Troilus and Cressida: Commentators, part three (Pandarus)

For the last couple of days, I’ve been discussing the in-play commentators of Troilus and Cressida; thus far, we’ve had the Prologue and the “scurrilous Greek” Thersites. Today, let’s wrap up the discussion with Pandarus.

In the play’s second scene, we (the audience and Cressida) are recipients of his coverage of the entrance of the Trojan leaders and soldiers as they return from the field. From Aeneas (“Is not that a brave man?” [I.ii.181]) through Hector (“Look how he looks! There’s a countenance!” [I.ii.196-7]) to Troilus, Pandarus provides not only the comedic (he mistakes Troilus for Deiphobus at first), but the expository (Shakespeare is able to use him to introduce the major Trojan characters–who could easily blur and become indistinguishable). It isn’t all fun and matching games, however: his description of the common soldiers as “Asses, fools, dolts; chaff and bran, chaff and bran; porridge after meat” (I.ii.236-7) belie a social strata consciousness that Pandarus feels puts him more on the level of the royalty he watches than of the commoners. The only problem is that he shares more in common with the common–he is related through marriage to the defector priest Calchas (he is listed as Cressida’s uncle but not Calchas’ brother).

With this social strata knowledge, it takes me back to the Prologue. When I was discussing that, I had thought that the Prologue, dressed “in armor” (Prologue, opening stage direction), was an army leader. I feel that is incorrect now. It would make more sense if the Prologue is one of the “chaff and bran”; the Prologue would then be at the same social level as Thersites and Pandarus, and we would have continuity in the status of our commentators.

Regardless, during Troilus and Cressida’s not-quite-meet-cute, Pandarus both comments upon and gives direction to the lovers:

Come, come, what need you blush? Shame’s a baby.—Here she is now. Swear the oaths now to her that you have sworn to me. Cressida offers to leave. What, are you gone again? You must be watched ere you be made tame, must you? Come your ways; come your ways. An you draw backward, we’ll put you i’ th’ fills.—Why do you not speak to her?—Come, draw this curtain and let’s see your picture. He draws back her veil. Alas the day, how loath you are to offend daylight! An ’twere dark, you’d close sooner.—So, so, rub on, and kiss the mistress. (They kiss.) How now? A kiss in fee-farm? Build there, carpenter; the air is sweet. Nay, you shall fight your hearts out ere I part you. The falcon as the tercel, for all the ducks i’ th’ river. Go to, go to.
  • III.ii.38-51

While the first commentary was all for our (the listeners) benefit, this second stretch is only partially for us as a theatrical audience–almost as a punctuating afterthought (“Here she is now… He draws back her veil”). Instead, the majority of the speech are directions for his other audience, the soon-to-be-lovers. Pandarus’ commentary speeches are evolving, or maybe his listeners are, from the audience of what he’s watching, to the objects and subordinates of his instructions.

This evolution continues to the all-too-bitter-end. Now his listeners are both, both the play’s theatrical audience, as well as the audience who he wants to direct:

A goodly medicine for my aching bones! O world, world, world! Thus is the poor agent despised. O traitors and bawds, how earnestly are you set a-work, and how ill requited! Why should our endeavor be so loved and the performance so loathed? What verse for it? What instance for it? Let me see:

Full merrily the humble-bee doth sing,
Till he hath lost his honey and his sting;
And being once subdued in armèd tail,
Sweet honey and sweet notes together fail.

Good traders in the flesh, set this in your painted cloths:

As many as be here of panders’ hall,
Your eyes, half out, weep out at Pandar’s fall;
Or if you cannot weep, yet give some groans,
Though not for me, yet for your aching bones.
Brethren and sisters of the hold-door trade,
Some two months hence my will shall here be made.
It should be now, but that my fear is this:
Some gallèd goose of Winchester would hiss.
Till then I’ll sweat and seek about for eases,
And at that time bequeath you my diseases.

  • V.x.35-56

Of course, the play’s theatrical audience is the audience he wants to direct. He gives us directions to “set” and “weep out” and “give some groans,” just as easily as he tells us of a world where even the “earnest…are…ill-requited” (V.x.37-8). We are now linked to Pandarus as “traders in the flesh” of the “hold-door trade” of prostitution.  The link is greater than a mere career, however; we’re family now, his “brethren and sisters.” Our “aching bones” are like those aches “in (Pandarus’) bones” (V.iv.105) of which he complains. And if we don’t have these pains now, we will, as Pandarus (and Shakespeare) ends the play with the promise of the pander’s legacy of disease.

We have gone the Prologue’s “fair beholders” (Prologue.26) to Thersites’ “bastard” (V.vii.22) to Pandarus’ brother in pimp-dom and children in decay, to whom he “bequeath(s us his) diseases” (V.x.56).

We’re given a play that is neither flesh nor fish, neither tragedy nor comedy, one that upsets the expected romance of the title and debunks the expected heroism of the setting. It is no wonder then that any concept of an audience for whom the characters beg approval (think of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Rosalind’s actor’s curtsy at the end of As You Like It) is replaced by a character who gives up sexually transmitted diseases and death.

This is one strange, strange play.


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