The major theme in this play, aside from love, is war. War is widely associated with the male gender so, the question that I would like to explore in this essay is how a situation like war can affect the female, first, in their treatment by the males and that of their position in society during war time. I will be looking at what it really means to be a woman in such a male- dominated environment and how women are some times are forced to change to survive. I will be doing this from the perspective of Cressida.
War is perceived to be more masculine affair. As a person’s situation changes, this can result in a change of attitude. This means in the case of Cressida, and, probably a great deal of other women’s, that they were treated differently by the men.
If we look back in history to a time that can still be recollected by some in society. The Second World War. In this period came the emancipation of women. They started to work for the war effort and become almost equal to men. Those who did not participate were looked down upon through proper gander. Women were either idealised or resented. The same has happened in the two camps in the play. It is just that in this play we see a fall from grace into being one of the women who were resented and hated. This is shown in the way they are treated by the men.
Cressida is a young impressionable woman. At home in the Troy camp she is of lower class but her social circumstances aside, she does find love and people to love her and to place her on a Pedestal . So, in a way she is emancipated. Cressida’s “achievements” in the Trojan camp did not come with out a price.
Her uncle Pandarus acts almost as her pimp. He is interested in seeing her go to bed with some one. In this way, her treatment by a male in the Trojan camp can be seen: she is being treated as if she is an object. There is a lot of imagery to support this claim. About Cressida being a product and a pearl that must be sold.
“What Cressid is, what Pandar, and what we-
Her bed is India; there she lies, a pearl:
Between Ilium and where she resides,
Let it be called the wild and wandering flood,
Ourself the merchant ,and this sailing Pandar
Our doubtful hope, our convoy, and our bark.”
This it Troilus speaking to Pandarus about his feelings for Cressida. He uses lots of heightened poetic language to express him self and uses a lot of imagrey.Within this quotation there is two separate references to Cressida being a form of position to the men. The first is the reference to the pearl. This is an inanimate object and I owned by a person. Troilus wants to own Cressida. There is a reference to Pandarus and himself being “merchants”, this implies that Cressida is the object that the two men both want to an extent posses like an inanimate object.
To look at the quote from a different perspective, there are connotations of love. A pearl is a precious thing, Troilus may be comparing his love for Cressida to the pearl, that it is precious and sacred. He may also be comparing Cressida to the pearl it’s self, that she is as beautiful as the pearl.
Cressida is however, aware of what her uncle has planned for her and understands that it is not right; Pandarus may just be seeking vicarious pleasure though the way he is presented makes him seem more like a dirty old man. She is also aware of the power that women have over men, and how easily this can be used or tarnished.
In her soliloquy Cressida speaks of the trials of a woman when men are concerned.
She may be young but is not that naive in the ways of men. Cressida believes that men only want what they cannot have. Men want women they cannot have. When they have achieved what they wanted and longed for, they no longer respect them as much as they did when they were unattainable. Cressida is a firm believe that while the men do not get what they want, the women still have the power and commanded respect, as soon as they sleep together the power is tarnished. This is one way in which women are tried in a male dominated society.
“Men prize the thing ungained more than it is.
That she was never yet that ever knew
Love got so sweet as when desire did sue;”
Another trial, for Cressida, is that women have to be on their guard, as they once they reach a certain age are seen as objects of desire. This has already been shown to her by her encounters with the vivacious Pandarus. His use of sexual language to demonstrate the finer points of the male psyche has educated Cressida on what is expected of her. She knows what men want and at one stage in the play she is determined not to let them get it. Men want women for sex, true love is an element but essentially it is for sex.This is one trial of a woman in such a society, being hounded and wooed by the men for sex.
“Upon my back to defend my belly;upon my wit to defend my wiles ;upon my secrecy to defend mine honesty;my mask to defend my beauty;and you to defend all these : and at all these wards I lie ,at a thousand watches.”
Here Cressida is talking about her virginity and how it must be protected from the men around her.
Cressida’s attitude does change when she has had sex with Troilus; this event signifies a lot of things to Cressida but also of changes to her status in the play. The first thing it signified was her becoming a woman in every sense; she has grown up now, and she has fallen in love. This is an attitude towards women that is still apparent in modern day society.
When Cressida is taken into the Greek camp, her “reputation” follows her. The fact that she is already impure is already common knowledge and some men like the idea of this. For example Diomedes has in his care a vulnerable woman that in return for his kind ness could tend to some of his needs. Other men are extremely repulsed by the idea and think that she is a common whore.Ullyses says:
“There’s a language in her eye ,her cheek,her lip,
Nay, her foot speaks;her wanton spirits look out
At every joint and motive of her body.
The Greek and Trojan camps are both very testosterone motivated and virile places where women are either idealised or slated .Helen is idealised here as, the war is being fought for her. This is an opinion of Helen not shared by all Greeks and Trojans. Hector does not think that she is not worth all the fighting and the loss of innocent life, no one is. Cressida was idealised by Troilus in the Trojan camp, but will this same persona be kept up once she is no longer a virgin and around those virile Greeks?
She is not worth what she doth cost the holding.”
This is Hectors reason for finding Helen an unjust reason for fighting the war.
I think that as Cressida entered the male dominated Greek camp, she understands what would be waiting for her, so she used her newly found sexuality as a defence mechanism. She see’s before her an army of war torn soldiers and uses her wit to protect her from their advances. She lets some of them kiss her; this could gain her favour and protection in the long run. In her first meeting with the Greeks, Cressida is quite defensive and to the point in her conversation. Speaking from a personal point of view I would feel intimidated by this, but in life there are two choices, fight or flight. Cressida decided to fight her corner to gain better circumstances,but this first meeting helped her downfall.
“I’ll make my match to live ,
The kiss you take is better than you give;
Therefore no kiss.”
This is Cressida talking when the Greeks have descended on her, trying to kiss her. She defends her self very well.
Other characters have different attitudes towards women. Hector is the deemed as one of the most chivalrous and honourable Trojan men yet his behaviour towards his wife is less than respectful. Hector’s wife Andromache doesn’t want Hector to fight, she had a dream that something bad would happen if he went to fight. When she tells him this, he speaks to her in a disrespectful and aggressive manner.
“You train me to offend you:get you gone.
By all the everlasting gods.I’ll go!”
This puts forward the idea that women may be treated as second class citizens because of the war. As men are fighting they do not have the time for form close and more intimate relationships with their wives as they are hardly there.
The war can either make the women idealised like Helen. Or in the case of Cressida in the Greek camp slated. Men do not want tainted women and the war heightens the emotions of the men, as the atmosphere is more driven and virile.
To conclude, the trials of women in the play are not really that far removed from the trials of women today. Women, who lead an active sex life, get labelled and are not given the respect they deserve. But the males who do exactly the same are congratulated, as is shown in the play. The play shows how women struggle to keep their reputations and how women can be hounded by men. Women can be made to be one of two things by men and their own sexuality: they can be made out to be whores, or hailed as saints. The war plays a big part in how the women are treated by men. They just want them for sex at the moment and the women have no choice in this.
A lot of the ideas about the trials of a woman in a male dominated society are still applicable today, which can only be a bad thing; it shows us all that attitudes have not changed much.