3 of Cups - Troilus, Pandarus, & Cressida
Dramatis Personae: Troilus; Cressida; Pandarus; Achilles; Hector.
Text & Context: The foremost contest in T&C is between values. Does an object inherently possess a certain value, or is an object's value solely what may be ascribed it? Troilus argues exclusively for the latter against his brother Hector, who commits a double volte-face by abandoning his arguments pro the former and thereby vitiating the values he inherently possesses. This false dualism and fundamental refusal to see value as syncretic of both evaluations is repeatedly replayed in the hall of mirrors that is Shakespeare's Troy.
The evaluation is countenanced through Helen, whose face launched a thousand ships and is rightful wife to King Menelaus, namely: has she any inherent value or merely the value Troy ludicrously bestows her? The answer Troilus gives is reiterated in the value he projects onto Cressida. Callow, vainglorious, and overly self-assured, Troilus similarly ascribes values to himself which he does not actually possess. Cressida, for her part, is more realistic, assessing Troilus' value based on his appearance, a process ritualized by soldiers parading before us on their glorious return from battle. Her game playing is hand in glove with these outward displays, deceptions which succeed in misleading the misleader as well as the misled. Pandarus, for his part, facilitates this misdirected valuation, in part to pimp his own external estimation.
That Cressida would throw Troilus over for Diomedes is simply her measured response to shifting valuations, and the mere repetition of Troilus' throwing her over for Antenor. After the exchange, when Troilus says "This is and is not Cressid", his evaluation is closer to truth than he's managed as yet: she both is this woman projected before him and is not the woman whom he projected her to be. True to form, however, he doesn't learn, but rather projects his confusion outwards into headlong anger. His brother Hector, meantime, devalues his own honour as he devalues his family and wife, embracing instead the outward trappings of shame-culture. The fantastic suit of armor transfixes him, as the putrefaction within redounds. And as he has dishonoured honour, so Achilles ignobly sets his Myrmidons to slay Hector in a most dishonourable way.
The peacock is a symbol of male deception and outward display; the "eyes' emulated in its feathers mock seeing and the I inside. Ultimately, Troy's destruction is facilitated by what it mistakenly merits as plunder, the Trojan Horse. Overlooked is its inherent value - the Greek soldiers it harbors inside. By conflating love with war, overestimating amount at quality's expense, and confusing the value you impart with the value love imparts to you, Troy and its namesake Troilus are erased.
Or only ostensibly it would seem - for in prating Helen, Troy allowed its essential worth to be undermined: the Palladium of Pallas Athena. As long as the Palladium remained in Troy the city was invincible; the neddy-trick of the Trojan Horse was what allowed the Greeks to plunder it. The true Beauty vouchsafed in the Palladium later founded and maintained the honour and inherent value of the Roman Empire. And later still, through Dido, Lavinia, and Brutus, established the sceptered isle of Elizabeth I's British Empire as condign heir.
The 3 of Cups is usually presented as a joyous dance of emotion. Here in the Shakespeare Tarot, where the male suits tend to dissipate and constrict as the female suits expand and accrue, we are given the outward revel of copulation, veneration, and proxy glee as abased application of feeling. Dishonesty through false love leads to false valuations and dishonour. Rather than sanctioned by the god of love or even the herb-gathering Friar Laurence of The Lovers card, the lovers here are brokered by a pestilent flesh monger. In this revel, eyes blind, the great hero Achilles is a heel, each I is isolated and immured, and the gift horse looks you in the mouth.
Subtext: The history of Troilus & Cressida is checkered. Held up from printing in the First Folio, presumably by the "grand possessors", and replaced as a stop-gap measure by Timon of Athens, it was later reinserted between the Histories and Tragedies without listing in the table of contents. Possessing no one clear genre, it has alternately been deemed history, tragedy, and comedy. It perhaps began as The History of Agamemnon & Ulysses, an early 1580s play performed by Oxford's Boys, and most likely intended for neither the court nor the public but rather students of law at the Inns of Court. As an early edition of the play makes clear, T&C is "a new play, never staled with the stage, never clapper-clawed with the palms of the vulgar ... [nor] sullied with the smoky breath of the multitude." authored by "A never writer to an ever reader."
In 1573 de Vere published A Hundredth Sundrie Flowres, in which he used a number of pseudonyms, including "Ever and Never". In 1594, an anonymous poem called Willobie His Avisa - putatively by Henry Willobie, "discovered" by a Hadrian Dorrell -speaks in coded language of W.S. [William Shakespeare] and his friend H.W. [Henry Wriothesley]. The poem ends with the author likening himself to Troilus and his Avisa to Cressida, and is signed with the epithet "Ever or Never".