To Balk Logic and Practice Rhetoric: Allegories of Rhetoric and Dialectic in Shakespeare’s Plays
Chapter 7: By Foule Authoritie: Aristotle in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida
In Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare draws the audience into a romance of love and war to puzzle us with a labyrinth of words, yet no play by Shakespeare is more explicit in expressing the commonplaces by which to judge the action. Ulysses' speech on degree, in Act One, scene three, and Hector's speech on reason and law versus appetite, in Act Two, scene two, provide us with more than enough conventional wisdom to give praise or lay blame.
Other characters also provide their own opinions of the action (and inaction) in the play. The multiplicity of opinion complicates judgment for the audience and may call into doubt the orthodox standards of Ulysses and Hector. This skeptical view is summed up in Troilus' relativistic question, "What's aught but as 'tis valued?" (2.2.52).
In reply to the subjective, willful judgments of both Troilus and Paris in their arguments against returning Helen to the Greeks, Hector says they have judged
"superficially, not much
Unlike young men, whom Aristotle thought
Unfit to hear moral philosophy" (2.2.165-67).
I take this anachronistic reference to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics as a hint that Aristotle is important to an understanding of Troilus and Cressida—and not just the Ethics but also the Rhetoric. The implications of Hector's reference to Aristotle in a play about the Trojan War become particularly interesting when we realize that in the Ethics and Rhetoric the majority of Aristotle's examples come from the Iliad of Homer.
Aristotle reads Hector as Hector reads Aristotle. Shakespeare reads them both and uses the story of Troilus and Cressida during the Trojan War to interrogate Aristotle and uses Aristotle to question the argument (plot) of the story he is recasting. This dense intertextuality creates a dialectic in which these texts comment on each other.1 The dialectic is further complicated when we understand that in Troilus and Cressida Shakespeare may be using Aristotle as a synecdoche for the whole medieval mindset of the Elizabethan upper class. As such, the play includes an oblique commentary on Spenser and The Faerie Queene, in which, as Spenser indicates in his letter to Raleigh, Spenser planned to include "the twelve private morall vertues, as Aristotle hath devised" and then to cover Aristotle's "polliticke vertues" as well.2
Spenser's world view in The Faerie Queene is conventional and conservative. His poem's representation of the Elizabethan Age, despite its Neoplatonism, was, broadly speaking, Aristotelian. Whether or not Shakespeare had Spenser in mind, it is this world view that Shakespeare is interrogating and, often, satirizing in the labyrinthine romance of Troilus and Cressida.
Shakespeare's play can be viewed as a complex allegory in which Aristotle is invoked as the measure of the action. Through its dominant rhetoric of Aristotelian commonplaces, the play provides a standard by which the action may be judged. However, as a deeper enfolding (or, as Spenser would say, a "dark conceit"), the action of the play may function in a dialectical way to undermine the very grounds of judgment on which Aristotle's philosophical principles stand. In this way, Troilus and Cressida becomes a philosophical allegory of a world without spiritual dimension.3
Thus, it is allegory as teleology, concerning the ultimate end or destiny of humankind, referred to by Rosemund Tuve in Allegorical Imagery as "saving knowledge."4 This dimension is conspicuous by its absence in Troilus and Cressida. The world of the play is irredeemably pagan. It cannot be Christianized, and not just for the obvious reason that the world represented antedates Christ by twelve centuries.
The story Shakespeare inherited is overlaid with the cultural baggage of honor and chivalry left over from the Middle Ages, an inheritance revived at the court of Elizabeth. This weight of courtly assumptions superimposed on the ideas of Aristotle constitutes the authority that Shakespeare calls into question in Troilus and Cressida.5
Thus, authority gone wrong becomes a major concern in Shakespeare's play. The foulness of conventional assumptions may explain why the Greeks and Trojans have reached the impasse they face and why the two lovers are doomed to failure. By implication, the play shows that cynicism and futility ramify beyond the play to the foulness of the court of Elizabeth itself. As allegory, this "foule authority" refers to the spiritual emptiness, the pagan quality, of court life.6
The emulous factions of the "Greeks" and the honor and courtly love of the "Trojans" are two aspects of the late Elizabethan world, neither of which is reconcilable with Christian values such as faith, hope, charity and grace.7 The dialectic of Shakespeare's allegory of Aristotle's Ethics and Rhetoric in Troilus and Cressida points to this irreconcilability.
Rather than asserting that Shakespeare is referring specifically to Aristotle, one could make a safer argument on the grounds that Shakespeare was interrogating the prevalent Aristotelian ethos of the times rather than Aristotle's Ethics and Rhetoric in particular. Also, a good case can be made that he had other classical writers in mind for his "Aristotelian" argument.8
However, there is ample evidence in the play that Shakespeare had been reading the Ethics and Rhetoric around the time he wrote Troilus and Cressida and that he clearly refers to each work.9 One reader who sees Aristotle in the play is Kenneth Palmer, the editor of the Arden edition (1982), who devotes a ten-page appendix to the remarkable parallels between Aristotle's Ethics and Troilus and Cressida.10
As for the Rhetoric, several of the arguments in the play appear there rather than in the Ethics, and others that are in the Ethics are amplified in the Rhetoric. Further, Aristotle considered ethics to be a part of the study of rhetoric. He says that "rhetoric is composed of analytical science and of that branch of political science which is concerned with Ethics, and that it resembles partly Dialectic and partly sophistical arguments" (Rhetoric 1.4.5).11
Elizabethan grammar school students would have studied ethics under the topics of rhetoric, as well. Thus, for historical and hermeneutic reasons, the Ethics and the Rhetoric can be placed on the same philosophical plane. As I said before,the references to "Aristotelian" arguments in the play could be from any number of different classical and Renaissance sources, but I take them to be from Aristotle because of Shakespeare's direct reference via Hector and because of the number of parallels in the play to Aristotle's two works.
Hector's reference to Aristotle as a clue that there is an allegorical purpose to the play's dialectic leads to some interesting material for Shakespeare, if his play is indeed reading Aristotle reading the Trojan war. In the Ethics, when Aristotle dismisses pleasure as a criterion for making just decisions, his example is the Trojan debate over whether to keep or give up Helen: "In every situation one must guard against pleasure and pleasant things, because we are not impartial judges of pleasure. So we should adopt the same attitude towards it as the Trojan elders did towards Helen, and constantly repeat their pronouncement [that she ought to be sent back to the Greeks]; because if in this way we relieve ourselves of the attraction, we shall be less likely to go wrong" (Ethics 2.9, 109).12
In Troilus and Cressida, Hector uses the Aristotelian argument against pursuing pleasure (or revenge) as a criterion for judgment immediately after he cites Aristotle by name as his authority:
The reasons you allege do more conduce
To the hot passion of distempered 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
Of any true decision. (2.2.168-73)
Shakespeare's Hector cites Aristotle's Ethics; Aristotle's example is Hector and the wiser sort among the Trojans who want to abandon Helen to the Greeks.
We have here a mirror placed in front of a mirror, to use a metaphor of sight—or a continuous feedback mechanism in terms of sound. Another instance of this pattern of Shakespeare citing Aristotle citing Homer occurs in the play under the topic of civic courage. Hector is the example of this virtue in the Ethics (3.8, 130), as he is in the play, and, just as in Aristotle's example, Hector's courage in the play is grounded in fear of bringing shame on himself by appearing to lack courage. Shame as grounds for judgment is problematical in the play, as we shall see.
In a similar way, the Ethics cites Agamemnon as the example of beneficence and justice: "Because he does good to his subjects (assuming that, being good himself, he is concerned to promote their welfare, like a shepherd caring for his flock--which is why, Aristotle says, Homer called Agamemnon 'shepherd of his people'" (Ethics 8.9, 277). However, unlike the example of Hector, such a judgment of Agamemnon in Troilus and Cressida could only be said ironically.
Other topics from Aristotle's Rhetoric are worked into the play, with their examples from Homer. Under the topic of arguing in favor of something whose good may be doubtful, Aristotle provides the example of the Greeks' fighting to regain Helen: "That which has cost much labour and expense . . . at once is seen to be an apparent good, and such a thing is regarded as an end, and an end of many efforts; now, an end is good . . . for no one praises that which is not good" (Rhetoric 1.6 and 1.9, 65).
This argument, of course, is the one used by Troilus to keep Helen at Troy: "Why she is a pearl / Whose price hath launched above a thousand ships / and turned crowned kings to merchants" (2.2.81-83). Ultimately, it is also Hector's argument for keeping Helen (2.2.186-93).
Troilus and Cressida points to several topics in the Ethics that apply to Homer's Iliad where Aristotle does not cite the example but Shakespeare does so explicitly. Shakespeare's Hector clearly exemplifies Aristotle's magnanimous man. The man who exhibits "greatness of soul," as Aristotle says, is one who "has the right attitude towards honors and dishonors." The Ethics explains that such a man knows he is worthy of "external goods," which magnanimous men "claim as their due . . . . Since the magnanimous man has the greatest deserts, he must be the best man of all; because the better a man is the greater his deserts are, and the best man's deserts are the greatest. So the truly magnanimous man must be good. It would seem that the magnanimous man is characterized by greatness in every virtue" (Ethics 4.3, 153-54).
In the play, Hector says,
Mine honor keeps the weather of my fate:
Life every man holds dear, but the dear man
Holds honor far more precious-dear than life. (5.3.26-8)
This passage echoes the Ethics, where Aristotle says, "The magnanimous man does not take petty risks, nor does he court danger . . . but he takes great risks, and when he faces danger he is unsparing of his life, because to him there are some circumstances in which it is not worth living" (Ethics 4.3, 156).13 Similarly, Troilus is marked in Shakespeare's play as an example of Aristotle's liberal man. In the Ethics, the liberal man "will give with a fine end in view, and in the right way; because he will give to the right people, and the right amounts, and at the right time" (Ethics 4.1, 143).
Pandarus, speaking to Cressida, praises Troilus for his "liberality" (1.2.256), as does Ulysses in his description of Troilus to Agamemnon:
His heart and hand both open and both free.
For what he has he gives; what thinks, he shows;
Yet gives he not till judgment guide his bounty,
Nor dignifies an impare thought with breath; . . . (4.5.101-4)
Just as Shakespeare's Troilus fits the topos of the liberal man, so also Shakespeare's Thersites qualifies as Aristotle's buffoon, "those who go too far in being funny at all costs and who are more set upon raising a laugh than upon the decency of expression and consideration for their victim's feelings"; in another category, Ajax fits the type of the boor, "those who both refuse to say anything funny themselves and take exception to the jokes of other people" (Ethics 4.8., 167).
Although Aristotle's Ethics and Rhetoric cannot be fairly summarized, at this point it is necessary to identify the major ideas from Aristotle that Shakespeare seems to have used--and questioned--in Troilus and Cressida. In the Ethics, Aristotle invokes the Pythagorean idea of the tripartite soul--the rational, the appetitive, and the vegetative (Ethics 1.13, 88-9). The appetitive soul, which consists of the senses and distinguishes animals from plants (the vegetative soul), may be susceptible to reason, but it is the rational soul that clearly separates men from beasts. Reason needs training and education. Because a young man follows his feelings rather than reason and virtue, he is not fit to consider political science, which is moral philosophy in the political sphere (Ethics 1.3, 65). This is Hector's point when he refers to Aristotle in Shakespeare's play (2.2.166-67).
The topos of youth is amplified in the Rhetoric, along with contrasting stages of life--youth, midlife and old age. The chief characteristic of the young is desire. The young chiefly obey desires for sensual pleasure, which they are unable to control. Changeable in their desires, they soon tire of them. Ruled by the appetites of lust and wrath, they are passionate, hot-tempered, and impulsive. They are ambitious of honor but more so of victory. They are not ill-natured but simple-natured. Their errors are due to excess (Rhetoric 2.12, 247-48).
Old men are the opposite of the young. They are malicious, small-minded, suspicious, miserly, selfish, and cowardly (Rhetoric 2.13, 251-53). The character of the man in the prime of life is a mean between these two extremes. The person in midlife is characterized by virtue: confidence, temperance, and self-control combined with courage (Rhetoric 2.14, 255-57). Persons of any chronological age may exhibit characteristics of the topoi of youth, midlife, or old age.
Aristotle states that virtue, which is based on reason, is both intellectual and moral. Intellectual virtue comes from instruction; moral virtue is the result of habit (Ethics 2.1, 91). Principles without virtuous action are worthless (Ethics 2.4, 98). Virtue is a matter of rational choice. Three factors influence positive choices: the fine, the advantageous, and the pleasant. Three negative factors call for avoidance: the base, the harmful, and the painful. The grounds, pleasure and pain, are the same for both morality and political science (Ethics 2.3, 97).
Except for things evil in themselves (attitudes such as malice, shamelessness, and envy or actions such as adultery, theft, and murder), virtue consists in finding the mean between extremes. For example, the mean between rashness and cowardice is courage; the mean between prodigality and miserliness is liberality (Ethics 2.6-7, 102-104).
For Aristotle, civic courage is like personal courage in that citizens face dangers to avoid penalties and disgrace and to achieve honors. Aristotle's examples are Hector picturing what will happen if he declines Achilles' challenge and Diomedes' reluctance to retire from battle, fearing that Hector may claim he put Diomedes to flight. Civic courage is grounded in moral virtue, which is a fear of shame and a desire for honor (Ethics 3.8, 130-31).
In the Rhetoric, Aristotle defines shame as a kind of pain or uneasiness over deeds that tend to bring dishonor, and shamelessness as contempt or indifference to these things. As examples of shameful practice, Aristotle lists various vices, including cowardice such as throwing away one's shield or taking flight, injustice such as withholding something deposited with you, licentiousness such as indulging in illicit relations with forbidden persons, and base love of gain such as robbing the weak or dead as in the proverb "to rob even a corpse" (Rhetoric 2.6, 211).
The extraordinary man exhibits magnanimity, greatness of soul. Such a person is considered to be magnanimous if he thinks he is worthy of great things, provided that he is worthy of them. When one speaks of worth, it is in relation to external goods. The greatest of these external goods is honor. It is chiefly with honor and dishonor that magnanimous people are concerned. Magnanimous people are concerned with honor because it is honor above all that they deservedly claim as their due.
Since the magnanimous man has the greatest deserts, he must be the best man of all because the better a man is the greater his deserts are, and the best man's deserts are the greatest. The truly magnanimous man must be good. He could not be worthy of honor if he were bad because honor is the prize of virtue and is rendered to the good (Ethics 4.3, 153-55).
Closely related to this argument about virtue and merit is Aristotle's discussion, in Book 2 of the Rhetoric, of the topoi of envy and emulation. Aristotle defines envy as a kind of pain at the sight of the good fortune of others. Men will envy those who may be like them in birth, relationship, age, moral habit, reputation, and wealth but who have at least one attribute they do not possess. Nearly all the actions or possessions that make men desire glory or honor and long for fame and the favors of fortune create envy in ordinary men (Rhetoric 2.10, 239).
By contrast, Aristotle defines emulation as a feeling of pain at the presence of highly valued goods, which are possible for us to attain, in those who naturally resemble us--pain not due to the fact that others possess them but to the fact that we ourselves do not. Emulation therefore is virtuous and characteristic of virtuous men, but envy is base and characteristic of base men. Whereas, for one man, emulation enables him to fit himself to obtain his desire, for the other man, envy makes him try to prevent his peer from having or keeping it. The young and high-minded in particular are emulous for honors of various kinds (Rhetoric 2.11, 243).
Of justice, Aristotle says that the unjust man breaks the law or takes advantage of another unfairly. "Just" means lawful and fair. The unjust man takes more than his share. Justice is the sovereign virtue. It is the only virtue that is regarded as someone else's good. Justice then is not a part of virtue but the whole of it (Ethics 5.1, 171-74).
Both the unjust man and the unjust act are unfair or inequitable. In terms of distributive justice, persons who are equal should get equal shares. If persons are not equal, the shares will not be equal. This is clear from the principle of merit. Everyone agrees that distribution must be in accordance with merit, but not everyone agrees on the definition of merit. The aristocratic view of distributive justice is that merit is based on excellence (Ethics 5.3, 177-78).
There are two sorts of political justice, one natural and the other legal. Natural law is everywhere the same; human law is subject to change (Ethics 5.7, 189-90). Concerning justice and equity, good laws are just in a general sense but may be unjust in a particular case. The rule of equity rectifies the errors of legal justice in particular situations (Ethics 5.10, 198-200).
Concerning the nature of pleasure, Aristotle discusses continence and incontinence. A person is continent or incontinent in regard to temper, honor, and wealth. Both the continent and the incontinent man know the difference between right and wrong, but the continent man generally has the fortitude to choose what is right on each occasion, whereas the incontinent man does wrong because he feels like it. The temperate man is continent and enduring (Ethics 7.1, 226-27).
In the case of bodily enjoyments, touch and taste are the realm of the temperate and the licentious (Ethics 3.10, 137 and 7.6, 242). Temperance and licentiousness refer to the pleasures shared by animals and human beings (because of which these pleasures are regarded as low and brutish). Temperance restrains lust and gluttony (Ethics 3.10, 137).
Here, the continent and the temperate man are classed together, but the incontinent man and the licentious man must be distinguished from each other. The incontinent man knows what he does is wrong but has not the strength to resist, but the licentious man acts from choice (Ethics 7.9, 247-48).
A licentious man is worse than an incontinent man (Ethics 7.6, 242-43) because the licentious man is wicked and unrepentent, whereas the incontinent man does wicked things but is capable of repentence (Ethics 7.8, 244-45). An incontinent man is like a state with good laws that are never enforced (Ethics 7.10, 248-49).
Regarding love, Aristotle says that some who are called "lovers" of this or that go wrong in enjoying the wrong objects, others in enjoying things with abnormal intensity, and some in the wrong way (Ethics 3.11, 138). Such a "love" is a kind of excess caused by lust. Aristotle deals with another kind of love, under the heading of "friendship," based on one person's usefulness to another.
Those who love on the ground of utility do not love for the personal qualities of the other, but only in so far as each derives some benefit from the other. For people who love each other on the ground of utility, affection is motivated by personal advantage (Ethics 8.3, 261-62). A lover's love is a kind of utility (Ethics 8.8, 272). Complaints and recriminations arise chiefly if not exclusively from utiliarian friendship because of a sense of injured merit. Conflicts arise in such relationships because one or the other feels he has not received the benefit he deserves.
In contrast to the first two so-called loves, a third kind of love is true friendship. It is a love between people who are good. Each loves the other for what he or she is. That such friendships are rare is natural because men of this kind are few (Ethics 8.3, 263-64). True friendship is true love. It consists more in giving than in receiving affection. An indication of this is the joy that mothers show in loving their children (Ethics 8.8, 271).
Whereas the lusty lover wants to see and touch the beloved, and the utilitarian lover wants to possess or use his beloved, the true friend is conscious of the beloved's existence independent of himself. This is actualized in their spending their lives in each other's company (9.12, 310).
To analyze the ways in which Shakespeare used Aristotle's Ethics and Rhetoric, we must follow the structure of the double plot to see how each plot mirrors the other in carrying forward a single allegory (or theme, as some would say) unfolded in a complex dialectic between the two plots and among the three angles of a triangle: Aristotle, the play, and late Elizabethan society.14
I shall begin with the prologue, which was printed for the first time in the Folio and seems to be an addition to the 1609 quarto text. The prologue begins, in epic fashion, in medias res. In the high heroic language of epic poetry, the prologue tells us that, after years of war against Troy, the princes of Greece are "orgulous," swollen with pride, "their high blood chafed." The prologue announces that Troilus and Cressida is a miniature epic, and just as Ariosto's Orlando Furioso descends from epic to the mad romance of Orlando's love for Angelica, the tone of Troilus and Cressida likewise falls from epic into romance.
Orgulous princes might remind us of Spenser's Orgoglio and the sin of pride, in Book One, Canto seven, of The Faerie Queene, and Spenser's project of allegorizing the twelve Aristotelian virtues. As a hint or pointer to allegorical intention, the prologue seems to me to make clear the connection to Spenser and Aristotle. It also announces, in terms of the familiar Seven Deadly Sins, the generic flaw of pride informing the specific defects of both Greeks and the Trojans.15
In Act One, the first character we meet is Troilus who, in a fit of lovesickness, is taking off his armor. This topos, of course, is the typical opening move in romance-epic of a warrior-hero about to fall for an unworthy woman. Troilus is mad for Cressida (1.1.53-4). Further, he will not fight to keep Helen in Troy. Troilus refers to the other warriors as
Fools on both sides! Helen must needs be fair,
When with your blood you daily paint her thus.
I cannot fight upon this argument;
It is too starved a subject for my sword. (1.1.93-6)
Troilus is not convinced by the rhetoric that "paints" Helen as worth keeping. This rhetorical device is Aristotle's coloring, via Quintilian and Cicero to Shakespeare, and Troilus says he will have none of it. Although the other warriors on both sides are driven by wrath, this particular young man is eaten up by lust. Troilus and the rest are young, according to another of Aristotle's topoi. Reason for such men is usually outweighed by desire.
When Troilus calls upon Pandarus to win Cressida for him, she knows that her value consists in remaining aloof: "Men prize the thing ungained more than it is" (1.2.291). In terms of Aristotle's consideration of temperance and incontinence in the Ethics, Cressida's problem will not be to see reason but to follow it.
As we move to the Greek camp in Act One, scene three, we find that the Greeks are consumed by envy. The general problem is called akolasia, lack of restraint, the inability to recognize kalos, the admirable (Ethics 3.12, 140-41). In the Rhetoric, Aristotle says,
Nearly all the actions or possessions which make men desire glory or honor and long for fame, and the favors of fortune, create envy, especially when men long for them themselves, or think that they have a right to them, or the possession of which makes them slightly superior or slightly inferior. (Rhetoric 2.10, 239)
Further, to Aristotle, it is clear that men envy those who are near them "in birth, relationship, age, moral habit, reputation, and possessions. And those will be envious who possess all but one of these advantages" (Rhetoric 2.10, 239).
Although Aristotle makes a distinction between base envy and virtuous emulation (Rhetoric 2.11, 243), Shakespeare makes no such distinction. For him envy and emulation are, practically speaking, synonymous. Shakespeare's enactment of the effects of Aristotle's commonplace in representing the envious/emulous Greeks shows the results of such conduct. Ulysses puts his finger on the problem of envy in his speech on order and degree. He says the Greeks have fallen into "hollow factions" (1.3.80) because authentic or authorized degree is being imitated or emulated by false masks of the real thing: "Degree being vizarded / Th'unworthiest shows as fairly in the mask" (1.3.83-4).
Ulysses appeals to Agamemnon to restore an orderly hierarchy:
This chaos, when degree is suffocate,
Follows the choking.
And this neglection of degree it is
That by a pace goes backward in a purpose
It hath to climb. The general's disdained
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
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 lives, not her strength. (1.3.124-37)
Ulysses' speech is eloquent. It is based on Elizabethan commonplace. Tillyard and others bought it.16 So do New Historicists, as a political application to Elizabeth who had lost control of her courtiers such as Essex, although they point out that Shakespeare subverts Ulysses' rhetoric.
Perhaps more to my point, however, is that Spenser would have agreed with Ulysses' speech in its commonplace, orthodox praise of hierarchy and order. However, in Aristotle's Ethics, merit is whatever is considered meritorious. There is nothing transcendent about hierarchy.
Although Shakespeare's Ulysses espouses a rhetorical commonplace, the play shows, as dialectic working allegorically against this commonplace, that the characters actually hold a set of values that are not permanent and transcendent but slippery and transitory.
If, as I suggest, the play is pointing toward the relativistic values of Aristotle's Ethics and Rhetoric, we can see that Aristotle's definition of merit leads to the whim of current opinion. The problem is that, despite the implied naturalness of Ulysses' hierarchical structure, Ulysses does not believe what he says. His speech is a rhetorical expedient to increase the "merit" of his own interests and to deflate the orgulous, outsized ego of Achilles.
The play shows that "degree" is neither intrinsic nor apparent. This point is made clear when Aeneas, looking right at the famous general has to ask, "Which is the high and mighty Agamemnon?" (1.3.232). Agamemnon can only imagine two possible interpretations of Aeneas' failure to recognize him. Either Aeneas is mocking him, or Aeneas is a sycophant: "This Trojan scorns us, or the men of Troy / Are ceremonious courtiers" (1.3.233-4). Yet there is a third possibility. It is likely that there is nothing at all to distinguish the "high and mighty Agamemnon" from anyone else. In fact, Shakespeare seems to be at pains to point out that no one in the play merits distinction or degree over any other.
Further, Aeneas' irony reveals one of the reasons Shakespeare alludes, through Hector, to Aristotle. In the Ethics, Aristotle goes out of his way to say that there are no such things as the universal categories that Plato imagines. He says, "One might raise the question: What on earth do they mean by speaking of a thing-itself?" (Ethics 1.6, 70). To Aristotle, there are no transcendental forms of the good or the meritorious to provide distinction or degree.
Although Aristotle questions the accepted equation between goodness and honor, he does not adhere to this insight. In a singular moment in the Ethics, Aristotle says,
Cultured people, however, and men of affairs identify the Good with
honor, because this is (broadly speaking) the goal of political life. Yet
it appears to be too superficial to be the required answer. Honor is felt
to depend more on those who confer than on him who receives it; and
we feel instinctively that the Good is something proper to its possessor
and not easily taken from him. Again people seem to seek honor in
order to convince themselves of their own goodness. (Ethics 1.5, 68)
Here, Aristotle seeks to ground honor in the possessor as an intrinsic value, but over and over in the Ethics, Aristotle places deserving in external approbation.
Shakespeare's play enacts Aristotle's insight that value is conferred by others, whether or not it ought to be "something proper to its possessor." Value is that which is perceived by most people as valuable. Troilus and Cressida reveals that Aristotle's definition of "value" is a tautology. Shakespeare's play shows how shaky this structure of value is. Further, if the unstable value system of Aristotle is not just the value system of the play but also, by allegorical implication, the value system of the late Elizabethan upperclass, we can see the potential danger, both to author and established authority, of what the play is exploring.
At this point in the play, Agamemnon asks Ulysses what must be done to restore a proper sense of degree and order. "What," Agamemnon asks, "is the remedy?" (1.3.140-41) Instead of an answer, Ulysses describes Patroclus' parody of Agamemnon, with Achilles as audience, crying "Excellent!" (1.3.164). Ulysses' description of authority ridiculed as theater further undermines Agamemnon's position by repeating the insult in front of the other Greek princes.
This is the first revelation that Ulysses has no more respect for "degree" than any other Greek prince. In this scene, the name of the game is envy, which Aristotle deplores, and the ridicule of those who presume to be one's superiors seems to be an inevitable outcome of unstable valuation.
In case we miss this connection to Aristotle, the play immediately offers another. Nestor complains to Agamemnon that Achilles and Patroclus' bad example is being emulated by Ajax and his slave Thersites, infecting the whole Greek camp with negative opinion against their leaders:
And in the imitation of these twain--
Who, as Ulysses says, opinion crowns
With an imperial voice--many are infect.
Ajax is grown self-willed 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,
A slave whose gall coins slanders like a mint,
To match us in comparisons with dirt. (1.3.185-94)
In my view, Nestor's statement rounds out the play's opening indictment of Aristotle's distinction in the Rhetoric between envy and emulation. Merit and degree are impermanent, and Achilles and Ajax spew forth slander to ensure that those currently on top will have their reputations sullied.
Ulysses then reveals the argument that is supposed to guarantee his personal superiority over Achilles. Ulysses' sense of self-value is grounded in the idea that reason is superior to physical prowess at arms. Ulysses says that Achilles and Ajax
tax our policy and call it cowardice,
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
Of their observant toil the enemy's 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 swinge and rudeness of his poise,
They place before his hand that made the engine,
Or those that with the fineness of their souls
By reason guide his execution. (1.3.197-210)
This emphasis on reason over brute strength ought to square with Aristotle's emphasis on rational power over powers we share with beasts, but it only points out the inadequacy of the Greek leaders' reason when measured against results.
Ulysses' statement is that of a lieutenant whose general, Agamemnon, has led the Greeks, through his "policy" in war, to years of stalemate, which Ulysses blames, by implication, on the pride of Achilles in his physical attainments. It also serves to assert Ulysses' talents over Achilles' attributes. Rather than stabilizing merit based on reason, it serves again as an example of envy seeking to undo another person's attainments while advancing one's own.
At the end of Act One, scene three, we see another, more Machiavellian instance of Ulysses' undercutting of his supposed belief in the transcendental principle of merit, when he proposes to elevate the "blockish Ajax" to the status of Achilles and have him fight Hector. The implication is clear. In a world in which individual merit depends on the opinion of others, opinion can elevate or bring down whomever it pleases.
Ajax serves a double purpose. If he loses to Hector, Ulysses and the rest of the Greeks can rightly claim Ajax was not their best man, but, win or lose, Ajax' elevation to Achillean status puts a damper on Achilles' proud over-valuation of himself. As Ulysses says,
But, hit or miss,
Our project's life this shape of sense assumes:
Ajax employed plucks down Achilles' plumes. (1.3.384-86)
Iago-like, Ulysses has a "young conception in his brain" that time will "bring to some shape" (1.3.312-13). How like our own time, when shifting opinion makes and unmakes reputations, and, of course, it must have been the same in late-Elizabethan England. The play shows that Aristotle's unstable ideas of merit and degree in the Ethics and envy or emulation in the Rhetoric inevitably create such situations, regardless of what Aristotle may claim.
Act Two, scene one serves to introduce us to Shakespeare's version of Aristotle's buffoon, Thersites, and boor, Ajax. It also continues the metaphor of infection initiated by Nestor in the previous act and begins to unwrap the theme of spiritual rot that eventually unfolds as an allegorical emblem for the play as a whole.
Ajax summons Thersites who immediately spews poison about Agamemnon's "botchy core," his festering boils. Thersites' own pustulous filth seems to enable him to detect the rottenness in others, and his tirade against Agamemnon begins to unfold the variations on inflated emptiness, rot, or disease at the center of the characters in the play.
After a flyting of insults in which each denigrates the other with beast names (Ajax calls Thersites a bitch-wolf's son and strikes him, and Thersites replies by calling Ajax a beef-wit), Thersites says something extraordinary that takes one, as audience, out of the Aristotelian world of scoring points against an opponent. He says,
I shall sooner rail thee into wit and holiness; but I think thy horse will
sooner con an oration than thou learn a prayer without book.
Thersites means that Ajax is witless, but the reference to unattainable "holiness" and prayer books is an anachronism that may lead us beyond the play to an Elizabethan context in which pagan values preclude Christian "conning" despite the railing of our minister. Thersites as Christian minister unfolds strangely as the dialectic of the play continues.
Further, Thersites' statement enfolds another meaning. Shakespeare reminds us that we are watching a play: Thersites says that Ajax is a dim-witted actor whose horse could memorize a long speech sooner than Ajax could recite a short one without a prompt book. This bit of metadramatic self-reference serves to make us conscious of the fact that we are an audience. As the dialectic of the play unfolds, the implications for us as an audience become clear.
Thersites gets some other interesting lines in this scene. For instance, he is allowed to play Socrates. When Achilles and Patroclus enter, as Ajax is beating him again, Thersites urges this new audience to observe Ajax deeply. They cannot. So he explains to them what he sees. Thersites tells them that, having plumbed Ajax's brain, he has discovered a man who "knows not himself" (2.1.67). The Greek characters in the play are particularly adept at seeing the flaws in other characters, and they do not hesitate to comment on them. They all know Achilles suffers from overweening pride, that Ajax has grown self-willed in emulating Achilles, and that Patroclus is Achilles minion, but none are able to see themselves. Thersites points this out about Ajax, but Thersites does not know himself any better than the rest of them, or, if he does know himself, he seems happy to project his self-loathing on to those around him.
Troilus and Cressida is an Aristotelian world. Unlike Plato's Socrates, Aristotle has little to say about self-knowledge. When in the Ethics,Aristotle asks of the agent in a certain case, "How can he fail to know himself?"(3.1, 114), he only wants to know whether the person realized what he was doing, but as Plato knew, self-reflection involves a divided sense of self from which Aristotle does not appear to suffer. If Troilus and Cressida is pointing at the spiritual emptiness of the Elizabethan court, the courtiers do not suffer from self-reflection either.
Act Two, scene two, moves to Troy where the Trojans are debating whether or not to deliver Helen to the Greeks. It is here that Hector gives his well-reasoned oration advocating the return of Helen on the grounds that she has cost more in human lives than she is worth. He says,
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
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? (2.2.17-25)
Hector establishes his rational argument against keeping Helen on quantitative grounds. Although Hector makes the qualitative judgment that each dead warrior of Troy "hath been as dear as Helen," he is basically arguing that Helen's merit can be ascertained as an objective quantity.17 Thus, Hector's argument threatens to move the discussion out of the realm of rhetoric altogether.
By introducing a rational, quantitative value for Helen, Hector shifts the ground of argument from Aristotle's rhetoric (the sphere of qualitative judgment) to Aristotle's logic (the sphere of objective evaluation through scientific demonstration). Hector's evaluation also echoes Troilus' judgment of Helen, in Act One, scene one, when Troilus rejects the rhetorical argument that Helen must be fair because fools on both sides depict her as valuable by "painting" her reputation with their life's blood. This rejection of rhetorical arguments that favor keeping Helen adumbrates Hector's rational evaluation of Helen in Act Two, scene two.
Considering his earlier opinion, we might expect Troilus to agree with Hector's logical cost-benefit analysis of keeping Helen, but, of course, Troilus vehemently disagrees. Certain interpreters of this scene have accused Troilus of adopting an irrational or anti-rational position in opposing Hector's position.18
However, as I see it, Troilus clearly recognizes the flaw in his brother's argument; that is, Troilus discerns the difference between a body count of the Trojan dead and the value of such a body count in relation to the value of Helen. Troilus knows that judging value is the realm of rhetorical quality not mathematical quantity, and he moves the debate back to the grounds of rhetoric by insisting that Hector is using death statistics to support not an objective evaluation but a cowardly retreat from honor into bean-counting:
Fie, fie, my brother!Troilus chides Hector with the argument that Hector's "reason" is an excuse for fear. Then, after being rebuked by their priest-brother Helenus for a lack of reason in his own arguments, Troilus continues on with the same theme, citing manly honor against what he regards as Hector's and Helenus' cowardly prudence, which would make them fly from their Greek enemies:
Weigh you the worth and honor of a king
So great as our dread father in a scale
Of common ounces? Will you with counters sum
The past-portion of his infinite
And buckle in a waist most fathomless
With spans and inches so diminutive
As fears and reasons? Fie, for godly shame! (2.2.25-32)
Manhood and honor
Should have hare hearts, would they but fat their thoughts
With this crammed reason. Reason and respect
Make livers pale and lustihood deject. (2.2.47-50)
To this insult, Hector responds calmly, by reiterating his evaluation of Helen: "Brother, she is not worth what she doth cost / The holding" (2.2.51-2).
Here, Troilus asks the central question of the play, "What's aught but as 'tis valued?" (2.2.52). In his reply to Troilus, Hector distinguishes between a rational understanding of the essential value of a person or object and the willful projection of a fantasy upon a worthless idol:
But value dwells not in particular will;As has often been observed, Hector's essentialist argument for intrinsic value echoes Ulysses' insistence on the transcendental value of degree. Whereas Ulysses' argument in the Greek plot is undercut by the impermanence of public opinion, destabilized by personal pride and emulation, Hector's argument is apparently undermined by Troilus' insistence that value is not a public matter at all but a matter of personal choice. His example is an odd one--the hypothetical case of his own marriage:
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;
And the will dotes that is inclinable
To what infectiously itself affects
Without some image of th' affected merit. (2.2.53-60)
I take today a wife, and my election
Is led on in the conduct of my will--
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? (2.2.61-7)
Troilus answers his own rhetorical question by saying that honor would require him to keep his wife, not discard or return her as if she were spoiled merchandise because his will or appetite now reacts to her with distaste, or because he realizes he made a bad choice.
Clearly, Troilus has Cressida in mind as he argues for keeping Helen. He even refers to Helen in the same words he used to describe Cressida, whom he called a pearl (1.1.103). In Shakespeare's parody of Marlowe's famous line, Troilus calls Helen "a pearl / Whose price hath launched above a thousand ships / And turned crowned kings to merchants" (2.2.81-3).
In Troilus' mind, both women are merchandise, which, though worthless, must be kept for honor's sake. In this strange speech, Helen and Cressida are linked in the same topos, and Troilus' appetite for Cressida, in advance of fulfillment, has already become distaste. Troilus' hypothetical satiation with Cressida in advance may color our judgment of the nobility and honor of Troilus as the dialectic of the plot unfolds.
Further, the apparent distinction between Troilus' private judgment of value based on personal feeling and the Greeks' collective judgment based on unstable public opinion is shown to be no difference at all when we see that Troilus' particular judgment of Cressida and the Greeks' judgment of each other are, qualitatively, the same because they share an identical, specific cause: they all suffer from the infection of proud and envious emulation.
The psychology of Troilus in his defense of Helen, reversing his original judgment of her as not worth fighting for, shows that he is emulating Paris. Troilus reveals his orgulous pride in the nobility of his own judgment and honor. In anticipation of his spent desire for Cressida, he imagines that he will remain loyal to her when he tires of her rather than dump her. Just so, Troilus defends Helen, not for her intrinsic worth (he acknowledges that she is worthless), but because the keeping of her symbolizes Trojan honor.
After Cassandra interrupts with her prophecy of the destruction of Troy for keeping Helen, Paris inadvertently points out, after the fact, that Troilus has been emulating him, as Paris makes an argument he probably has often made in discussions of Helen:
. . . I would have the soil of her fair rape
Wiped off in honorable keeping her.
What treason were it to the ransacked queen,
Disgrace to your great worths, and shame to me,
Now to deliver her possession up
On terms of base compulsion. (2.2.148-53)
Paris' argument is the same as that made by Troilus, and it brings out two problematic values in Aristotle's Ethics, the question of worth, already partially unfolded by the play, and the question of shame or personal disgrace yet to be revealed.
It is here that Shakespeare unveils his specific reference to Aristotle and the allegorical connection to Aristotle's Ethics and Rhetoric that the dialectic of the play has enacted thus far without naming. Hector tells Paris and Troilus they have spoken well
but superficially, not much
Unlike young men, whom Aristotle thought
Unfit to hear moral philosophy" (2.2.165-67).
Their so-called reasons are not reason at all but "the hot passion of distempered blood" (2.2.169) . This is the topos of youth in the Rhetoric: "The young, as to character, . . . are passionate, hot-tempered, and carried away by impulse" (Rhetoric 2.12, 247). In the Ethics, Aristotle says that the problem is immaturity of judgment, not chronological age:
It makes no difference whether he is young in age or youthful in character; the defect is due not to lack of years but to living, and pursuing one's various aims, under the sway of feelings; for to people like this[,] knowledge becomes as unprofitable as it is for the incontinent. (Ethics 1.3, 65-6)
This defect of understanding is not due to lack of years but to seeing life as a succession of unrelated emotional experiences.19
Hector tells Troilus and Paris that they are unable to "make a free determination between right and wrong" (2.2.170-71). Aristotle explains in the Ethics that free determination or "choice is not shared with the irrational creatures [beasts] as desire and temper are" (Ethics 3.2, 116); nor is choice available to the man ruled by these lower impulses of the sensible soul: "Choice implies a rational principle, and thought" (Ethics 3.2, 117).
Moreover, Aristotle connects reason to intellectual virtue, which "owes both its inception and its growth chiefly to instruction" whereas moral virtue "is the result of habit" (Ethics 2.1, 91). On both counts, Troilus and Paris would seem to be, as Hector says, "unfit to hear moral philosophy." However, as Shakespeare reads Aristotle reading Homer, we may observe that no one in the play except Hector has the maturity of judgment to choose right reason over desire, and even Hector will soon disappoint us.Meanwhile, Hector continues to fulfill the role of exemplary Aristotelian man, as he invokes natural law to argue that Helen should be returned to her husband Menelaus:
Nature cravesAccording to the Ethics, political justice may be based on natural or human law (Ethics 5.7, 189-90). Hector brings up the notion of civil law at this point. It is man's law that is supposed to counteract corrupted affection:
All dues be rendered to their owners. Now,
What nearer debt to all humanity
Than wife is to the husband? (2.2.173-76)
There is a law in each well-ordered nation
To curb those raging appetites that are
Most disobedient and refractory. (2.2.180-82)
Hector concludes that "these moral laws / Of nature and of nations" demand that Helen be returned (2.2.184-86). Hector is eloquent and sensible. As he says of his own words, "Hector's opinion / Is this in way of truth" (2.2.188-89).
Unfortunately, Hector does not follow his own logic. For him, keeping Helen is "a cause that hath no mean dependence / Upon our joint and several dignities" (2.2.192) In other words, his honor is at stake. He is worried about other people's opinion. Hector is controlled by his desire for glory and fame. Thus, he chooses personal honor over the highest virtue, justice. He knows what is right, but his desire prevents him from doing it. He is, by Aristotle's definition, an incontinent man (Ethics 7.7, 242-43).
The disturbing thing about Hector is that he is a conventionally good man. Aristotle never notices that Hector, the "type" of magnanimity, fits his definition of incontinence. Aristotle says Hector fits the topos of "superhuman virtue: virtue on the heroic or godlike scale" (Ethics 7.1, 226). But Shakespeare notices the problem Hector presents as an exempler of virtue. The play's re-presentation of Hector shows a man who is not agonized by the question of whether or not to put his own personal desire for honor and glory before the welfare of his people.
For Hector there is no question, no agon. He is not divided against himself between reason and desire. Perhaps there can be no psychomachia for Hector because there is no self in the modern sense. He lives in a shame culture. Conscience and guilt are not an issue. Shakespeare's version of Hector, this ideal Aristotelian man, is even more disturbing if we imagine that Hector is the ideal Elizabethan courtier as well.
To illuminate the point Shakespeare is making through Hector about Aristotle's values, we must go to the final unfolding of the plot, in Act Five, scenes six and eight, just before Hector's death. Right after Hector, in the presence of others, has courteously let the exhausted Achilles retire from battle (5.6.14), Hector pursues and kills a Greek warrior out of greed for the man's armor. Significantly, no one else is around, except us.
We witness the "noble" Hector when none of his peers are around to witness his shameful conduct. The result is the central allegorical emblem of the play. When Hector begins to strip the gorgeous armor from the slain warrior, he discovers that beneath the armor the newly slain man is already a thoroughly rotten corpse. Hector says, "Most putrefied core, so fair without, / Thy goodly armor hath cost thy life" (5.8.1). As other interpreters of the play have noted, this emblem seems to contain a Christian allusion to Matthew 23:27: "Ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness."22
If the allusion is to Matthew 23:27, Hector may be seen as a synecdoche for the failure of pagan, Aristotelian values in the play and, by extension, to the hypocrisy and decay of court society at the end of Elizabeth's reign.
Returning to the unfolding of the dialectic of the plot, we are back in the Greek camp where Thersites holds forth in a venomous soliloquy: "Lost in the labyrinth of [his own] fury," he rails against Ajax and Achilles, and prays to "Jove" to take the "little little less than little wit from them that they have" and give them all syphilis for warring over a worthless woman. He concludes, "I have said my prayers, and devil Envy say 'Amen.'" (2.3.1-21). Thersites sounds like a Puritan preacher calling down a curse on corrupt nobleman, but this preacher asks his "amen" of Aristotle's "devil" Envy!
When Patroclus enters, Thersites calls down a curse on him in particular:
Thyself upon thyself! The common curse of mankind, folly and
ignorance, be thine in great revenue! Heaven bless thee from a tutor,
and discipline come not near thee! Let thy blood be thy direction till
thy death; then if she that lays thee out art a fair corpse, I'll be sworn
and sworn upon't she never shrouded any but lazars. (2.3.26-32)
Having reached forward in the play's plot to the emblem of the putrefied corpse, we can see where such images of leprous corpses are leading us. Thersites' curse on Patroclus hardly seems necessary, considering that the noblemen in the play are already infected with spiritual rottenness. Thersites' curse must then have another purpose. It points to the reasons Aristotle's ethical values do not work: mankind's folly and ignorance lack any tutor who could discipline human beings to the habit of reason and intellectual virtue over the appetites of the "blood."
As envious "preacher," who would act as the nobles act if only he could, and as privileged fool (2.1.57), Thersites is only the best among the Greeks at smelling out the defects of others, but he is different from them in that he knows what he is. When he curses Patroclus with "thyself upon thyself," he might as well be damning himself because he knows he is eaten up by his own envy.
The rest--Achilles, Patroclus, even Ulysses--have no idea what they are. They can see the mote in their neighbor's eye but not the beam in their own. Thersites self-insight does him no good, however, because he cannot or will not pursue virtue. When as an audience we agree with Thersites' comments, as when he says, for example, "All the argument [of the play] is a whore and a cuckold, a good quarrel to draw emulous factions and bleed to death upon" (2.3.71-2), we participate in his cynical, envious judgments, and when we laugh at his insults of others, perhaps we stand in the same relation to the characters as those who make these invidious comparisons, the victims of our own emulous superiority, sharing in the same destructive, "Aristotelian" values.
In the next scene (Act Three, scene one), we see yet another reference to Christian values, but here again there is no sense that Christianity, even if it were available to the Trojans and Greeks, would make any more difference there than it would at the court of Elizabeth. When Pandarus talks to a servant, Shakespeare has inserted Christian references in several quibbles such as "depending upon the lord" and "the lord be praised." When the servant says to Pandarus, "You are in the state of grace" (as in desiring to be better), Pandarus construes him to mean the courtly title "Your Grace" as applied to a duke or prince and replies, "Grace? Not so, friend. 'Honor' and 'lordship' are my titles" (3.1.15-17).
According to Aristotle's definition (and any other moral standard), Pandarus is licentious. He has chosen vice because he likes it. Pandarus tells the servant of his plan to bring Troilus and Cressida together, and the servant makes a reference to houses of prostitution ("stews") just as Helen and Paris enter the scene, after which the noble characters engage in mildly lewd conversation. Lust not love is on everyone's mind, and the implication is that the court of Troy has become a hotbed of prostitution, even though the participants are noble amateurs.
As we move within this context to a close look at our heroes, Troilus and Cressida, we can see that, as their relationship unfolds, Shakespeare is examining Aristotle's notions of friendship versus selfishness. Troilus' love for Cressida fits two of Aristotle's definitions of friendship: erotic friendship and friendship as utility. He suffers from a love that is lust, "a kind of excess," as Aristotle calls it (Ethics 8.6). Troilus is out of his mind with desire. As he says to Pandarus, "I tell thee I am mad / in Cressid's love" (1.1.53-4). Troilus fits the topos of the hot-blooded youth.
He also fits the topos of the supposed lover, whose love is both lust and utility, because he only wants to use Cressida: "Her bed is India, there she lies, a pearl" (1.1.103). She is the object of his desire, and he is going to get it. As a courtly lover, Troilus never considers marriage, nor does Cressida bring it up as, for instance, Juliet insists to Romeo when they fall in love. In his examination of Aristotle's terms, Shakespeare depicts Troilus as licentious, but his licentiousness is of a kind not considered by Aristotle.
Like Paris with Helen, Troilus refuses to acknowledge what he is doing. He has no qualms about using Cressida to satisfy his erotic desire, couching his behavior in the rhetoric of courtly love and Aristotelian honor, as noted in our interpretation of his speech in Act Two, scene two. Troilus has no capacity for self-reflection. Like his brother Hector and the Greek warriors, Troilus has no "self" in the modern sense. Although he ought to be ashamed of himself, he does not know himself well enough to be self-disgusted. To Aristotle, true love would be friendship based on trust, but friendship between Troilus and Cressida is not a possibility.
In contrast to Troilus, Cressida is not a complete fool. She knows what Troilus wants and what her uncle, Pandarus, is trying to talk her into. But unlike Chaucer's Criseyde, Shakespeare's Cressida is already in love with Troilus. This Cressida is also a worldly, bawdy young woman perfectly capable of making sexual puns. She wants to protect her honor, which means her reputation for chastity, not the reality of it. In answer to Pandarus' statement that he cannot tell which way she is turning ("what ward you lie"), she puns and says, [I will lie]
Upon my back to defend my belly, upon my wit to defend my wiles,Here, as earlier, we see extrinsic values at work. But unlike Troilus, Cressida engages in a fair amount of self-reflection. She is divided against herself, as shown in her soliloquy:
upon my secrecy to defend mine honesty, my mask to defend my beauty, and you to defend all these, and at all these wards I lie, at a thousand watches. (1.3.260-6)
Yet I hold off. Women are angels, wooing;
Things won are done, joy's soul lies in the doing.
That she beloved knows naught that knows not this:
Men prize the thing ungained more than it is.
That she was never yet that ever knew
Love got so sweet as when desire did sue.
Therefore this maxim out of love I teach:
Achievement is command; ungained, beseech.
Then though my heart's contents firm love doth bear,
Nothing of that shall from mine eyes appear. (1.3.288-97)
To Aristotle, Cressida would be incontinent. She knows what she ought to do but has not the fortitude to resist. Cressida is able to apply reason's lesson to herself, but she is unwilling or unable to follow it. Her self-divided nature makes her the most human, self-reflective character in the play.23
All through the wooing scene in Act Two, scene three, Cressida is at war with herself, divided between her reason and her passion, and she records every bit of it in her speech. She even chides herself when she admits to Troilus how much she loves him. She says, "Why have I blabbed? Who shall be true to us, / When we are so unsecret to ourselves?" (3.2.123-4). She cannot practice Troilus' "cunning dumbness" (3.2.131).
Instead, she vows to leave, saying she is offended by her own company. I think I know how she feels. In apprehending and acknowledging her own self-divided nature, she throws off all self-deceit and deceit toward Troilus. She loathes herself for feeling what she does and despises herself for saying it out loud, but she loves him, so she tells him. In a final attempt to make Troilus see her divided nature, she warns him:
I have a kind of self resides with you,
But an unkind self that itself will leave
To be another's fool. (3.2.147-9)
She then tries to unsay it by saying she does not know what she is saying, but it does not matter. Troilus cannot hear what she is saying anyway. He is too lost in self-deceit. He insists that he is "as true as truth's simplicity, / And simpler than the infancy of truth" (3.2.168-9). This chiasmus reveals that Troilus is lying to himself.
He insists on his own essential integrity and undivided truthfulness, and then he predicts that he will be remembered as a byword in poetry for the faithful lover: "'As true as Troilus' shall crown up the verse / And sanctify the numbers." (3.2.181-2), while candid Cressida will go down in commonplace books under the topic of falsehood. However, Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida run counter, in different ways, to the topoi of them we have inherited. Only the licentious Pandarus remains true to type.
Cressida's final word on herself should be written in our commonplace book under two topics, "the weaker sex" and "Cupid's dart":
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 swayed by eyes are full of turpitude. (5.2.110-15)
Cressida has turned her genuine self-realization into an aphorism.
Later, observing Cressida with Diomedes, Troilus pleads that Cressida's falsehood not be allowed as an example for writers on the topic of the perfidy of womankind in order to "square the general sex / By Cressid's rule" (5.2.135-6). Rather than admit that Cressida falls under the general topos of false women, Troilus would "rather think this is not Cressida" at all (5.2.136), or that it is some other Cressida, "Diomed's Cressida" (5.2.141). This leads us to Troilus's remarks on "bifold authority" or "by foul authority." I am not convinced by any of the glosses I have read of this passage.24 Let me see if I can unpack it.
Troilus is arguing for a unity of two or perhaps even three sorts in this passage when he says, "If there be rule in unity itself, / This is not she" (5.2.145-6). Troilus hysterically denies something he cannot bear to acknowledge. The first sort of unity to which he adheres has to do with his insistence that Cressida conform to his projected vision of her as being self-consistent in her love for him. This she has plainly told him is a mistake. Only one part of herself resides with him. The other part of her divided self, her unkind self, has left to become Diomedes' fool.
The other sense of unity he insists on has to do with rhetoric, specifically with topical or place logic. He fears that his version of Cressida will turn into an example under the topos of false women, "As false as Cressid" (3.2.195). According to this way of reading Troilus' next lines, the "discourse" referred to is, anachronistically, Aristotelian rhetorical practice (through Cicero and Quintilian) and its coercive, foul authority:
O, madness of discourse,
That cause sets up with and against itself!
[By foul] authority, where reason can revolt
Without perdition, and loss assume all reason
Without revolt! (5.2.146-50)
By the "foul authority" of commonplace logic, Cressida is turned into a whore. Troilus' own reason can and must revolt against such foul authority, or he will lose his image of her. Troilus is correct when he says, "This is and is not Cressida" (5.2.150). In some strange way, he has an inkling of both Cressida as apprehended person in his mind and as rhetorical topos, in a dialectic that works against the rhetorical categories it sets up.
Troilus is the faithful lover type. The topos seems to fit him, but the dialectical argument of the plot works against type. Troilus cannot admit that he is himself a faithless lover who remains loyal out of a ridiculous sense of honor and fear of shame that mask his contempt for Cressida. To history, he is a commonplace: "as true as Troilus."
Finally, I want to return to the central question in the play: What is aught but as 'tis valued? Is there any such thing as unaffected merit or just deserving? Everyone in the play claims to deserve merit except Cressida. She is the only self-conscious, self-reflective person in the play, and she does not think she is worth much. The world of Troilus and Cressida is thoroughly Aristotelian and pagan, and it may be analogous to the Elizabethan court.
The whole play is consumed by Aristotle's notions of merit. In the unfolding of the play's dialectic, veiled references to the world of spirit quietly intrude themselves into the unspiritual world of the play, but they do not offer an alternative to the meritless merit and destructive appetites of the world of the play--or of the court. What's aught but as 'tis valued? Within the framework of Aristotle's Ethics and Rhetoric, the foul authority of this play, the depressing answer is that, as 'tis valued, all is naught.
1The intertextuality of Troilus and Cressida is further complicated by the long history of texts on the Trojan War and the story of Troilus and Cressida. George Chapman translated seven books of The Iliad (published in 1598). There is Virgil's account of the destruction of Troy in The Aeneid and Caxton's translation of Raoul Lefevre's medieval romance, Recueil des Histoires de Troyes. John Lydgate's Troy Book, taken in part from Guido delle Colonne's Historia Trojana, takes the viewpoint of the Trojans. Shakespeare used the story of Troilus and Cressida from Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde (E. Talbot Donaldson's analysis of Shakespeare's use of Chaucer is particularly good, The Swan at the Well, New Haven: Yale UP, 1985). Chaucer derived his story from the twelfth century romance of Benoit de Sainte-Maure's Le Roman de Troie as retold by Boccaccio in Il Filostrato. This dense intertextuality becomes a subject in Shakespeare's own version of the story, in which he points out that the tale has become the stuff of commonplace, whose meaning is always already given and known. He points up the fact that the story is stale, or a "stale," an old whore tricked out once again by Shakespeare himself. He also reexamines the rhetorical commonplaces of the story to show that the truisms, far from being true, are the fictions of story makers.
2The letter to Raleigh appears as an afterward to the 1590 edition of the first three books of The Faerie Queene. The edition of the text cited is Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, ed. Thomas P. Roche, Jr. (New York: Penguin Books, 1987) 15.
3I take it as a given that Troilus and Cressida is a play that invites Elizabethan political application. New Historicists and others have investigated the possibilities of such allegorical political readings of the play. An excellent study of political allegory in Troilus and Cressida is Eric Mallin's chapter on the play, "Emulous Factions and the Collapse of Chivalry" in Inscribing the Time (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) 25-61. Mallin does not call it political allegory, referring to it instead as metaphorical (25) or symbolic (36), but he reads the play as political allegory regardless of his terms for it. His analysis is subtle, eschewing one-for-one connections between characters and historical personages. (Hector does not equal Essex, nor does Achilles.) As a result, Mallin's political allegory avoids "prescriptive referentiality" (56), as he calls it, and sees instead the deformed representation of "late Elizabethan ideology, policy, and events" (26). Mallin follows Edward Said's approach to the relationship between a literary work and its culture, an "eccentric, dialectical intermingling of history with form in texts" (36), quoted from Said's "The Text, the World, the Critic," Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post Structuralist Criticism, ed. Josue V. Harari (Cornell UP, 1979) 134. Mallin's political allegory opens up the text in interesting ways. It is worth giving voice to the obvious contemporary application of Shakespeare's argument in Troilus and Cressida: that is, the parallel between the endless war in the play caused by the corrupt and puerile nonsense of the parties involved and the corrupt and endless wars fought by the United States since the end of World War II.
4Rosemund Tuve speaks of "saving knowledge" in Allegorical Imagery (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1966) 51. Tuve sees the early modern tendency toward viewing the ultimate ends of human life in allegorical images as a legacy of the Middle Ages. We can see this tendency toward a spiritual valence in allegory in the lessons of William Baldwin's Mirror for Magistrates (1559 and later editions). These lessons in The Mirror are spoken by damned souls who became lost in self-deceit and self-worship. The best example is by Thomas Sackville about the Duke of Buckingham and Richard III in The Mirror of 1563. Shakespeare represents this valence of spiritual allegory in the ghost in Hamlet.
5There are clear parallels between what I see as the purpose of Troilus and Cressida and the original intention of Sir Philip Sidney's "old" Arcadia. Although beyond the scope of my essay, the similarities in approach between Sidney's unrevised romance epic and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida deserve further investigation.
6Much has been made in recent years of Shakespeare's representation of "bifold authority," referring to Troilus's speech (5.2.141-64). Robert Weimann interprets the phrase as a reference to the tension in certain plays by Shakespeare, the representation of political authority versus the authority of theatrical representation, in "Bifold Authority in Shakespeare's Theater," SQ 39 (1988): 401-417. However, I am referring to the Folio text, which says, "By foule authoritie." Patrick Cruttwell points this out in The Shakespearean Moment (New York: Random House, 1960), fn 2, 24. The most recent edition of The Norton Shakespeare (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1997), edited by Steven Greenblatt, lists this discrepancy under Textual Variants (1913). If this "foul authority" is the legacy of Aristotle's Ethics and Rhetoric, as I suggest, the difference in the two texts (F and Q) is significant.
7Spenser in The Faerie Queene follows the traditional Christian humanist synthesis of Classical and Christian values. I claim that Shakespeare is questioning this orthodox view. In terms of the genre of romance, Troilus and Cressida is closer to Ariosto than to Spenser in outlook. Shakespeare's debunked version of the Greek and Trojan heroes indicates that he may have thought of it from his reading of Sir John Harington's translation of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, in which Astolfo goes to the moon and learns from St. John the Evangelist that all poets are liars who trump up the stories of their heroes:
Aeneas not so pious, nor so strong
Achilles was, as they are famed to be;
Hector was less ferocious; and a throng
Of heroes could surpass them, but we see
Their valor and their deeds enhanced in song . . . .
But if for truth you are particular,
Like this, quite in reverse, the story goes:
The Greeks defeated, Troy victorious,
And chaste Penelope notorious.
(35.25 and 27)
The above passage is from Barbara Reynolds's translation, Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso (The Frenzy of Orlando), Part II (New York: Penguin Books, 1977) 342. Shakespeare's version of the Troy story reflects an Ariostan skepticism toward his characters and his own dramatic creation.
8In "Prudence and the Price of Helen: The Debate of the Trojans in Troilus and Cressida" SQ 20:3 (Summer 1969): 255-263, Rolf Soellner says that Shakespeare used Cicero's De officiis as a source for the values contained in Hector's speech in 2.2. I have no quarrel with this argument in general, although Soellner's argument that Hector invokes Cicero's idea of caritas, true loving kindness, in the speech is a stretch. This kind of love is conspicuously absent in the play.
9If Shakespeare read the Ethics and Rhetoric while writing Troilus and Cressida, as I contend, he would have found Latin translations readily available. Shakespeare could also have read Wilkinson's English translation of the Ethics, The Ethiques of Aristotle (1547). John W. Velz, Shakespeare and the Classical Tradition: A Critical Guide to Commentary, 1660-1960 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1968) provides an annotated bibliography that includes views by various critics of the relationship (if any) of Aristotle's Ethics to Troilus and Cressida. William Watkiss Lloyd notes that Hector's passage on the young men too immature for Aristotle's moral philosophy is an accurate translation of Aristotle's metaphor when Shakespeare used the word "hear" in the sense of "study" or "learn," "Troilus and Cressida, II.ii.163," NQ, 2 (1886) 304-5. George Neilson shows that Shakespeare's and Francis Bacon's "error" in translating this same passage from the Ethics about boys "unfit to hear moral philosophy" probably goes back to each writer's having read Erasmus' translation of this passage in Colloquies, "Bacon and Shakespeare's Mistake about Aristotle," The Atheneum, 3403 (1893) 62. Unaware of Neilson's article, Daniel Ford made the same point in 1913, "Shakespeare and Aristotle," Nation, XCVI (1913) 34. Lily B. Campbell, in refuting the idea that Bacon was author of Troilus and Cressida because of this passage points out that the same error occurs in Nicholas Grimald's translation of a similar passage in Cicero. She believes all three were derived from the same sixteenth-century Latin edition of Aristotle's Ethics, "A Note for Baconians," MLN, LIII (1938) 21-23. H. W. Crundell shows that Aristotle probably did mean "moral philosophy" as translated by a number of English Renaissance writers, "Bacon and Troilus and Cressida," NQ, CLXXXVI (1944) 226. Regarding Ulysses' speech on "degree,"Charles M. Gayley doubts Shakespeare's direct use of the Ethics, stressing instead the likelihood that Shakespeare got it from an intermediate source such as Elyot or Hooker, "Shakespeare and Hooker," Shakespeare and the Founders of America (New York, 1917) Ch 7, 162-190. Ernest Barker says the immediate source of Ulysses' "degree" speech is Elyot's The Governour I and II, "A Shakespeare Discovery," The Spectator, CLVIII (1937) 615-16. Walter Kaufmann argues for an ethical affinity between Aristotle and Shakespeare's tragic heroes beginning with Brutus and including Hamlet, Coriolanus Othello, and Timon--all of whom are magnaninous men as defined in the Nicomachean Ethics, "Shakespeare: Between Socrates and Existentialism," The Owl and the Nightingale: From Shakespeare to Existentialism (1959) 1-22.
10Kenneth Palmer considers it probable that Shakespeare was reading The Nicomachean Ethics as he wrote Troilus and Cressida and that he announced the fact in the play, "Shakespeare does not normally allude to his sources. Certainly he does not document his plays, as Jonson did, to provide authority for what his characters do and say; and it is, therefore, strange to find Aristotle explicitly cited by Hector at II.ii.167-8. In other places Shakespeare alludes to an ancient writer only in passing--obliquely, to Virgil (Ham. II.ii.440 ff.), directly, to Caesar (2H6 IV.vii.57-8), and with a comment on Ovid, by contrast with Aristotle (Shr. I.i.32-3), that makes him a surrogate for both light reading and frivolous behaviour; but the point to be made is that these were all school authors--something that any grammar-school boy with a good sprag memory would be familiar with. With Troilus and Cressida the case is different. Here, in a play held to be learned and sophisticated, in the middle of a serious debate on a matter of moral and legal principle, a major speaker cites a major philosopher. It is a matter that deserves further investigation, and I wish to argue that Shakespeare was fairly familiar with at least the first half of the Nicomachean Ethics," Appendix III, Troilus and Cressida, The Arden Edition, ed. Kenneth Palmer (London: Methuen, 1982) 311. Whereas Palmer finds little in Books 6 through 10of the Ethics to suggest any connection to Troilus, I find a number of parallels. Palmer makes no mention of Shakespeare's possible use of Aristotle's Rhetoric.
11References to Aristotle's Rhetoric are from The "Art" of Rhetoric, trans. John Henry Freese, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1982).
12All references to the Ethics are from The Ethics of Aristotle: The Nicomachean Ethics, trans. J. A. K. Thomson, revised by Hugh Tredennick (New York: Penguin Books, 1976). Concerning the idea that these texts read each other, Kenneth Palmer notes, "It is significant that, in discounting pleasure when trying to reach a just decision, Aristotle should use as an analaogy the very topic which Hector is discussing" in 2.2 of TC (fn 2, 312). Palmer's point is that Shakespeare is using Aristotle to judge the Trojans and Greeks. He does not consider that the play might also be working the other way around, with the words and actions of the Trojans and Greeks judging the Aristotelian grounds of judgment.
13Kenneth Palmer points to Hector as Aristotle's magnanimous man and notes that Shakespeare places Hector within that topos. Likewise, Palmer sees Troilus as Aristotle's liberal man and directs us to the place in the play where Shakespeare notes the connection.
14Norman Rabkin suggests that a structural analysis of such a highly structured play is clearly necessary if we are to make a unified meaning of the two plots. "Troilus and Cressida: the Uses of the Double Plot," Shakespeare Studies I (1965) 266. Kenneth Palmer notes that crucial scenes--the Greek council and the Trojan council scenes, for example--are almost symmetrical (41). Both of these interpreters of the play agree that each plot explores the question of value.
15Spenser's Orgoglio was sired by the blustering wind on the base earth (Book 1. Canto 7. 9). When he is slain by Arthur, Orgoglio's huge body vanishes, leaving nothing but an empty bladder (Book 1. Canto 8.24). As an announcement of allegory, the prologue of Troilus and Cressida gives us several hints concerning the play proper. First, the reference to "orgulous princes" connects the play not just to Orgoglio in The Faerie Queene but also, through the Italian form of the word, to Italian romance epics--to Ariosto and perhaps even to Boiardo. Second, the empty wind of Orgoglio's pride might suggest the empty rhetoric of the characters in TC. Third, the swollen pride of the orgulous Greeks, in their wrath, might suggest the sexual pride of the Trojans--Paris and Troilus--in the sense of tumescence.
16E. M.W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture (London, 1943) 16-17, 25, 83, 88-100.
17Norman Rabkin says that "to Hector, Helen's value is an objective quantity, which, when measured against the manhood lost in her defense, makes her surrender a moral necessity: 'What merit's in that reason which denies / The yielding of her up?' Reason is the key word here, for objective evaluation is a rational process" (270). Hector's argument could be called "utilitarian." Rabkin does not explore the implications of Hector's argument in the way it threatens to move out of the realm of rhetoric, the sphere of qualitative judgment, into the arena of Aristotelian logic and scientific, mathematical demonstration.
18Rabkin argues that "Troilus self-consciously espouses an irrational position" in opposing Hector's quantitative evaluation of Helen's worth (270).
19Citing Aristotle's Ethics 1.3, Kenneth Parker says that "whether or not it applies to Paris, [this insight from Aristotle] fits Troilus like a glove. 'Firm of word' he may be; but throughout the play he oscillates violently from one emotional extreme to another; his arguments are passional in basis; and he suffers perpetually from excessive depression, excessive delight and excessive wrath, despite his repeated claim (I.i.27-8, V.ii.63-4) that he is more patient than Patience herself" (49).
20Rabkin argues that "Troilus self-consciously espouses an irrational position" in opposing Hector's quantitative evaluation of Helen's worth (270).
21Citing Aristotle's Ethics 1.3, Kenneth Parker says that "whether or not it applies to Paris, [this insight from Aristotle] fits Troilus like a glove. 'Firm of word' he may be; but throughout the play he oscillates violently from one emotional extreme to another; his arguments are passional in basis; and he suffers perpetually from excessive depression, excessive delight and excessive wrath, despite his repeated claim (I.i.27-8, V.ii.63-4) that he is more patient than Patience herself" (49).
22Kenneth Palmer interprets Hector's lines about the putrefied corpse in "goodly armor" as an allusion to Matt. 23:27. Palmer asserts that "the symbolic function of the dead Greek is not in doubt," but he does not spell out what this function might be (fn 1, 297). There is also a resemblance between this allegorical emblem in Troilus and Cressida as rottenness of the Greeks and Trojans, and the pervasive rottenness in the state of Denmark in Hamlet, a play written at about the same time as TC. The particular reference in Hamlet closest to the putrefying corpse in TC, is obviously the conversation between Hamlet and the gravedigger:
Hamlet: How long will a man lie i' th' earth ere he rot?There are a number of "pocky" corpses walking around in TC.
First Clown: Faith, if 'a be not rotten before 'a die--as we have many pocky
corpses nowadays, that will scarce hold the laying in--'a will last you some eight year or nine year. (5.1.163-67)
23If we reverse the gender of the participants, we might note that the situation of Cressida with Troilus parallels the "dramatic" situation of the speaker of the sonnets and his relationship with the "dark lady." In the play it is Cressida who resembles the sonnets' speaker, self-divided between her better self and her desire. Both the sonnets' speaker and Cressida would be "incontinent" according to Aristotle.
24Concerning the words "bifold authority" or "by foul authority," at least the new Norton Shakespeare's editors have the good sense to admit that "the meaning is obscure" (fn 4, 1901).