The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

Page 100 of 119


SCENE I. The Grecian camp.

Enter Ajax and Thersites.


Agamemnon---how if he had boils, full, all over, generally?


And those boils did run---say so. Did not the general run then? Were not that a botchy core?


Then there would come some matter from him;
I see none now.

Thou bitch-wolf’s son, canst thou not hear? Feel, then.

[Strikes him.]

The plague of Greece upon thee, thou mongrel beef-witted lord!

Speak, then, thou unsalted leaven, speak. I will beat thee into handsomeness.

I shall sooner rail thee into wit and holiness; but I think thy horse will sooner con an oration than thou learn a prayer without book. Thou canst strike, canst thou? A red murrain o’ thy jade’s tricks!

Toadstool, learn me the proclamation.

Dost thou think I have no sense, thou strikest me thus?

The proclamation!

Thou art proclaim’d fool, I think.

Do not, porpentine, do not; my fingers itch.

I would thou didst itch from head to foot and I had the scratching of thee; I would make thee the loathsomest scab in Greece. When thou art forth in the incursions, thou strikest as slow as another.

I say, the proclamation.

Thou grumblest and railest every hour on Achilles; and thou art as full of envy at his greatness as Cerberus is at Proserpina’s beauty---ay, that thou bark’st at him.

Mistress Thersites!

Thou shouldst strike him.


He would pun thee into shivers with his fist, as a sailor breaks a biscuit.

You whoreson cur!

[Strikes him.]

Do, do.

Thou stool for a witch!

Ay, do, do; thou sodden-witted lord! Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows; an asinico may tutor thee. You scurvy valiant ass! Thou art here but to thrash Trojans, and thou art bought and sold among those of any wit like a barbarian slave. If thou use to beat me, I will begin at thy heel and tell what thou art by inches, thou thing of no bowels, thou!

You dog!

You scurvy lord!

You cur!

[Strikes him.]

Mars his idiot! Do, rudeness; do, camel; do, do.

Enter Achilles and Patroclus.

Why, how now, Ajax! Wherefore do ye thus?
How now, Thersites! What’s the matter, man?

You see him there, do you?

Ay; what’s the matter?

Nay, look upon him.

So I do. What’s the matter?

Nay, but regard him well.

Well! why, so I do.

But yet you look not well upon him; for whosomever you take him to be, he is Ajax.

I know that, fool.

Ay, but that fool knows not himself.

Therefore I beat thee.

Lo, lo, lo, lo, what modicums of wit he utters! His evasions have ears thus long. I have bobb’d his brain more than he has beat my bones. I will buy nine sparrows for a penny, and his pia mater is not worth the ninth part of a sparrow. This lord, Achilles---Ajax, who wears his wit in his belly and his guts in his head---I’ll tell you what I say of him.


I say this Ajax---

[Ajax offers to strike him.]

Nay, good Ajax.

Has not so much wit---

Nay, I must hold you.

As will stop the eye of Helen’s needle, for whom he comes to fight.

Peace, fool.

I would have peace and quietness, but the fool will not--- he there; that he; look you there.

O thou damned cur! I shall---

Will you set your wit to a fool’s?

No, I warrant you, the fool’s will shame it.

Good words, Thersites.

What’s the quarrel?

I bade the vile owl go learn me the tenour of the proclamation, and he rails upon me.

I serve thee not.

Well, go to, go to.

I serve here voluntary.

Your last service was suff’rance; ’twas not voluntary. No man is beaten voluntary. Ajax was here the voluntary, and you as under an impress.

E’en so; a great deal of your wit too lies in your sinews, or else there be liars. Hector shall have a great catch and knock out either of your brains: a’ were as good crack a fusty nut with no kernel.

What, with me too, Thersites?

There’s Ulysses and old Nestor---whose wit was mouldy ere your grandsires had nails on their toes---yoke you like draught oxen, and make you plough up the wars.

What, what?

Yes, good sooth. To Achilles, to Ajax, to---

I shall cut out your tongue.

’Tis no matter; I shall speak as much as thou afterwards.

No more words, Thersites; peace!

I will hold my peace when Achilles’ brach bids me, shall I?

There’s for you, Patroclus.

I will see you hang’d like clotpoles ere I come any more to your tents. I will keep where there is wit stirring, and leave the faction of fools.


A good riddance.

Marry, this, sir, is proclaim’d through all our host,
That Hector, by the fifth hour of the sun,
Will with a trumpet ’twixt our tents and Troy,
Tomorrow morning, call some knight to arms
That hath a stomach; and such a one that dare
Maintain I know not what; ’tis trash. Farewell.

Farewell. Who shall answer him?

I know not; ’tis put to lott’ry, otherwise,
He knew his man.

O, meaning you? I will go learn more of it.


SCENE II. Troy. PRIAM’S palace.

Enter Priam, Hector, Troilus, Paris and Helenus.

After so many hours, lives, speeches spent,
Thus once again says Nestor from the Greeks:
‘Deliver Helen, and all damage else---
As honour, loss of time, travail, expense,
Wounds, friends, and what else dear that is consum’d
In hot digestion of this cormorant war---
Shall be struck off.’ Hector, what say you to’t?

Though no man lesser fears the Greeks than I,
As far as toucheth my particular,
Yet, dread Priam,
There is no lady of more softer bowels,
More spongy to suck in the sense of fear,
More ready to cry out ‘Who knows what follows?’
Than Hector is. The wound of peace is surety,
Surety secure; but modest doubt is call’d
The beacon of the wise, the tent that searches
To th’ bottom of the worst. Let Helen go.
Since the first sword was drawn about this question,
Every tithe soul ’mongst many thousand dismes
Hath been as dear as Helen---I mean, of ours.
If we have lost so many tenths of ours
To guard a thing not ours, nor worth to us,
Had it our name, the value of one ten,
What merit’s in that reason which denies
The yielding of her up?

Fie, fie, my brother!
Weigh you the worth and honour of a king,
So great as our dread father’s, in a scale
Of common ounces? Will you with counters sum
The past-proportion of his infinite,
And buckle in a waist most fathomless
With spans and inches so diminutive
As fears and reasons? Fie, for godly shame!

No marvel though you bite so sharp of reasons,
You are so empty of them. Should not our father
Bear the great sway of his affairs with reason,
Because your speech hath none that tells him so?

You are for dreams and slumbers, brother priest;
You fur your gloves with reason. Here are your reasons:
You know an enemy intends you harm;
You know a sword employ’d is perilous,
And reason flies the object of all harm.
Who marvels, then, when Helenus beholds
A Grecian and his sword, if he do set
The very wings of reason to his heels
And fly like chidden Mercury from Jove,
Or like a star disorb’d? Nay, if we talk of reason,
Let’s shut our gates and sleep. Manhood and honour
Should have hare hearts, would they but fat their thoughts
With this cramm’d reason. Reason and respect
Make livers pale and lustihood deject.

Brother, she is not worth what she doth cost the keeping.

What’s aught but as ’tis valued?

But value dwells not in particular will:
It holds his estimate and dignity
As well wherein ’tis precious of itself
As in the prizer. ’Tis mad idolatry
To make the service greater than the god,
And the will dotes that is attributive
To what infectiously itself affects,
Without some image of th’affected merit.

I take today a wife, and my election
Is led on in the conduct of my will;
My will enkindled by mine eyes and ears,
Two traded pilots ’twixt the dangerous shores
Of will and judgement: how may I avoid,
Although my will distaste what it elected,
The wife I chose? There can be no evasion
To blench from this and to stand firm by honour.
We turn not back the silks upon the merchant
When we have soil’d them; nor the remainder viands
We do not throw in unrespective sieve,
Because we now are full. It was thought meet
Paris should do some vengeance on the Greeks;
Your breath with full consent bellied his sails;
The seas and winds, old wranglers, took a truce,
And did him service. He touch’d the ports desir’d;
And for an old aunt whom the Greeks held captive
He brought a Grecian queen, whose youth and freshness
Wrinkles Apollo’s, and makes stale the morning.
Why keep we her? The Grecians keep our aunt.
Is she worth keeping? Why, she is a pearl
Whose price hath launch’d above a thousand ships,
And turn’d crown’d kings to merchants.
If you’ll avouch ’twas wisdom Paris went---
As you must needs, for you all cried ‘Go, go’---
If you’ll confess he brought home worthy prize---
As you must needs, for you all clapp’d your hands,
And cried ‘Inestimable!’---why do you now
The issue of your proper wisdoms rate,
And do a deed that never Fortune did---
Beggar the estimation which you priz’d
Richer than sea and land? O theft most base,
That we have stol’n what we do fear to keep!
But thieves unworthy of a thing so stol’n
That in their country did them that disgrace
We fear to warrant in our native place!

[Within.] Cry, Trojans, cry.

What noise, what shriek is this?

’Tis our mad sister; I do know her voice.

[Within.] Cry, Trojans.

It is Cassandra.

Enter Cassandra, raving.

Cry, Trojans, cry. Lend me ten thousand eyes,
And I will fill them with prophetic tears.

Peace, sister, peace.

Virgins and boys, mid-age and wrinkled eld,
Soft infancy, that nothing canst but cry,
Add to my clamours. Let us pay betimes
A moiety of that mass of moan to come.
Cry, Trojans, cry. Practise your eyes with tears.
Troy must not be, nor goodly Ilion stand;
Our firebrand brother, Paris, burns us all.
Cry, Trojans, cry, A Helen and a woe!
Cry, cry. Troy burns, or else let Helen go.


Now, youthful Troilus, do not these high strains
Of divination in our sister work
Some touches of remorse? Or is your blood
So madly hot, that no discourse of reason,
Nor fear of bad success in a bad cause,
Can qualify the same?

Why, brother Hector,
We may not think the justness of each act
Such and no other than event doth form it;
Nor once deject the courage of our minds
Because Cassandra’s mad. Her brain-sick raptures
Cannot distaste the goodness of a quarrel
Which hath our several honours all engag’d
To make it gracious. For my private part,
I am no more touch’d than all Priam’s sons;
And Jove forbid there should be done amongst us
Such things as might offend the weakest spleen
To fight for and maintain.

Else might the world convince of levity
As well my undertakings as your counsels;
But I attest the gods, your full consent
Gave wings to my propension, and cut off
All fears attending on so dire a project.
For what, alas, can these my single arms?
What propugnation is in one man’s valour
To stand the push and enmity of those
This quarrel would excite? Yet I protest,
Were I alone to pass the difficulties,
And had as ample power as I have will,
Paris should ne’er retract what he hath done,
Nor faint in the pursuit.

Paris, you speak
Like one besotted on your sweet delights.
You have the honey still, but these the gall;
So to be valiant is no praise at all.

Sir, I propose not merely to myself
The pleasures such a beauty brings with it;
But I would have the soil of her fair rape
Wip’d off in honourable keeping her.
What treason were it to the ransack’d queen,
Disgrace to your great worths, and shame to me,
Now to deliver her possession up
On terms of base compulsion! Can it be,
That so degenerate a strain as this
Should once set footing in your generous bosoms?
There’s not the meanest spirit on our party
Without a heart to dare or sword to draw
When Helen is defended; nor none so noble
Whose life were ill bestow’d or death unfam’d,
Where Helen is the subject. Then, I say,
Well may we fight for her whom we know well
The world’s large spaces cannot parallel.

Paris and Troilus, you have both said well;
And on the cause and question now in hand
Have gloz’d, but superficially; not much
Unlike young men, whom Aristotle thought
Unfit to hear moral philosophy.
The reasons you allege do more conduce
To the hot passion of distemp’red blood
Than to make up a free determination
’Twixt right and wrong; for pleasure and revenge
Have ears more deaf than adders to the voice
Of any true decision. Nature craves
All dues be rend’red to their owners. Now,
What nearer debt in all humanity
Than wife is to the husband? If this law
Of nature be corrupted through affection;
And that great minds, of partial indulgence
To their benumbed wills, resist the same;
There is a law in each well-order’d nation
To curb those raging appetites that are
Most disobedient and refractory.
If Helen, then, be wife to Sparta’s king---
As it is known she is---these moral laws
Of nature and of nations speak aloud
To have her back return’d. Thus to persist
In doing wrong extenuates not wrong,
But makes it much more heavy. Hector’s opinion
Is this, in way of truth. Yet, ne’ertheless,
My spritely brethren, I propend to you
In resolution to keep Helen still;
For ’tis a cause that hath no mean dependence
Upon our joint and several dignities.

Why, there you touch’d the life of our design.
Were it not glory that we more affected
Than the performance of our heaving spleens,
I would not wish a drop of Trojan blood
Spent more in her defence. But, worthy Hector,
She is a theme of honour and renown,
A spur to valiant and magnanimous deeds,
Whose present courage may beat down our foes,
And fame in time to come canonize us;
For I presume brave Hector would not lose
So rich advantage of a promis’d glory
As smiles upon the forehead of this action
For the wide world’s revenue.

I am yours,
You valiant offspring of great Priamus.
I have a roisting challenge sent amongst
The dull and factious nobles of the Greeks
Will strike amazement to their drowsy spirits.
I was advertis’d their great general slept,
Whilst emulation in the army crept.
This, I presume, will wake him.


SCENE III. The Grecian camp. Before the tent of ACHILLES.

Enter Thersites, solus.

How now, Thersites! What, lost in the labyrinth of thy fury? Shall the elephant Ajax carry it thus? He beats me, and I rail at him. O worthy satisfaction! Would it were otherwise: that I could beat him, whilst he rail’d at me! ‘Sfoot, I’ll learn to conjure and raise devils, but I’ll see some issue of my spiteful execrations. Then there’s Achilles, a rare engineer! If Troy be not taken till these two undermine it, the walls will stand till they fall of themselves. O thou great thunder-darter of Olympus, forget that thou art Jove, the king of gods, and, Mercury, lose all the serpentine craft of thy caduceus, if ye take not that little little less than little wit from them that they have! which short-arm’d ignorance itself knows is so abundant scarce, it will not in circumvention deliver a fly from a spider without drawing their massy irons and cutting the web. After this, the vengeance on the whole camp! or, rather, the Neapolitan bone-ache! for that, methinks, is the curse depending on those that war for a placket. I have said my prayers; and devil Envy say ‘Amen.’ What ho! my Lord Achilles!

Enter Patroclus.

Who’s there? Thersites! Good Thersites, come in and rail.

If I could a’ rememb’red a gilt counterfeit, thou wouldst not have slipp’d out of my contemplation; but it is no matter; thyself upon thyself! The common curse of mankind, folly and ignorance, be thine in great revenue! Heaven bless thee from a tutor, and discipline come not near thee! Let thy blood be thy direction till thy death. Then if she that lays thee out says thou art a fair corse, I’ll be sworn and sworn upon’t she never shrouded any but lazars. Amen. Where’s Achilles?

What, art thou devout? Wast thou in prayer?

Ay, the heavens hear me!


Enter Achilles.

Who’s there?

Thersites, my lord.

Where, where? O, where? Art thou come? Why, my cheese, my digestion, why hast thou not served thyself in to my table so many meals? Come, what’s Agamemnon?

Thy commander, Achilles. Then tell me, Patroclus, what’s Achilles?

Thy lord, Thersites. Then tell me, I pray thee, what’s Thersites?

Thy knower, Patroclus. Then tell me, Patroclus, what art thou?

Thou must tell that knowest.

O, tell, tell,

I’ll decline the whole question. Agamemnon commands Achilles; Achilles is my lord; I am Patroclus’ knower; and Patroclus is a fool.

You rascal!

Peace, fool! I have not done.

He is a privileg’d man. Proceed, Thersites.

Agamemnon is a fool; Achilles is a fool; Thersites is a fool; and, as aforesaid, Patroclus is a fool.

Derive this; come.

Agamemnon is a fool to offer to command Achilles; Achilles is a fool to be commanded of Agamemnon; Thersites is a fool to serve such a fool; and this Patroclus is a fool positive.

Why am I a fool?

Make that demand of the Creator. It suffices me thou art. Look you, who comes here?

Enter Agamemnon, Ulysses, Nestor, Diomedes, Ajax and Calchas.

Come, Patroclus, I’ll speak with nobody. Come in with me, Thersites.


Here is such patchery, such juggling, and such knavery. All the argument is a whore and a cuckold---a good quarrel to draw emulous factions and bleed to death upon. Now the dry serpigo on the subject, and war and lechery confound all!


Where is Achilles?

Within his tent; but ill-dispos’d, my lord.

Let it be known to him that we are here.
He sate our messengers; and we lay by
Our appertainings, visiting of him.
Let him be told so; lest, perchance, he think
We dare not move the question of our place
Or know not what we are.

I shall say so to him.


We saw him at the opening of his tent.
He is not sick.

Yes, lion-sick, sick of proud heart. You may call it melancholy, if you will favour the man; but, by my head, ’tis pride. But why, why? Let him show us a cause. A word, my lord.

[Takes Agamemnon aside.]

What moves Ajax thus to bay at him?

Achilles hath inveigled his fool from him.

Who, Thersites?


Then will Ajax lack matter, if he have lost his argument.

No; you see he is his argument that has his argument, Achilles.

All the better; their fraction is more our wish than their faction. But it was a strong composure a fool could disunite!

The amity that wisdom knits not, folly may easily untie.

Re-enter Patroclus.

Here comes Patroclus.

No Achilles with him.

The elephant hath joints, but none for courtesy; his legs are legs for necessity, not for flexure.

Achilles bids me say he is much sorry
If any thing more than your sport and pleasure
Did move your greatness and this noble state
To call upon him; he hopes it is no other
But for your health and your digestion sake,
An after-dinner’s breath.

Hear you, Patroclus.
We are too well acquainted with these answers;
But his evasion, wing’d thus swift with scorn,
Cannot outfly our apprehensions.
Much attribute he hath, and much the reason
Why we ascribe it to him. Yet all his virtues,
Not virtuously on his own part beheld,
Do in our eyes begin to lose their gloss;
Yea, like fair fruit in an unwholesome dish,
Are like to rot untasted. Go and tell him
We come to speak with him; and you shall not sin
If you do say we think him over-proud
And under-honest, in self-assumption greater
Than in the note of judgement; and worthier than himself
Here tend the savage strangeness he puts on,
Disguise the holy strength of their command,
And underwrite in an observing kind
His humorous predominance; yea, watch
His course and time, his ebbs and flows, as if
The passage and whole stream of this commencement
Rode on his tide. Go tell him this, and add
That if he overhold his price so much
We’ll none of him, but let him, like an engine
Not portable, lie under this report:
Bring action hither; this cannot go to war.
A stirring dwarf we do allowance give
Before a sleeping giant. Tell him so.

I shall, and bring his answer presently.


In second voice we’ll not be satisfied;
We come to speak with him. Ulysses, enter you.

[Exit Ulysses.]

What is he more than another?

No more than what he thinks he is.

Is he so much? Do you not think he thinks himself a better man than I am?

No question.

Will you subscribe his thought and say he is?

No, noble Ajax; you are as strong, as valiant, as wise, no less noble, much more gentle, and altogether more tractable.

Why should a man be proud? How doth pride grow? I know not what pride is.

Your mind is the clearer, Ajax, and your virtues the fairer. He that is proud eats up himself. Pride is his own glass, his own trumpet, his own chronicle; and whatever praises itself but in the deed devours the deed in the praise.

Re-enter Ulysses.

I do hate a proud man as I do hate the engend’ring of toads.

[Aside.] And yet he loves himself: is’t not strange?

Achilles will not to the field tomorrow.

What’s his excuse?

He doth rely on none;
But carries on the stream of his dispose,
Without observance or respect of any,
In will peculiar and in self-admission.

Why will he not, upon our fair request,
Untent his person and share th’air with us?

Things small as nothing, for request’s sake only,
He makes important; possess’d he is with greatness,
And speaks not to himself but with a pride
That quarrels at self-breath. Imagin’d worth
Holds in his blood such swol’n and hot discourse
That ’twixt his mental and his active parts
Kingdom’d Achilles in commotion rages,
And batters down himself. What should I say?
He is so plaguy proud that the death tokens of it
Cry ‘No recovery.’

Let Ajax go to him.
Dear lord, go you and greet him in his tent.
’Tis said he holds you well; and will be led
At your request a little from himself.

O Agamemnon, let it not be so!
We’ll consecrate the steps that Ajax makes
When they go from Achilles. Shall the proud lord
That bastes his arrogance with his own seam
And never suffers matter of the world
Enter his thoughts, save such as doth revolve
And ruminate himself---shall he be worshipp’d
Of that we hold an idol more than he?
No, this thrice worthy and right valiant lord
Shall not so stale his palm, nobly acquir’d,
Nor, by my will, assubjugate his merit,
As amply titled as Achilles is,
By going to Achilles.
That were to enlard his fat-already pride,
And add more coals to Cancer when he burns
With entertaining great Hyperion.
This lord go to him! Jupiter forbid,
And say in thunder ‘Achilles go to him.’

[Aside.] O, this is well! He rubs the vein of him.

[Aside.] And how his silence drinks up this applause!

If I go to him, with my armed fist I’ll pash him o’er the face.

O, no, you shall not go.

An a’ be proud with me I’ll pheeze his pride.
Let me go to him.

Not for the worth that hangs upon our quarrel.

A paltry, insolent fellow!

[Aside.] How he describes himself!

Can he not be sociable?

[Aside.] The raven chides blackness.

I’ll let his humours blood.

[Aside.] He will be the physician that should be the patient.

And all men were o’ my mind---

[Aside.] Wit would be out of fashion.

A’ should not bear it so, a’ should eat’s words first.
Shall pride carry it?

[Aside.] And ’twould, you’d carry half.

[Aside.] A’ would have ten shares.

I will knead him, I’ll make him supple.

[Aside.] He’s not yet through warm. Force him with praises; pour in, pour in; his ambition is dry.

[To Agamemnon.] My lord, you feed too much on this dislike.

Our noble general, do not do so.

You must prepare to fight without Achilles.

Why ’tis this naming of him does him harm.
Here is a man---but ’tis before his face;
I will be silent.

Wherefore should you so?
He is not emulous, as Achilles is.

Know the whole world, he is as valiant.

A whoreson dog, that shall palter with us thus!
Would he were a Trojan!

What a vice were it in Ajax now---

If he were proud.

Or covetous of praise.

Ay, or surly borne.

Or strange, or self-affected.

Thank the heavens, lord, thou art of sweet composure
Praise him that gat thee, she that gave thee suck;
Fam’d be thy tutor, and thy parts of nature
Thrice fam’d beyond, beyond all erudition;
But he that disciplin’d thine arms to fight---
Let Mars divide eternity in twain
And give him half; and, for thy vigour,
Bull-bearing Milo his addition yield
To sinewy Ajax. I will not praise thy wisdom,
Which, like a bourn, a pale, a shore, confines
Thy spacious and dilated parts. Here’s Nestor,
Instructed by the antiquary times---
He must, he is, he cannot but be wise;
But pardon, father Nestor, were your days
As green as Ajax’ and your brain so temper’d,
You should not have the eminence of him,
But be as Ajax.

Shall I call you father?

Ay, my good son.

Be rul’d by him, Lord Ajax.

There is no tarrying here; the hart Achilles
Keeps thicket. Please it our great general
To call together all his state of war;
Fresh kings are come to Troy. Tomorrow
We must with all our main of power stand fast;
And here’s a lord---come knights from east to west
And cull their flower, Ajax shall cope the best.

Go we to council. Let Achilles sleep.
Light boats sail swift, though greater hulks draw deep.


Free Learning Resources