The Grecian camp. Before Achilles’ tent.
(Ulysses; Diomedes; Nestor; Agamemnon; Ajax; Menelaus; Calchas; Achilles; Patroclus; Thersites)
Cressida’s father Calchas, a traitor to Troy, asks to be rewarded for his services to the Greeks by having the Greeks exchange a recently-acquired Trojan prisoner for his daughter. Agamemnon agrees and sends Diomedes to arrange it. At Ulysses’s suggestion the Greek leader walk past Achilles’s tent, blatantly ignoring him. Insulted in his pride and furious, Achilles interrupts Ulysses as he reads. The wily man subtly taunts Achilles by praising Ajax as the greatest of Greek heroes and insinuating that Achilles is a has-been. Patroclus reinforces the idea, pointing out that he warned Achilles this might happen to his reputation. Achilles asks Patroclus to fetch Thersites, so that the latter may invite the Trojans over after the fight, as Achilles wants to get a good look at Hector. Thersites comes in and venomously describes Ajax’s ridiculous, vainglorious strutting. They give him the message to pass on. (285 lines)
Enter Ulysses, Diomedes, Nestor, Agamemnon, Ajax, Menelaus, and Calchas. Flourish.
Now, princes, for the service I have done,
Th’ advantage of the time prompts me aloud
To call for recompense. Appear it to your mind,
That through the sight I bear in things to come,
I have abandon’d Troy, left my possession,
Incurr’d a traitor’s name, expos’d myself
From certain and possess’d conveniences
To doubtful fortunes, sequest’ring from me all
That time, acquaintance, custom, and condition
Made tame and most familiar to my nature;
And here, to do you service, am become
As new into the world, strange, unacquainted.
I do beseech you, as in way of taste,
To give me now a little benefit
Out of those many regist’red in promise,
Which you say live to come in my behalf.
What wouldst thou of us, Troyan? Make demand.
You have a Troyan prisoner call’d Antenor,
Yesterday took; Troy holds him very dear.
Oft have you (often have you thanks therefore)
Desir’d my Cressid in right great exchange,
Whom Troy hath still denied, but this Antenor,
I know, is such a wrest in their affairs
That their negotiations all must slack,
Wanting his manage, and they will almost
Give us a prince of blood, a son of Priam,
In change of him. Let him be sent, great princes,
And he shall buy my daughter; and her presence
Shall quite strike off all service I have done,
In most accepted pain.
Let Diomedes bear him,
And bring us Cressid hither; Calchas shall have
What he requests of us. Good Diomed,
Furnish you fairly for this interchange;
Withal bring word if Hector will tomorrow
Be answered in his challenge: Ajax is ready.
This shall I undertake, and ’tis a burden
Which I am proud to bear.
Exit with Calchas.
Enter Achilles and Patroclus and stand in the door of their tent.
Achilles stands i’ th’ entrance of his tent.
Please it our general pass strangely by him,
As if he were forgot, and, princes all,
Lay negligent and loose regard upon him.
I will come last; ’tis like he’ll question me
Why such unplausive eyes are bent, why turn’d on him?
If so, I have derision medicinable
To use between your strangeness and his pride,
Which his own will shall have desire to drink.
It may do good, pride hath no other glass
To show itself but pride; for supple knees
Feed arrogance and are the proud man’s fees.
We’ll execute your purpose, and put on
A form of strangeness as we pass along.
So do each lord, and either greet him not,
Or else disdainfully, which shall shake him more
Than if not look’d on. I will lead the way.
What comes the general to speak with me?
You know my mind, I’ll fight no more ’gainst Troy.
What says Achilles? Would he aught with us?
Would you, my lord, aught with the general?
Nothing, my lord.
Exeunt Agamemnon and Nestor.
Good day, good day.
How do you? How do you?
What, does the cuckold scorn me?
How now, Patroclus?
Good morrow, Ajax.
Ay, and good next day too.
What mean these fellows? Know they not Achilles?
They pass by strangely. They were us’d to bend,
To send their smiles before them to Achilles,
To come as humbly as they us’d to creep
To holy altars.
What, am I poor of late?
’Tis certain, greatness, once fall’n out with fortune,
Must fall out with men too. What the declin’d is,
He shall as soon read in the eyes of others
As feel in his own fall; for men, like butterflies,
Show not their mealy wings but to the summer,
And not a man, for being simply man,
Hath any honor, but honor for those honors
That are without him, as place, riches, and favor—
Prizes of accident as oft as merit,
Which when they fall, as being slippery standers,
The love that lean’d on them as slippery too,
Doth one pluck down another, and together
Die in the fall. But ’tis not so with me,
Fortune and I are friends. I do enjoy
At ample point all that I did possess,
Save these men’s looks, who do methinks find out
Some thing not worth in me such rich beholding
As they have often given. Here is Ulysses,
I’ll interrupt his reading.
How now, Ulysses?
Now, great Thetis’ son!
What are you reading?
A strange fellow here
Writes me that man, how dearly ever parted,
How much in having, or without or in,
Cannot make boast to have that which he hath,
Nor feels not what he owes, but by reflection;
As when his virtues, aiming upon others,
Heat them, and they retort that heat again
To the first giver.
This is not strange, Ulysses.
The beauty that is borne here in the face
The bearer knows not, but commends itself
To others’ eyes; nor doth the eye itself,
That most pure spirit of sense, behold itself,
Not going from itself; but eye to eye opposed,
Salutes each other with each other’s form;
For speculation turns not to itself,
Till it hath travell’d and is mirror’d there
Where it may see itself. This is not strange at all.
I do not strain at the position—
It is familiar—but at the author’s drift,
Who in his circumstance expressly proves
That no man is the lord of any thing,
Though in and of him there be much consisting,
Till he communicate his parts to others;
Nor doth he of himself know them for aught,
Till he behold them formed in th’ applause
Where th’ are extended; who like an arch reverb’rate
The voice again, or like a gate of steel,
Fronting the sun, receives and renders back
His figure and his heat. I was much rapt in this,
And apprehended here immediately
Th’ unknown Ajax.
Heavens, what a man is there! A very horse,
That has he knows not what. Nature, what things there are
Most abject in regard, and dear in use!
What things again most dear in the esteem,
And poor in worth! Now shall we see tomorrow—
An act that very chance doth throw upon him—
Ajax renown’d! O heavens, what some men do,
While some men leave to do!
How some men creep in skittish Fortune’s hall,
Whiles others play the idiots in her eyes!
How one man eats into another’s pride,
While pride is fasting in his wantonness!
To see these Grecian lords!—why, even already
They clap the lubber Ajax on the shoulder,
As if his foot were on brave Hector’s breast,
And great Troy shrieking.
I do believe it, for they pass’d by me
As misers do by beggars, neither gave to me
Good word nor look. What, are my deeds forgot?
Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back,
Wherein he puts alms for oblivion,
A great-siz’d monster of ingratitudes.
Those scraps are good deeds past, which are devour’d
As fast as they are made, forgot as soon
As done. Perseverance, dear my lord,
Keeps honor bright; to have done is to hang
Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail
In monumental mock’ry. Take the instant way,
For honor travels in a strait so narrow,
Where one but goes abreast. Keep then the path,
For emulation hath a thousand sons
That one by one pursue. If you give way,
Or hedge aside from the direct forthright,
Like to an ent’red tide, they all rush by
And leave you hindmost;
Or like a gallant horse fall’n in first rank,
Lie there for pavement to the abject rear,
O’errun and trampled on. Then what they do in present,
Though less than yours in past, must o’ertop yours;
For Time is like a fashionable host
That slightly shakes his parting guest by th’ hand,
And with his arms outstretch’d as he would fly,
Grasps in the comer. The welcome ever smiles,
And farewell goes out sighing. Let not virtue seek
Remuneration for the thing it was;
For beauty, wit,
High birth, vigor of bone, desert in service,
Love, friendship, charity, are subjects all
To envious and calumniating Time.
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin,
That all with one consent praise new-born gawds,
Though they are made and moulded of things past,
And give to dust, that is a little gilt,
More laud than gilt o’erdusted.
The present eye praises the present object.
Then marvel not, thou great and complete man,
That all the Greeks begin to worship Ajax;
Since things in motion sooner catch the eye
Than what stirs not. The cry went once on thee,
And still it might, and yet it may again,
If thou wouldst not entomb thyself alive
And case thy reputation in thy tent,
Whose glorious deeds but in these fields of late
Made emulous missions ’mongst the gods themselves,
And drave great Mars to faction.
Of this my privacy
I have strong reasons.
But ’gainst your privacy
The reasons are more potent and heroical.
’Tis known, Achilles, that you are in love
With one of Priam’s daughters.
Is that a wonder?
The providence that’s in a watchful state
Knows almost every grain of Pluto’s gold,
Finds bottom in th’ uncomprehensive depth,
Keeps place with thought and almost, like the gods,
Do thoughts unveil in their dumb cradles.
There is a mystery (with whom relation
Durst never meddle) in the soul of state,
Which hath an operation more divine
Than breath or pen can give expressure to.
All the commerce that you have had with Troy
As perfectly is ours as yours, my lord,
And better would it fit Achilles much
To throw down Hector than Polyxena.
But it must grieve young Pyrrhus now at home,
When fame shall in our islands sound her trump,
And all the Greekish girls shall tripping sing,
“Great Hector’s sister did Achilles win,
But our great Ajax bravely beat down him.”
Farewell, my lord; I as your lover speak:
The fool slides o’er the ice that you should break.
To this effect, Achilles, have I mov’d you.
A woman impudent and mannish grown
Is not more loath’d than an effeminate man
In time of action. I stand condemn’d for this;
They think my little stomach to the war,
And your great love to me, restrains you thus.
Sweet, rouse yourself, and the weak wanton Cupid
Shall from your neck unloose his amorous fold,
And like a dewdrop from the lion’s mane,
Be shook to air.
Shall Ajax fight with Hector?
Ay, and perhaps receive much honor by him.
I see my reputation is at stake,
My fame is shrowdly gor’d.
O then beware!
Those wounds heal ill that men do give themselves.
Omission to do what is necessary
Seals a commission to a blank of danger,
And danger like an ague subtly taints
Even then when they sit idly in the sun.
Go call Thersites hither, sweet Patroclus.
I’ll send the fool to Ajax and desire him
T’ invite the Troyan lords after the combat
To see us here unarm’d. I have a woman’s longing,
An appetite that I am sick withal,
To see great Hector in his weeds of peace,
To talk with him, and to behold his visage,
Even to my full of view.
A labor sav’d!
Ajax goes up and down the field, asking for himself.
He must fight singly tomorrow with Hector, and is so prophetically proud of an heroical cudgelling that he raves in saying nothing.
How can that be?
Why, ’a stalks up and down like a peacock—a stride and a stand; ruminates like an hostess that hath no arithmetic but her brain to set down her reckoning; bites his lip with a politic regard, as who should say there were wit in this head and ’twould out—and so there is; but it lies as coldly in him as fire in a flint, which will not show without knocking. The man’s undone forever, for if Hector break not his neck i’ th’ combat, he’ll break’t himself in vainglory. He knows not me. I said, “Good morrow, Ajax”; and he replies, “Thanks, Agamemnon.” What think you of this man that takes me for the general? He’s grown a very land-fish, languageless, a monster. A plague of opinion! A man may wear it on both sides, like a leather jerkin.
Thou must be my ambassador to him, Thersites.
Who, I? Why, he’ll answer nobody; he professes not answering. Speaking is for beggars; he wears his tongue in ’s arms. I will put on his presence, let Patroclus make demands to me; you shall see the pageant of Ajax.
To him, Patroclus. Tell him I humbly desire the valiant Ajax to invite the most valorous Hector to come unarm’d to my tent, and to procure safe-conduct for his person of the magnanimous and most illustrious six-or-seven-times-honor’d captain-general of the army, Agamemnon, et cetera. Do this.
Jove bless great Ajax!
I come from the worthy Achilles—
Who most humbly desires you to invite Hector to his tent—
And to procure safe-conduct from Agamemnon.
Ay, my lord.
What say you to’t?
God buy you, with all my heart.
Your answer, sir.
If tomorrow be a fair day, by aleven of the clock it will go one way or other. Howsoever, he shall pay for me ere he has me.
Your answer, sir.
Fare ye well, with all my heart.
Why, but he is not in this tune, is he?
No; but he’s out of tune thus. What music will be in him when Hector has knock’d out his brains, I know not; but I am sure none, unless the fiddler Apollo get his sinews to make catlings on.
Come, thou shalt bear a letter to him straight.
Let me bear another to his horse, for that’s the more capable creature.
My mind is troubled, like a fountain stirr’d,
And I myself see not the bottom of it.
Exeunt Achilles and Patroclus.
Would the fountain of your mind were clear again, that I might water an ass at it! I had rather be a tick in a sheep than such a valiant ignorance.