The prologue, addressed to “you, fair beholders,” literally sets the stage for Shakespeare’s categorically ambiguous Troilus and Cressida (Prologue, 26). Provoking a meta- analysis (I see a trend), Shakespeare establishes the Trojan war and its hegemony among mythic tradition as outside fixed moral definition — for as the introduction tells it, “Like or find fault; do as your pleasures are;/ Now good or bad, ’tis but the chance of war” (Prologue, 30-31, italics mine).
Employed sixty times throughout the play, the word “fair” and its variable character and contextual usage punctures the canonized epic story with a dramatic instability that comes to define the entire play. Continue reading →
In the events of the Trojan War, Patroclus figures as a minor character of small importance. Yes he is a great warrior and yes he is of high command for the Greek’s camp, but in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, he inhabits the role of the dutiful companion of Achilles and is a comic foil to the rest of the Greek heroes in the camp. Only his death spurs Achilles to become the enraged and aggressive fighter that he is known throughout the land to be.
From the very first lines of Shakespeare’s play, it is clear this is not a retelling of the Iliad. The first line: “in Troy, there lies the scene,” (1.prologe.1) firmly places the reader inside the city of Troy. The first lines of the Iliad, widely known today, and even more celebrated in Shakespeare’s time, speaks of the anger of Achilles. It asks to “Sing, O Goddess, the anger of Achilles” (Illiad, 1.1). The discrepancy of these first two lines immediately displaces the reader into a new retelling of Homer’s original epic poem. Ultimately begging the question: is Troilus and Cressida a Homeric retelling or is it in fact antihomeric?
While reading Troilus and Cressida for the first time, I felt that it was somehow a bit off, tonally. It was after learning a bit more about the work that I found out I was not alone in my observation. Troilus and Cressida is a problem play. So what is that problem exactly? Kristina Faber points out that critics have not reached an agreement on this matter, but in her essay “Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida: Of War and Lechery” she sets forth her own theory. Continue reading →
Troilus and Cressida has been read as a tragedy, a history, and a black comedy. It has a dual plot line featuring a tragic love story and a political war drama. But what you won’t find in the Sparknotes summary of Troilus and Cressida is that it’s really a story that’s part mystery, part cautionary tale about Pandarus’s syphilis. Continue reading →
After a seven year war the Trojan way of life must be characterized by uncertainty. Will the men die in battle? Will their city be destroyed? Will they be able to drive the Greeks from their shore? Is Helen worth this war? Hector’s answer, is decidedly not. Continue reading →
Troilus and Cressida does not fit quite neatly into Shakespeare’s collected works. It is filled with bawdy humor, but not a comedy. The ending is tragic, but the characters written so unlikable that a sympathetic audience is hard to find. There is a historical element, but the play’s namesakes are doomed lovers that would have no lasting effect on British history. Why write a play so steeped in inevitable doom? I believe there is merit in discussing the way the play is written as a means to deliver a message as opposed to entertaining an audience. Continue reading →
In “Troilus and Cressida,” Shakespeare uses food imagery everywhere as a thinly veiled euphemism for sexual and carnal desire. Appealing to the crowd, Shakespeare knows that he’s among commoners who spend time drinking at taverns, wasting money away on whoring and gambling. Some of the male characters’ “hungry desires” for women probably reflect the viewers’ cravings for members of the female population. This male-female dynamic is especially inherent in the supposed “romance” between Troilus and Cressida.
Sex! Sex sells: we hear this all the time. Sex is sold, we hear this all the time whether it is in conversations about advertising or prostitution; Cressida in Troilus and Cressida; or the relative value of women and men at Dartmouth as they progress through their time here on the “Dartmouth X”: in all of these instances sex is a commodity to be purchased by the highest bidder.
“Engine” and “Engineer” are only used a total of three times throughout Troilus and Cressida. Yet each use enfolds layers of hidden meaning through which Shakespeare’s voice can be heard. Continue reading →