Close-reading on Ulysses’ speech in Troilus and Cressida (1.3.75 – 137)

MODERNIZATION: Troy, which still stands on its foundation, would have been destroyed and Hector’s sword would have lost its master (Hector would have died), if it wasn’t for the following reason: The rights of the authorities have been neglected. And there are many empty Greek tents on the field and as many insincere factions. When the general (in this case Agamemnon) does not act as the head of the hive, what reward (honey) can be expected from the hive, when foragers can take it from the hive whenever they want? The degree (rank) is not shown through the mask that we wear in battle, as the most unworthy is perceived as an equal to the worthiest.

The Heaven and the planet (Earth), which is the centre of the universe (geocentric model of the universe), also follows the degree, order, rank, course, proportion, season, form, and custom all in the right order. And therefore the glorious Sun is made the heavenly king due to its noble eminence and is rotating around the Earth amongst the other planets. The Sun’s healing rays (described as gaze from the eyes of the Sun) corrects the displacement of the planets that does not stay in their positions and hurries as if following the orders of a king without pause to encourage the goodness and discourage the bad.

However, when the planets that are causing disorder become aligned with each other, their mischief becomes too much and causes disasters such as plagues, ill omen, mutiny, raging of seas, earthquakes, commotion in the winds, fears, changes, horrors, cracks and fissures, and complete tearing and uprooting of the unity (represented through marriage in the text) of calm states (as in status of being calm, not countries) from their positions.

When degree (rank), which is a ladder to every higher beings, becomes unstable, the entirety of the system becomes disordered. How could communities, university degrees, societies in cities, peaceful commercial exchanges between countries, the primogeniture and the rights of birth, and the right of age and monarchy remain authentic if it isn’t for degree? Just taking away degree will untune the string of the instrument and listen to the discord that comes from it. Everything will result in conflict. The water would rise and flood over the shores and make this solid planet (globe. Could possibly be the Globe) wet; the strong will rule over the weak and the violent sons will murder their father. Force will be the law (right), both right and wrong, between which justice lies and if those exerting the force on others lose their name, justice will also lose its name. Then everything will be able power. Power will become the will of the people and their will will become greed and the greed, like a predator (wolf), with will and power doubling it, will, without doubt, prey on others and eventually itself.

Great Agamemnon, this chaos of preying and self-preying results from the loss (personified in text as suffocating and chocking) of degree. And this neglecting of degree makes us, who want to climb up, fall back. The general (or whoever is on the top of the hierarchy) falling back due to this makes the subordinates follow him for the sake of following their superior. This whole process makes us fall behind rather than advance forward. And it is because of this that Troy is still standing, not because it is strong. To summarize, Troy is standing now due to our weaknesses, not its strength.

CLOSE READING: the bee and the honey metaphor. Honey, like in “The Rape of Lucrece,” is used as a word describing an award that foragers come after. Degree is mentioned repeatedly in this passage and the entire passage emphasizes on the importance of order. The Elizabethan people believed that there were hierarchies in this world and the falling of one of the apex would result in the disorder not only in that particular hierarchy, but in all others as well (as seen in Macbeth when Macbeth goes to kill Duncan. The owls cry and there is chaos in the state of the universe around him). This reference to the hierarchy systems of the universe is mentioned in great detail in this passage as well. The part about the mask is saying that by being masked, the hierarchy is ignored and that, in turn, causes the calamities in the universe observed. The “Sol” is referring to the Sun. The way the sun is described (i.e. med’cinable eye) shows that the Sun in this passage refers to the god of medicine, music, prophecy, truth, and the Sun, Apollo. The Sol is given the quality of healing because of this mythological deity. The next part talks about the disorder that results when the hierarchy is indeed over-turned. The passage, and many other passages in this text later on, talks particularly about plagues (like in lines 96 and 103). Marriage, as seen in line 100, is seen as a unifying force as well as a stable and orderly force. The degree is also described as the ladder, following form its archaic meaning of the rungs of a ladder. This metaphor is used to describe the climbing of the ladder as the different ranks and order and climbing towards the top of the hierarchy. The theme of Apollo, in this case as the god of music, is continued on by describing disorder as an untuned instrument that give off discord. Then, like in many of his other texts, Shakespeare uses a water related metaphor to compare flood and disorder. The strong ground loses its stability due to the water and creates unstable mud-like earth. Then, wolf is used to describe the greed that results from the power. The ladder metaphor is also continued in lines 126 – 131 by the use of words like “climb” and “step.” The plague metaphor also recurs in lines 132 – 135, with the use of words such as “sick,” “fever” and “pale.” The last sentence that Ulysses speaks summarized his long speech into a single line; “Troy in our weakness lives, not in her strength.”

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