This week, I’m writing about a concept that’s been nagging at me in Troilus and Cressida: Misogyny. Yesterday, I talked a little general-purpose woman-hating; today, I’m getting specific: Cressida. If women can be reduced to types as I said yesterday, then Cressida will become what she predicts: “as false as Cressid” (III.ii.191). However, one can’t be false from the beginning; it must be a reaction to, a refutation of, some truth.
In her first scene, we see her in her natural verbal state, giving as good as she gets with her uncle, the bawdy Pandarus. As noted in the first entry on bawdiness in the play, Cressida is playful in her language, discussing how she could recognize a man after she “knew him” (I.ii.64), with not only the casual but sexual connotation of the verb. Pandarus refers to Troilus’ “not come to’t” (I.ii.82) yet, meaning he has reached maturity, with a sexual implication that Troilus is a virgin. Cressida has confidence, though, that Troilus will succeed with the necessary erection (“stand to the proof” [I.ii.126]), even if it means Troilus has a sexually transmitted disease: when Pandarus attempts to make Cressida jealous by noting how Helen praised Troilus, Cressida responds, “I had as lief Helen’s golden tongue had commended Troilus for a copper nose” (I.ii.104). False noses (and other body parts) were made of pliable metals to cover areas that had been decayed through venereal diseases.
She’s bawdy, and not above a “catty” insult upon another woman, either. During Pandarus’ ongoing teasing of Cressida, saying that he thinks that Helen may “love (Troilus) better than Paris” (I.ii.105-6), she responds, “Then she’s a merry Greek indeed” (I.ii.107). Not only is this a little female-on-female verbal violence, but an insult of ethnic superiority as well.
Later in the scene, when Pandarus asks Cressida what “season(s)” (I.ii.249) a man, she responds that a pie needs to be seasoned with dates (the fruit), but if a man is not seasoned, then “the man’s date is out” (I.ii.251), or past his sexual prime. This is so whip-smart that even Pandarus notes, “You are such a woman a man knows not at what ward you lie” (I.ii.252-3), meaning she is so sharp-witted that a man would not know what mode of parrying in fencing she takes (“ward, n.2.III.8.a” Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford University Press, June 2015. Web. 14 July 2015.). Any connection between her sharp wit and the bawdy meaning of “keen” is purely coincidental, I’m sure… not.
At this point, I can almost see a bit of Much Ado‘s Beatrice in Cressida, but then her response is nothing but bawdiness:
What’s “not hit” is her virginity; “taking the blow” is losing said virginity; and “swelling” is the pregnancy that follows. This is the natural course for Cressida, sex is the goal. Very unlike Beatrice (more like greasy Maria from Love’s Labor’s Lost). Love is secondary, as Cressida admits, “I show more craft than love” (III.ii.148).
Can it be any surprise then that this is the woman who will become the poster child for falsehood?