the camera just picks up on the speakers without needing to place them on a "stage". But there is "whispering" between Cressida and Diomedes, in other words I think a stage version has gaps in their conversation we don't hear, and which Troilus also cannot hear. Then he can be talking to Ulysses. Cressida goes into her tent to get the sleeve, Diomedes follows her. After that Troilus can only see their shadows on the canvas of the tent. Diomedes is bearing down upon her, but when the camera is inside the tent you see that she is still using language and promises of "more later" to resist him.

I think it could be staged with Thersites right at the front, speaking his obscentities straight to the audience.

Thanks David and Candy for the above comments. I think, David, the language of T&C is closest to that of Measure for Measure and Winter's Tale. Winter's Tale is of course a much-loved play, and yet the poetry of the first 3 Acts often has that "knotty pine" quality we've noted here, or it least it seems to for me . . .


message 35: by Martin (new)

Martin | 39 comments I liked Janice(JG)'s comment above. We need more women posters here!

Incidentally, Tillyard attached importance to the "merchant" idea that runs through the early part of the play, which was picked up by several of our readers.


message 36: by DavidE (new)

DavidE (shaxton) | 358 comments Martin wrote: "David, I've been watching the 1981 bbc version this week (I have the whole series as a box set.) It is not too hard to film 5.2: the camera jus..."

Turns out that I had the BBC film all along. It was sitting on my hard drive! I've watched the first three scenes, but am going to wait on the rest until I can figure out how to cast the thing to my TV. I'm keen to watch V.2, but of course a camera makes all the difference in the world in how the thing will be staged.

I like the idea of having Thersites sitting right there hissing out his comments at the audience.

I think you're right that the poetry of Winter's Tale is reminiscent of that in T&C, with that knotty pine feel. I'm less certain about the poetry in Measure for Measure, mainly because I haven't read that play in a long time.


message 37: by DavidE (new)

DavidE (shaxton) | 358 comments Gabriel wrote: "It seems to me that appreciating the language and other complexities only begins after that point, "

I couldn't agree more, Gabriel, and I often think that the only way to read Shakespeare is to re-read Shakespeare. Oh, I've met a few people who take to him on first read, but not many.

As for the translation issues, I would love to hear more from people who are well versed in both English and another language. I would think there might well be members of this very forum in that category . . . but they are not speaking up!

I'd forgotten about the comment by Heminge and Condel--the perfect advice for newcomers. And it is, you're right, amazing.


message 38: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2748 comments Mod
"Some scholars have argued that a private performance or two took place for the court or for an audience of lawyers, but Shakespeare's commercial sense renders such argument rather weak. It is possible to maintain that the play is Shakspeare's most sophisticated, and yet is it more intellectualized than Love's Labour's Lost or Hamlet for that matter? Perhaps some high personage advised Shakespeare that Troilus and Cressida might seem too lively a satire upon the fallen Earl ofEssex, who may be the model for the play's outrageous Achilles, or perhaps there are other political allusions that we no longer apprehend. Literary satire is more readily apparent, Shakespeare's language mocks, the elaborate diction of George Chapman, who had comEssex to Achilles, and more amiably teases the moral stance of Ben Jonson. But the mystery of why Shakespeare decided to give up on this marvelous work remains to be solved."

Harold Bloom


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