Voyant: Troilus and Cressida

Voyant (pdf attachment, for some reason my jpg uploads were a “security error”)

I used Voyant to look at the speech by Ulysses in Act I, Scene III of Troilus and Cressida. To summarize what happens at the beginning of this scene before the speech is given, Agamemnon is talking with the other Greek leaders, wondering why the troops are so downcast. He believes that they should embrace the struggle as greatness comes from difficult times. Nestor agrees with him and says that heroism is born of struggle. When Ulysses speaks, he agrees, but also says that the real problem that is making the soldiers downcast is that they are losing respect for authority, and the problem comes from Achilles. Achilles is sitting in his tent lazily, and Patroclus is making fun of the leaders, and Ajax and his slave, Thersites, are doing the same and so are making the problem worse. Everyone agrees that this is a problem and then Anaeas of the Trojans comes, issuing Hector’s challenge to have the greatest Greek warrior fight him in single-combat. After Anaeas leaves, Ulysses realizes that this challenge is meant for Achilles, but he sees that if Achilles were to lose, the entire Greek army would lose morale. He suggests that Ajax fight instead, because if he lost, then they could claim that Achilles would have won had he been the one fighting, and also, this snub of the title of being the greatest Greek warrior would bother Achilles so much that he would join in the war again and bring with him his men. In this speech, Ulysses highlights the importance of restoring the soldiers’ respect for authority, saying that their lack of respect will lead to anarchy and thus destruction.

Reading this speech, you can clearly see the wisdom and intelligence of Ulysses that is so famously shown in The Odyssey. I had this sense that he was a doctor diagnosing the problem and giving the right prescription for it. As wise and intelligent as Ulysses is, and having read The Odyssey and seeing that he has a hubris problem (specifically when he meets the Cyclopes Polyphemus and tells him his name after blinding him, which comes back to bite him), I thought it was interesting that Ulysses was focused on maintaining unity and understanding the need for the Greeks to work together and not seeking to control the army himself, even though he was smart enough to do so.

I thought that the metaphor of the hive and the bee was interesting especially because a similar metaphor was used in The Rape of Lucrece, though under different circumstances. It’s also interesting to note that in Shakespeare’s time, people believed that there was a hive king and not a hive queen – that just shows how deep the misogyny ran.

As seen in my Voyant screenshot, the word “degree” is repeated several times throughout this speech. It’s clear that this word means authority, and Ulysses paints a strong picture of the threat of the lack of authority. In his discussion of the heavens and planets, it means destruction, the reverse of what is natural – something that Shakespeare focuses a lot on in his works. In The Tempest, for example, Prospero calls his younger brother “unnatural” because he usurped him – in Shakespeare’s world, it is unnatural for the younger brother to have more power than the elder. It is a lack of order, and so it is chaos. Ulysses goes on to discuss what a lack of respect of authority means in daily life – sons would disrespect their fathers and justice would fail. In saying that authority is “the ladder to all high designs” it is suggestive of the concept of the divine right of kings, saying that the authority belonging to these Greek kings is given to them by their gods. To me, this speech was especially reminiscent of Macbeth and of Hamlet, where the political upheaval in the lands of the stories actually causes horrible natural disasters – this can be seen in King Lear as well, where when Lear has been cast out by Regan and Goneril he is outside in a terrible storm.

Ulysses is wise and eloquently makes very powerful points that in a time where it was understood that the disintegration of order meant chaos, would have greatly appealed to the audience and would have been supported.

Leave a Reply