Florid Speech, part one

So when I started the second read-through of Troilus and Cressida, the incredibly florid speech of some of the war leaders, as opposed to the non-warrior characters, really popped off the page. I mean, there’s quite a difference between Agamemnon’s first speech:

What grief hath set the jaundice o’er your cheeks?
The ample proposition that hope makes
In all designs begun on Earth below
Fails in the promised largeness. Checks and disasters
Grow in the veins of actions highest reared,
As knots, by the conflux of meeting sap,
Infects the sound pine and diverts his grain
Tortive and errant from his course of growth.
Nor, princes, is it matter new to us
That we come short of our suppose so far
That after seven years’ siege yet Troy walls stand,
Sith every action that hath gone before,
Whereof we have record, trial did draw
Bias and thwart, not answering the aim
And that unbodied figure of the thought
That gave ’t surmisèd shape. Why then, you princes,
Do you with cheeks abashed behold our works
And call them shames, which are indeed naught else
But the protractive trials of great Jove
To find persistive constancy in men?
The fineness of which metal is not found
In Fortune’s love; for then the bold and coward,
The wise and fool, the artist and unread,
The hard and soft seem all affined and kin.
But in the wind and tempest of her frown,
Distinction, with a broad and powerful fan,
Puffing at all, winnows the light away,
And what hath mass or matter by itself
Lies rich in virtue and unmingled.
  • I.iii.1-30

and Pandarus’ first (of five lines or more):

An her hair were not somewhat darker than Helen’s—well, go to—there were no more comparison between the women. But, for my part, she is my kinswoman; I would not, as they term it, praise her, but I would somebody had heard her talk yesterday, as I did. I will not dispraise your sister Cassandra’s wit, but—
  • I.i.41-7

Beyond the simple use of verse versus prose, there’s the length of the sentences and the relative complexity of both the syntax and diction. Looking back on my first reading of the play, I had thought there might be a differentiation between the Greeks and the Trojans, with the non-warriors being a kind of control sample. But on a second read-through, I’m not so sure.

Look back at that Agamemnon speech: 30 lines, seven sentences, with the longest being seven and a half lines long. Now take a look at Hector’s first speech:

Though no man lesser fears the Greeks than I
As far as toucheth my particular,
Yet, dread Priam,
There is no lady of more softer bowels,
More spongy to suck in the sense of fear,
More ready to cry out ‘Who knows what follows?’
Than Hector is: the wound of peace is surety,
Surety secure; but modest doubt is call’d
The beacon of the wise, the tent that searches
To the bottom of the worst. 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?
  • II.ii.8-25

Here, it’s 18 lines, three sentences, with the longest nine lines long. Proportionally very similar to Agamemnon. Each with formal diction, and each with complex sentence structure (bordering on the run-on… I would not like to have to diagram these puppies). While there may be a difference between the Greek and Trojan diction and syntax, it certainly doesn’t jump up and bite me on the nose.

But now take a look at Troilus’ soliloquy:

Peace, you ungracious clamours! peace, rude sounds!
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.
But Pandarus,—O gods, how do you plague me!
I cannot come to Cressid but by Pandar;
And he’s as tetchy to be woo’d to woo.
As she is stubborn-chaste against all suit.
Tell me, Apollo, for thy Daphne’s love,
What Cressid is, what Pandar, and what we?
Her bed is India; there she lies, a pearl:
Between our Ilium and where she resides,
Let it be call’d the wild and wandering flood,
Ourself the merchant, and this sailing Pandar
Our doubtful hope, our convoy and our bark.
  • I.i.88-103

Short sentences, eight over the course of the 17-line speech. Much more straightforward syntax (only that last sentence seems to bring anything beyond the simple sentence structure).

So what is the root of the difference between the complexities of speech?

As you can tell from the meandering nature of this blog entry, it’s got me flummoxed.

More tomorrow… maybe.

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