OK, so regular readers know that I love to dig through the text looking for acting clues in the scansion (as well as stage direction in the dialogue, but that, alas, is for another day… like tomorrow). And Troilus and Cressida is no different. Except that it is.
This is a play that is chock-a-block with verse lines so short (how short were they?) they defy the concept of much of a verse line.
Check out the start of 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. …
“Princes”… two syllables, one poetic foot, and it isn’t even iambic, but rather a trochee. The short line almost screams, “Pause for attention!” But why? Are the Greeks rowdy as they enter? Are they all lost in their own little worlds? Or is Agamemnon just a diva, an attention whore?
Or is it not a separate line at all? While my edition of the play (The Pelican Shakespeare, edited by Jonathan Crewe) has “Princes” in its own line, the edition over at the Folger Digital Texts, edited by Barbara A. Mowat, has it as the start of one line, a really long line:
/ ~ / / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /
Princes, what grief hath set the jaundice o’er your cheeks?
Roughly iambic hexameter (six feet long), though in this case, with that opening trochee, followed by what looks to me to be a spondee (with both “what” and “grief” stressed). If it’s all one line, it could be a kind of homage to Homer, as The Iliad was written in hexameter, though not iambic; rather it was dactylic hexameter, six feet of three-syllable chunks (each with a stressed syllable, followed by two unstressed feet). Iambic hexameter in English is sometimes called “Alexandrine.” In this case, there certainly wouldn’t be the clue to pause; in fact, the non-iambic opening feet would tend to give the actor a “jump-start” to the line, bringing a quickness to the question. So while I wouldn’t mind going with the concept of the Homeric shout-out, neither this clue to quicken the pace nor the lack of another Alexandrine line in this speech makes me want to make it all one line.
This isn’t last of the short-liners in the play. Nestor uses one in the middle of his response to Agamemnon (“With those of nobler bulk!” [I.iii.37]) and Ulysses uses three in his first three speeches in this scene (“But for these instances.” [I.iii.77], “Follows the choking.” [I.iii.126], and “Breaks scurril jests,” [I.iii.148]). In all these cases, the short lines end with punctuation, and in three out of the four, it’s sentence-ending punctuation. Again, calling for the actor to pause.
In dialogues, the short lines become even more pronounced. For example, when Aeneas arrives in the Greek camp, this exchange takes place:
What would you ’fore our tent?
Is this great Agamemnon’s tent, I pray you?
Again, very short verse lines (and again a difference between texts: the Folger text has Agamemnon’s two speeches as short prose lines, but as all the other speeches by this supreme leader of the Greeks are in verse, and he IS the supreme leader of the Greeks, I’m going to stick with my edition’s verse lines). So, does this become a pause-fest, stilted, to the point of becoming a Mamet parody? It can’t. If this was a short play, like The Comedy of Errors, I might buy that, but Troilus and Cressida is not a short play–only Hamlet and Richard III are longer in the Canon–and modernistic/naturalistic pauses would make for an interminable afternoon in the theater.
In this particular case, how do we present this? Do we play the pauses, as these enemies verbally feel each other out? Do we play it without pauses, as each steps on the other’s lines in disrespect? Or is it just a clue to the reader (not the audience) of the breakdown of the poetic standards we have come to expect not only from Shakespeare, but from a play with this setting (read Homeric).
Think this reader-theory is far-fetched? Remember back to when we were discussing the different versions of the published play. Back then, I discussed the inclusion in the Second Quarto version of the play of a prose preface to the play by the publisher (“A Never Writer to an Ever Reader”). This play, specifically, seems to have had some intention to be read (not just heard in performance).
So the questions remain as to how to play these seeming pauses, because as I mentioned at the beginning of this entry, the play’s full of ‘em.
Questions, I have. Answers, few and far between.