The Interchangeability of Compose/ Composure

The words composure and compose each appear twice in Shakespeare’s, Troilus and Cressida. Of these four times, Troilus speaks it twice and then once each by Greek leaders Nestor and Ulysses.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) there are three different forms of compose/ composure utilized in this play. The noun version which defines composure as a fabric or structure material; a made up whole, a combination, or structure. The verb form, which defines compose as to adopt an attitude in an appropriate manner. The final version of the word is defined as to put together/ make up/ form.

Within these four appearances there are three occurrences in a row where the keyword follows an adjective. The describing words used, strong, well, and sweet all have different meanings, but the definitions of the word compose/ composure are all interchangeable in this case. Take notice in Act 2, Scene 3 as Ulysses praises Ajax for being a man of “sweet composure” versus Act 4, Scene 4 when Troilus refers to the Greeks, “loving well composed.” Ulysses is referencing composure/ compose in regards to temperament, while Troilus addresses the form/make up explanation. When these meanings are swapped without changing either of the adjectives the reading of the literature sill makes sense, but it opens the scripts interpretive possibilities. It could be easily read over that Ajax is a man made of sweet qualities while Troilus describes the Greeks to be well tempered when making decisions involving love.

Another instance this occurs is in Act 2, Scene 3 as Nestor describes Ajax and Achilles friendship as a, “strong composure a fool could disunite.” Once again Troilus describing the Greeks as “well composed” lovers is interchangeable with another meaning of the word. In this scenario Nestor is referencing composed/compose as a structure or combination. Without changing the adjective again and just swapping meanings these sequences still serve a functional purpose. It is possible Nestor could be addressing Achilles and Ajax friendship as one that is made strong in form, but easily destroyed by a fool. Also it could be interpreted that Troilus was describing the Greeks as well structured lovers.

The final occurrence of this interchangeability takes place between the previously described Act 2, Scene 3 pieces. As Nestor is describing “strong composure” and Ulysses is referencing Ajax as the man of “sweet composure,” we once again can swap meanings of compose/composure without having to alter any other parts of the play. Ajax can conveniently be described as a man of sweet structure. Meanwhile Achilles and Ajax friendship can surely be defined as one of strong temperament destroyed by Thersites.

The final appearance of the word takes place in Act 5, Scene 2. It is here Troilus uses the word composed in reference to the put together/ make up/ form explanation. Although it has the same definition as one of the previous forms of the keyword unlike its counterparts the meaning of the word in this context is in no ways interchangeable with any of the other definitions. It also does not have an adjective in front of it, which seems to have an affect on its interchangeable status.