Troilus and Cressida
The Veil, the Sleeve, and Words
On the eve of her giving herself to Troilus Cressida is veiled upon her entrance (3.2.38). Reluctant in spite of the previous machinations of Pandarus she still requires further goading. Yet after the words of Troilus, "come, draw this curtain, and let's see your picture." (3.2.45) they kiss. The presumed shame, the mystery, the veil hiding the prize is pierced and it appears she and Troilus will be together.
In the next act they meet and trade symbols of their feelings for each other. Cressida says, "O, you shall be exposed, my Lord, to dangers as infinite as immanent! But I'll be true." (4.4.65-70) Not a good sign, however he gives her a sleeve to wear as symbol of their love and she returns with a glove for her favored Troilus. The show is good, but the sincerity seems lacking as we see in the following act.
Upon being traded to the Greeks Cressida is taken by Diomedes. They spar with words, but when she gives Diomedes the sleeve she received from Troilus that signals the end of any hope for him. She does not seem to have any strength of will to fend off Diomedes or rather she may not have had any true feeling for Troilus. She tries to excuse her fickle behaviour by blaming "our poor sex". (5.2.115) Thersites, always the truth-telling dwarf, has a better word for her, "whore". (5.2.120)
Later Troilus must face the end of any hope for Cressida as he reads her letter. He responds:
"words, words, mere words, no matter from the heart;
Th'effect doth operate another way.
[He tears the letter and tosses it away.]
Go, wind, to wind! There turn and change together.
My love with words and errors still she feeds,
But edifies another with her deeds."
Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare. The Arden Shakespeare, London. 1998.