Week 79: From ‘Troilus and Cressida’, by William Shakespeare

I believe that others before me may have noted that a certain gentleman from Stratford was a pretty good poet, so I hardly need to add my own halfpennyworth except to comment on how, even in the lesser known plays, that infinitely flexible speaking voice of his can take on a quality of haunting immediacy. I love how Cressida’s magnificently over-the-top protestations are undercut by the proleptic irony of her faithlessness to be: was anyone ever better at doing the grand rhetorical style while at the same time subtly undermining it?

Cressida: If I be false, or swerve a hair from truth,
When time is old and hath forgot itself,
When waterdrops have worn the stones of Troy,
And blind oblivion swallow’d cities up,
And mighty states characterless are grated
To dusty nothing – yet let memory
From false to false, among false maids in love,
Upbraid my falsehood: when th’ have said ‘As false
As air, as water, wind, or sandy earth,
As fox to lamb, or wolf to heifer’s calf,
Pard to the hind, or stepdame to her son’
– Yea, let them say, to stick the heart of falsehood,
‘As false as Cressid.’

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