Act 3, scene 1
Pandarus visits Paris. Helen is there, too. Pandarus has a message for Paris from his brother Troilus. The message is that if King Priam invites Troilus for supper that night, Paris is to make an excuse for the fact that he cannot come. Paris wants to know where Troilus will be, but Pandarus will not tell him. Paris guesses that Troilus will be with Cressida. Pandarus denies it. Paris agrees to make some excuse for Troilus’s absence. The two men have been speaking so that Helen has been unable to hear them. She has been trying to persuade Pandarus to sing, and Pandarus now obliges, singing a song about love. Then Pandarus asks Paris which of the Trojans has been on the battlefield today. Paris names four warriors “and all the gallantry of Troy,” but this did not include him. He had wanted to fight but Helen would not let him, he says.
A retreat is sounded and Paris and Helen go to Priam’s hall to help unarm the warriors.
This scene directly reminds the audience of the cause of the war, the coupling of Paris and Helen. When Helen says lightheartedly, as a general sentiment, “this love will undo us all,” there is an irony in her words that she appears to be unaware of.
This is the only scene in which Helen appears. Unlike some of the other characters, who are disparaged by others before they appear, Paris’s servant has high praise for Helen, calling her the “mortal Venus,” among other compliments. But when Helen appears, she is a disappointment. Her conversation is entirely trivial. The audience may well think, “This is the woman over whom this huge war is raging?” There is a discrepancy between the cause of the war and the unimpressive figure cut by Helen in this scene. In addition, Paris does not come out of it too well, either. He says he wanted to join the battle, but Helen would not let him—and yet the entire war is being fought over Paris’s right to retain possession of Helen. One would expect Paris to play his role to the hilt, but this scene suggests not. The effect is that here is one more scene that cuts these giant mythological figures down to size.
Act 3, scene 2
Troilus is eager to see Cressida this night. Pandarus tells him to wait in the orchard and he will bring her to him. Troilus is giddy with expectation. Pandarus returns and says that Cressida is getting ready and will be there shortly. He exits once more and then returns with Cressida. Then he leaves the young lovers alone. They speak in exaggerated ways about love, using a rather obscure courtly language. Pandarus returns and expresses regret that all they are doing is still talking. Cressida finally confesses in plain language to Troilus that she has been in love with him for months—since the first glance they exchanged. But being a woman, she was unable to speak first about her love. Troilus kisses her. Cressida pulls back, pretending to be embarrassed at the kiss. Troilus pledges his love to her and promises to be true. Cressida responds by pledging her love to him. Pandarus takes their hands and acts as witness to seal their promise to each other. He says that if either should ever prove false, all false women should then be known as “Cressida.” He then says he will take them to a room with a bed.
Although Troilus and Cressida is the title of the play, the interactions between the lovers occupy a surprisingly small amount of the play. But this scene contains one of them. If the play has up to now shown some cynicism about war, this scene conveys the same sentiment about love. Although the lovers speak in elaborate language about love and say they will always be true to each other, the Elizabethan as well as the modern audience knows better, since the less-than-faithful outcome would be familiar to them from the medieval works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Indeed, Cressida speaks with inadvertent irony when she says that if she should ever betray Troilus, others will be able to say about anything that proves false, “As false as Cressida” (line 194). The irony is driven home by Pandarus, who repeats the same sentiment.