Troilus And Cressida Manipulations Of A Universal

Troilus And Cressida: Manipulations Of A Universal Wolf Essay, Research Paper

Tris Warkentin

Shakespearean ComedyTroilus and Cressida, question 2


Manipulations of a “Universal Wolf”

The focus of Troilus and Cressida on appetite as a type of human value, and hence a cause of action, causes a break in the Great Chain of Being, and thus the dissolution of order in both Troy and the Greek camp outside of it. The original causes of the Trojan War have dissolved over time. The gods are gone. The fearless heroes who had formerly fought the war have been reduced to quarreling descendants of their heroic ancestors. Elements such as Destiny, fate, and Fortune have been removed. The only causes left to produce disaster are the actions of human beings, and these actions arise from impulses of human appetite that have no cause beyond the irrational nature of human desires, freed from the controls of reason. This is caused by the lack of a stable hierarchy by which value could be estimated, and choice of value made. When considering the disintegration of order in Troy and the Greek camp, there are three important topics to consider. These details are; inactive sets of values, the active set of appetite as a value, and the break in the Great Chain of Being.

Although there are three different kinds of values dealt with in Troilus and Cressida, two of them have no effect on the descent of the Trojans and Greeks into anarchy; inherent value, perceived value, and human appetites. These different types of values are supported by different characters. Hector believes in inherent values, and Ulysses explains and manipulates relative values. Shakespeare portrays Hector as a noble hero who has some bad moments. Hector has high integrity, but he does not follow through with his actions. In their duel, Hector lets a weary Ajax go, because he is kin. Hector also courteously lets Achilles get away when they are fighting. Despite his magnanimous ideals, Hector dies because he pursues and kills a Greek, because he covets the Greek?s gorgeous armor. After killing the Greek, Hector disarms to rest. At this moment Achilles and his men arrive. Hector objects, saying, “I am unarmed; forgo this vantage, Greek” (V 8 9). His appeal to chivalry and fair play is ignored, and the Greeks kill Hector. Hector?s chivalric value system leads him to behave nobly and talk eloquently of reason and human feelings. But in the end, Hector chooses glory over good sense, kinship over successful combat, and greed for gorgeous armor over prudence. Hector?s insistence on inherent, physical values end with his death.

Relative values are another approach to the question of what motivates men to act the way they do. Ulysses best expresses this point of view in his speech on degree,(I 3 75) or status on the Great Chain of Being, which at first appears to be the same as the definition of the medieval Great Chain of Being, which bound everything in the universe into an “unbreakable, harmonious hierarchy of beings.” However, Ulysses relates degree on the chain to the Greek military and factions, not the universe, although he compares it to the orderliness of the heavens, with the sun properly dominant (I iii 85). Ulysses warns that if proper order is not observed among men the outcome will be as chaotic as “when the planets/ In evil mixture to disorder wander” (I iii 94-95). For Ulysses, place or position is the key to the problem of values. Ulysses is very concerned with the need to maintain degree and order in political relationships, and he warns: “Take but degree away, untune that string,/ And hark what discord follows!” (I iii 109-110). When Ulysses recognizes that Achilles is out of his place, his degree, he schemes and maneuvers to put Achilles back in his place as hero of the Greek army.

Along with the absolute value of inherent worth (expressed by Hector) and the value of relative worth (expressed by Ulysses), there is a third source of value in Troilus, which ultimately controls human action. This is “appetite”, the “universal wolf.” Most of the characters in Troilus act to achieve what they desire, or have appetite for. This is the cause of the ensuing pandemonium. Ideally, this appetite is controlled by reason, but the characters have no way of determining what is good and what is evil, and therefore have no way to use reason to control their appetites. This arises from a lack of knowledge of inherent values, which forces the characters to relinquish their force of will over appetite, because they have no basis to see what is evil or righteous. That is why Ulysses warns that if degree is neglected:

“Then everything includes itself in power,

Power into will, will into appetite;

And appetite, an universal wolf,

So doubly seconded with will and power,

Must make perforce an universal prey,

And last eat up himself. “(I iii 119-124)

As Ulysses states, if objects and men cannot be placed into their degree on the Great Chain of Being, then reason cannot function properly, and therefore, appetites continue unhindered by will on the behalf of the character.

The unrestrained appetite of love produces emotional chaos, which threatens social stability once the Chain of Being is broken and appetite, rather than reason, controls human behavior. Troilus acts on the basis of appetite, seeking Cressida, and yet he attempts to elevate the object of his appetite into an inherent value of beauty, to match his sense of his own value. When he is finally forced by Ulysses to give an inherent value to Cressida after she is wooed by Diomedes, he is unable to do so, and instead insists that she has no value because she has been false, and his appetite is no longer met:

“This she? No; this is Diomed?s Cressida.

If beauty have a soul, this is not she;

If souls guide vows, if vows be sanctimonies,

If sanctimony be the gods? delight,

If there be rule in unity itself.

This is not she.” (V ii 134-139)

However, there is a contradiction in this passage. Troilus understands that there are inherent values for everything, including Cressida. However, he is contradicting this fact, and claims that Cressida is no more, which he realizes is not true. Instead of maintaining the normal base of the inherent value system and discarding the absurdity that Cressida does not exist, he instead throws out the idea of inherent values. His logical conclusion is that these absolute values do not exist, and that there is not even “rule in unity itself” (V ii 138). Thus, Troilus moves from questioning the nature of Cressida to questioning the nature of the entire universe: “The bonds of heaven are slipped, dissolved/ and loosed” (V ii 153-154). With these bonds broken, disorder is possible, and it takes over quite readily. Ulysses? predictions were correct; the dissolution of degree causes chaos, much like the wandering planets he speaks of when comparing the Greek military to the heavens.

In sum, the Great Chain of Being arranged the universe into the order it needed to fend off discord and the decree of human desires. The manifestations of appetite that cause this rupture in harmony stem from the lack of inherent values, and the lack of rationality and therefore the control over innocence and corruption. For “when degree is shaked,/ Which is the ladder of all high designs,/ The enterprise is sick.” (I iii 101-103).

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