Troilus and Cressida: stage directions in the dialogue

Yesterday, I noted how long-time readers of the blog know my love of digging through the scansion of the lines for acting clues and the dialogue for hidden stage directions, starting off with the former in Troilus and Cressida. Today, let’s hit the latter and check out our dialogue-based stage directions.

Honestly, I found less in this play than in many of the others.

The first one(s) of note come in Pandarus’ weird play-by-play / direction of the silent meeting between our two titular 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. 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. 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.
  • III.ii.38-48

It’s a textbook piece of description/direction: from Cressida’s “blush”-ing shyness and her attempt to leave (“What are you gone again?”) to telling Troilus to “draw backward” Cressida’s veil (“this curtain”), and imploring him to continue to caress (“rub on”) and “kiss the mistress,” it doesn’t leave a whole lot of work for the director here.

Later, when our other major commentator Thersites describes Ajax to Achilles, we’re given an idea of how the actor playing “A-jakes” should behave: “raves in saying nothing… stalks up and down like a peacock… bites his lip with a politic regard” (III.iii.249, 251, 254). The mental image alone is amusing; seeing it onstage with a brutish actor would make it all the funnier.

When the news comes down of the agreement to send Cressida to the Greeks, the actor playing Pandarus is given physical actions to play: he must “sigh…profoundly” (IV.ii.79), and make Troilus and Cressida’s sad embrace a group hug (“Let me embrace, too” [IV.iv.13-4]).

If you’re trying to find the stage directions for the exchange of love-tokens, good luck; you have to depend on the dialogue… Troilus: “And I’ll grow friend with danger. Wear this sleeve.” Cressida: “And you this glove” (IV.iv.69-70). Of course, this is another case of “another edition, another difference”: again, the Folger version (edited by Barbara A. Mowat) does present the stage direction “They exchange love tokens” but my Pelican Shakespeare edited by Jonathan Crewe does not.

When Hector meets Ajax and Achilles in the Greek camp, his character has dialogue that informs the actions of his actor. First, he must “embrace” (IV.v.134) in friendship the man whom he was just wrestling (Ajax). Later, when he and Achilles size up each other, they must stand far enough apart for each to “look on” (IV.v.234) and appraise the other. Both Achilles and Hector discuss and point out where he will wound the other: “Whether there, or there, or there?” (IV.v.242) and not “there, nor there, nor there” (IV.v.255). But even after all the trash-talk there is a handshake (“Thy hand upon that match” [IV.v.269]).

Finally, as Troilus and Ulysses watch the interaction between Cressida and Diomedes, we know from the dialoge that Cressida must “stroke… his cheek” (V.ii.51), prompting Troilus to “shake” (V.ii.50) so violently that Ulysses makes note of it.

The clues aren’t always profound, but they can pay off for the observant actor and director.

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