Troilus and Cressida
Art and Culture Quotes Page 1
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[...] and hither am I come A prologue arm'd, but not in confidence Of author's pen or actor's voice, but suited In like conditions as our argument, To tell you, fair beholders, (Prologue, 22-26)
Shakespeare loves drawing his audience's attention to the fact that we're watching a play. Here, the Prologue talks to us (the "fair beholders") directly and confesses that he doesn't have complete knowledge of what's going to happen in the play. He says he's not in "confidence" of Shakespeare's "pen," which means, the Prologue is not omniscient or "all knowing." But wait a minute. Who cares what the Prologue does or doesn't know? Anyone who knows about the Trojan War or who has read Chaucer's famous poem (Troilus and Criseyde) already knows exactly what's going to happen in this play. Cressida will cheat on Troilus and Achilles will slaughter Hector. Eventually, Troy will "burn" (even though we don't see it in this play). So, Shakespeare knows that we know what will go down. And why does that matter?
[...] our play Leaps o'er the vaunt and firstlings of those broils, Beginning in the middle, starting thence away To what may be digested in a play. Like or find fault; do as your pleasures are: Now good or bad, 'tis but the chance of war. (Prologue. 27-31)
When the Prologue says we're beginning our story "in the middle" of the action, it reminds us that we're watching a play with some serious roots in the classical literary tradition. As we know, Shakespeare bases most of the Trojan War material in this play on Homer's Iliad, which also famously starts off "in the middle" of things. (The fancy technical name for this is in medias res. It's how writers kick off other epic poems like The Odyssey, The Aeneid, and Paradise Lost.)
[...] the bounded waters Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores And make a sop of all this solid globe: (1.3.111-113)
Did you notice the major shout-out to the famous Globe Theater in this passage? During Ulysses' big speech about why social order and hierarchy (a.k.a. "degree") is so important, he says that if you take away social hierarchy, then chaos will ensue and the land and seas (a.k.a. the globe) will become all mushed together. At the same time, there's a reference to the theater and Shakespeare's play-going audience here because the passage also suggests that taking away social hierarchy will make the Globe Theater's audience cry, flooding the theater with their tears. But we seriously doubt that Shakespeare's audience (especially the rowdy "groundlings") would boo-hoo about the loss of social order.