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Troilus and Cressida: The Observer As Basilisk Harry Berger, Jr. The mood established by the opening speech of Troilus and Cressida may be discerned more clearly if we approach it by way of a contrasting example, the use of the choral speaker in Henry V. There the problems inherent in the theatrical conditions of representing are placed side by side with the problems inherent in the fictions repre­ sented. The relation of speeches to battle scenes, of boasting to defeat and wary modesty to triumph; the particular quality of Henry’s triumph at Agincourt; his famous soliloquy on ceremony (IV .i.242); the motif of the epitome, i.e., the single hero who embodies, directs, and exalts in his little space the virtue of a nation and the forces of history—these analogues of the play’s main theme are paralleled by the utterances of the choral presenter. Thus at the beginning of Act III, his appeal to the spectator’s historical imagination is placed beside the king’s appeal to the soldier’s theatrical imagination: GHOR. Thus with imagined wing our swift scene flies In motion of no less celerity Than that of thought. Suppose that you have seen The well-appointed king at Hampton pier Embark his royalty; and his brave fleet With silken streamers the young Phoebus fanning: Play with your fancies, and in them behold Upon the hempen tackle ship-boys climbing; * * * * * Follow, follow: Grapple your minds to the stemage of this navy, And leave your England, as dead midnight still, Guarded with grandsires, babies and old women. Work, work your thoughts, and therein see a siege; . . . eke out our performance with your mind. K. HEN. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead. In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man As modest stillness and humility: But when the blast of war blows in our ears, Then imitate the action of the tiger; Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’s rage; Then lend the eye a terrible aspect; Let it pry through the portage of the head Like the brass cannon. (III.i.1-11) 122 Harry Berger, Jr. 123 While one plays Samuel Eliot Morison, the other plays Stanislavski. But which plays which? The roles seem interchangeable. The success of spectator and soldier alike depends on force of imaginative thought. As the spectator’s imagination succeeds, he becomes the soldier. And since every spectator is in reality a potential English soldier, the play claims to be a kind of war-game, a patriotic exercise carried on within the modest and relatively humble “ girdle of these walls.” But Shakespeare does not simply run these two worlds together: the main significance of the parallel lies in the contrast between history and drama, between political and theatrical involvement. It is because drama is not history that it can re-create the diffuse events of history in the unified significant now of the theatrical occasion. The play places before the English audience an ideal image of itself and then exhorts it to live up to that image. But, confined within the wooden O, the play— being only a play— can do no more unless the audience assists: O England! model to thy inward greatness, Like little body with a mighty heart, What mightst thou do, that honour would thee do, Were all thy children kind and natural! (II.Pro.16) A model identical to that of the England represented is provided by the stage on which it is represented: pardon, gentles all, The flat unraised spirits that have dared On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth So great an object; can this cockpit hold The vasty fields of France? . . . O pardon! since a crooked figure may Attest in little place a million; And let us, ciphers to this great accompt, On your imaginary forces work. (I.Pro.8-18) Thus far, with rough and all-unable pen, Our bending author hath pursued the story, In little room confining mighty men, Mangling by starts the full course of their glory. Small time, but in that small most greatly lived This star...


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