Troilus and Cressida: Act Four plot synopsis

As we continue the Troilus and Cressida plot synopsis, we enter Act Four with the captured Trojan commander Antenor being brought back to Troy to an exchange for Cressida by the Greek Diomedes, and being greeted by Aeneas and Paris. There is much mutual admiration society-talk during this “gentle truce” (IV.i.11), with each wishing the others well… until, of course, they get back on the battlefield where they “will play the hunter for thy life // With all my force, pursuit, and policy” (IV.i.17-8).

Paris knows why the visitors have arrived, and he sends Aeneas to Calchas’ house where Cressida is, and where Paris suspects Troilus “lodges…tonight” (IV.i.42), to give his brother some warning of their approach as it “shall be much unwelcome” (IV.i.45). Alone, Paris asks Diomedes who deserves Helen more, Paris or Menelaus. Diomedes’ response is shocking in its bluntness: they both deserve her, but not in a good way, since she is full of “soilure…dishonor…false drop(s) in her bawdy veins… contaminated carrion weight” (IV.i.56, 59, 69, and 71).

Act Four, Scene Two takes us to Calchas’ house where we find Troilus and Cressida post-consummation, we can assume, as Cressida asks, “Are you aweary of me?” (IV.ii.7). Pandarus returns to check on their “maidenheads” (IV.ii.23) or virginities, and a little bawdy banter begins only to be interrupted by the knocking on the door–the arrival of Aeneas. Cressida hides, then Aeneas explains the situation to Troilus, who–stunned–can only ask, “Is it concluded so?” (IV.ii.66). When he learns it is true, he runs off to meet Paris and Diomedes before they can get to Cressida. With Troilus gone, Cressida gets the news from Pandarus. She is distraught, claiming that being sent away from Troilus will make her “the very crown of falsehood” (IV.ii.100), and declaring that she will not leave Troy.

In just 12 lines, Act Four, Scene Three gives us Troilus’ arrival with Paris, Antenor, and Diomedes back at Calchas’ house–obvious that Troilus has been given the news by the proverbial “horse’s mouth.” And he leaves to bring Cressida out to Diomedes.

Immediately, at the beginning of the next scene, we find Pandarus urging Cressida to be calm, to no avail. Troilus arrives, and the lovers have time for only “a single famished kiss // Distasted with the salt of broken tears” (IV.iv.46-7), before they will be separated. Troilus pleads for Cressida to be “true of heart” (IV.iv.57). This does not go over well; Cressida is insulted over this “wicked deem” (IV.iv.57) or supposition, but she relents. Troilus gives Cressida his sleeve as a love token; in return, she gives him her glove.

When she asks when they will see each other again, he says that he will nightly bribe the Greek guards so he can see her, but she must be true. If the plea didn’t go over well the first time, this demand goes over even less well now. This time, though, Troilus explains. The Greeks, “full of quality…swelling o’er with arts and exercise” (IV.iv.75, 77), “makes (him) afraid” (IV.iv.81) of his own inadequacies. As they are about to be interrupted by the entrance of Aeneas, Paris and Diomedes, she asks him the same question he asked her. His response is that he is but “plain and true” (IV.iv.107), but we’ll never know her thoughts on the matter, as she doesn’t speak for the rest of the scene.

The prisoner exchange party arrives, and Diomedes’ first words to Cressida seem to justify Troilus’s fears:

The luster in your eye, heaven in your cheek,
Pleads your fair usage, and to Diomed
You shall be mistress and command him wholly.
  • IV.iv.117-9

Troilus finds this disrespectful to him, but Diomedes doesn’t care:


To her own worth
She shall be prized; but that you say “Be ’t so,”
I speak it in my spirit and honor: “no.”
  • IV.iv.132-4

And the scene ends with their departure.

If the previous scene ends with her departure from Troy, Act Four, Scene Five gives us her arrival at the Greek camp. There she has to run a gauntlet of kisses by the commanders: Agamemnon, Nestor, Achilles, and Patroclus (twice). Even those she doesn’t explicitly kiss in the stage directions, she flirts with: Menelaus and Ulysses. Only Diomedes seems at all chaste with her. If all this feels weird, we’re not the only ones: once Diomedes exits, taking Cressida to her father, Nestor and Agamemnon speak of her “quick sense… (and) wanton spirits” (IV.v.54 and 56).

The Trojan command arrives and after some preliminaries, the single combat between Ajax and Hector begins.

And ends. Pretty much inconclusively.

Ajax and Hector exchange pleasantries. Formal, flowery compliments.

So begins a post-combat parley that is unusual to say the least. Purple pleasantries that slowly turn to intricate verse trash-talk, to barely disguised contempt between Hector and Achilles which escalates to challenges and acceptances for combat and killing the next day. For now, however, it’s time for eating and drinking and revelry (unusual to say the least, like I said).

Meanwhile, Ulysses, not knowing Troilus’ past with Cressida, takes the prince to Calchas, who is feasting with Diomedes and Menelaus in the latter’s tent… where Diomedes “gives all gaze and bent of amourous view // On the fair Cressid” (IV.v.281-2). When Ulysses asks if anyone back in Troy loves Cressida, Troilus can only admit, “She was beloved, she loved; she is, and doth” (IV.v. 291). As the fourth act ends, Ulysses takes Troilus to Menelaus’ tent .

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