A couple of days back, I floated the idea of cutting the cast for a hypothetical production of Troilus and Cressida. Today, let’s take a look at the text and where it can be cut.
The play is a long one, 3368 lines. Longer than all the other problem plays. Third longest play of the Canon, behind only Hamlet and Richard III. For any production, it needs cutting and trimming.
Given my focus on the undercutting of heroic and romantic expectations (and the use of Pandarus as a tragic hero), let’s take a look at the major cuts first…
I think much of the parade of Trojans (I.ii.174-236) can be cut. Visual spectacle can be lost here, especially with neither a full cast nor a focus on social strata.
I’m torn on Act Two, Scene Two’s Trojan debate. On the one hand, I really don’t think this scene drives the plot/narrative forward. On the other, I’ve already lost Trojan content with the Act One, Scene Two cuts, and I’d hate to lose a great appearance by one of the few women in the play (Cassandra’s dramatic entrance and prophecy). Maybe we leave it in with severe trimming. Maybe we use just her lines (II.ii.101-2, 104-12), then move them to after Act Two, Scene Three as a kind of Act Three Chorus. That way it leads from a fully Greek Act Two into a Trojan-centric first two scenes of Act Three. In a sense, this makes her a fourth commentator in the play.
I think much of the second half of Act Two, Scene Three, with the repetitious Greek hate-fest on Achilles, should be judiciously trimmed or jettisoned altogether.
A lot of the last portion of Act Three, Scene Three’s ending (with the “performance” of Achilles and Patroclus) can be lost with little detriment to the play as a whole.
A great deal of the Trojan/Greek glad-handing in Act Four, Scene Five (the section between Ajax and Hector’s aborted bout, and Hector and Achilles’ trash-talk-off) can be safely jettisoned, I think.
The vast majority of Act Five, Scene One, can be lost. The only portion that needs to be saved, I think, is Diomedes’ begging off accompanying Hector (so that he can go to Cressida), Ulysses and Troilus following him to Calchas’ tent, and Thersites’ commentary on it all. All of which can be integrated into the end of Act Four, saving us over 80 lines.
Those are the chainsaw cuts. As for the scapel trims, basically, every scene could lose a line here, a line there. As an example, here are some possible trims in Act Five, Scene Three:
When was my lord so much ungently tempered
To stop his ears against admonishment?
Unarm, unarm, and do not fight today.
You train me to offend you. Get you in.
By all the everlasting gods, I’ll go!
My dreams will sure prove ominous to the day.
No more, I say. Enter Cassandra.
Where is my brother Hector?
Here, sister, armed and bloody in intent.
Consort with me in loud and dear petition;
These excised lines don’t push the narrative forward in any meaningful way.
Be gone, I say. The gods have heard me swear.
The gods are deaf to hot and peevish vows.
They are polluted off’rings more abhorred
Than spotted livers in the sacrifice.
O, be persuaded! Do not count it holy
To hurt by being just.
Unarm, sweet Hector.
These cuts push the pace. The two partial lines (Andromache’s “To hurt by being just.” and Cassandra’s “Unarm, sweet Hector.”) work well as a shared antilabe line, marking their solidarity on the issue.
Unnecessary half-line because of the Andromache/Cassandra antilabe.
Life every man holds dear, but the dear man
Holds honor far more precious-dear than life.
Enter Troilus, armed.
How now, young man? Meanest thou to fight today?
Cassandra, call my father to persuade.
No, faith, young Troilus, doff thy harness, youth.
I am today i’ th’ vein of chivalry.
The loss of these lines focuses the speech on Hector’s ego… important for the cause of his demise later.
Brother, you have a vice of mercy in you
Which better fits a lion than a man.
What vice is that? Good Troilus, chide me for it.
When many times the captive Grecian falls,
Even in the fan and wind of your fair sword,
You bid them rise and live.
O, ’tis fair play.
Fool’s play, by heaven, Hector.
The cut lines allow for Troilus to gain some verbal momentum.
And when we have our armors buckled on,
The venomed Vengeance ride upon our swords,
Spur them to ruthful work, rein them from ruth.
These excised lines contain awkward phrases, and are easily lost.
Troilus, I would not have you fight today.
Who should withhold me?
Not fate, obedience, nor the hand of Mars,
Not Priamus and Hecuba on knees,
The two cut lines are rhetorically interesting, but as far as basic meaning of the speech, they are both tangential.
Opposed to hinder me, should stop my way,
But by my ruin.
Enter Priam and Cassandra.
Lay hold upon him, Priam; hold him fast.
Losing these lines pushes the pacing of the scene.
Cassandra doth foresee, and I myself
Am like a prophet suddenly enrapt
To tell thee that this day is ominous.
Therefore, come back.
Aeneas is afield,
And I do stand engaged to many Greeks,
Even in the faith of valor, to appear
This morning to them.
Ay, but thou shalt not go.
The concept of honor and faith are represented well enough in the speech that follows.
Let me not shame respect, but give me leave
To take that course by your consent and voice
Which you do here forbid me, royal Priam.
O Priam, yield not to him!
Do not, dear father.
Andromache, I am offended with you.
Upon the love you bear me, get you in.
This foolish, dreaming, superstitious girl
Makes all these bodements.
O farewell, dear Hector.
Look how thou diest! Look how thy eye turns pale!
Look how thy wounds do bleed at many vents!
Hark, how Troy roars, how Hecuba cries out,
How poor Andromache shrills her dolor forth!
Behold, distraction, frenzy, and amazement,
Like witless antics, one another meet,
And all cry “Hector! Hector’s dead! O, Hector!”
Farewell.—Yet soft! Hector, I take my leave.
The cut line makes a nice statement, but is ultimately unnecessary.
You are amazed, my liege, at her exclaim.
Go in and cheer the town. We’ll forth and fight,
Do deeds worth praise, and tell you them at night.
Farewell. The gods with safety stand about thee!
Exeunt Priam and Hector. Alarum.
They are at it, hark! Proud Diomed, believe,
I come to lose my arm or win my sleeve.
Do you hear, my lord? Do you hear?
Here’s a letter come from yond poor girl.
Let me read. Reads.
A whoreson tisick, a whoreson rascally tisick so troubles me,
This cut focuses the speech on Pandarus’ health issues, foreshadowing his prophecy of death at the end of the play.
Words, words, mere words, no matter from the heart.
Th’ effect doth operate another way.
Go, wind, to wind! There turn and change together.
[Tearing the letter]
My love with words and errors still she feeds,
But edifies another with her deeds.
Big cuts and little trims allow us to focus on concepts and pushes the speeches forward, all for clarity and a better experience for the audience.