Sunday, October 02, 2022

'The Princes Orgulous'

Memory is a sieve and a vault – increasingly the former. We’ve been sensitized into suspecting every slip into forgetfulness is a symptom of imminent idiocy. When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, a little knowledge is a self-centered thing. The opening lines of Troilus and Cressida are spoken by a chorus setting the scene – Paris steals Helen from Menelaus and so forth. The prologue begins: 

“In Troy, there lies the scene. From isles of Greece

The princes orgulous, their high blood chafed,

Have to the port of Athens sent their ships,

Fraught with the ministers and instruments

Of cruel war.”


The princes are orgulous? I’ve read the play a number of times and not only didn’t know the meaning of the word but don’t remember ever having seen it, despite being in the play’s second line. Context doesn’t help much. If I had to guess, I would have said it meant irate, outraged, pissed off – which is wrong. I’m not usually the sort of reader who skims over alien words. But it gets even more disconcerting. The OED tells me orgulous was used by Joyce in Ulysses and Auden in New Year Letter (1941), not to mention Southey and Scott, and I have no recollection of it.


By the way, orgulous is borrowed from the French and dates from the tenth century. Its meaning is “proud, haughty,” which is almost redundant when applied to princes.


Auden doesn’t cite the word in his chapter devoted to Troilus and Cressida (Lectures on Shakespeare, 2000), which he describes as one of the “not wholly successful plays,” along with All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure. He goes on to write:


“[T]he first thing that comes to mind is the difference between a major and a minor writer—which is not necessarily the difference between better and worse. We can forget the bad writers. The minor artist, who can be idiosyncratic, keeps to one thing, does it well, and keeps on doing it—Thomas Campion, for example, A.E. Housman, and in music, Claude Debussy. There are minor writers who can mean more to us than any major writer, because their worlds are closest to ours. Great works of art can be hard to read—in a sense, boring to read. Whom do I read with utmost pleasure? Not Dante, to my mind the greatest of poets, but Ronald Firbank. The minor writer never risks failure. When he discovers his particular style and vision, his artistic history is over.”


I thought first, of course, of Max Beerbohm.


Richard Zuelch said...

Joyce's "Ulysses" is 100 years old this year - not that I've read it, or plan to.

C. Rancio said...

In spanish, proud is very close to orgulous: orgulloso.

Thomas Parker said...

Forget Ulysses - Buster Keaton's great short film Cops is 100 this year. At least as nourishing as Joyce and a hell of a lot more fun, and twenty minutes after you've started it you'll be able to get on with your life.