Troilus and Cressida

by: William Shakespeare

Act III

In the Greek camp, Ulysses's cunning is on display in the way he manipulates Achilles. His lengthy discourse on time and reputation, which is his second great philosophical speech, convinces Achilles that his reputation is on the wane: "Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back, / Wherein he puts alms for oblivion. / A great-sized monster of ingratitudes. / These scraps are good deeds past, which are devoured / As fast as they are made, forgot as soon / As done" (III.ii.145-150). Even more effective, though, is the blackmail that follows, as Ulysses reveals that he knows all about Achilles's affair with a Trojan princess. Here, his earlier speech about the importance of a strong state takes on a sinister cast:

There is a mystery—with whom relation Durst never meddle—in the soul of state, Which hath an operation more divine Than breath or pen can give expressure to. All the commerce you have had with Troy As perfectly is ours as yours, my lord.

(III.iii.201-206)

It is Ulysses's role as spymaster—perhaps meant to resemble the sinister spymasters of Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare's England—that has led some critics to suggest that he, and not the brutish Achilles, is the true villain of the piece.


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