Troilus and Cressida: Cut the cast… cut the script…

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:

Enter Hector, armed, and Andromache.


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;
Pursue we him on knees. For I have dreamt
Of bloody turbulence, and this whole night
Hath nothing been but shapes and forms of slaughter.
O, ’tis true!
Ho! Bid my trumpet sound!
No notes of sally, for the heavens, sweet brother!

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. It is as lawful,
For we would give much, to use violent thefts
And rob in the behalf of charity.
It is the purpose that makes strong the vow,
But vows to every purpose must not hold.
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.

Hold you still, I say.

Unnecessary half-line because of the Andromache/Cassandra antilabe.

Mine honor keeps the weather of my fate.
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.
Exit Cassandra.
No, faith, young Troilus, doff thy harness, youth.
I am today i’ th’ vein of chivalry.
Let grow thy sinews till their knots be strong,
And tempt not yet the brushes of the war.
Unarm thee, go, and doubt thou not, brave boy,

The loss of these lines focuses the speech on Hector’s ego… important for the cause of his demise later.

I’ll stand today for thee and me and Troy.
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.
How now? How now?
For th’ love of all the gods,

The cut lines allow for Troilus to gain some verbal momentum.

Let’s leave the hermit Pity with our mother,
And when we have our armors buckled on,
The venomed Vengeance ride upon our swords,
Spur them to ruthful work, rein them from ruth.
Fie, savage, fie!
Hector, then ’tis wars.

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,
Beck’ning with fiery truncheon my retire;
Not Priamus and Hecuba on knees,
Their eyes o’er-gallèd with recourse of tears;

The two cut lines are rhetorically interesting, but as far as basic meaning of the speech, they are both tangential.

Nor you, my brother, with your true sword drawn
Opposed to hinder me, should stop my way,
But by my ruin.
Enter Priam and Cassandra.
Lay hold upon him, Priam; hold him fast.
He is thy crutch. Now if thou loose thy stay,
Thou on him leaning, and all Troy on thee,
Fall all together.
Come, Hector, come. Go back.

Losing these lines pushes the pacing of the scene.

Thy wife hath dreamt, thy mother hath had visions,
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.
I must not break my faith.

The concept of honor and faith are represented well enough in the speech that follows.

You know me dutiful; therefore, dear sir,
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.
Exit Andromache.
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!”
Away, away!
Farewell.—Yet soft! Hector, I take my leave.
Thou dost thyself and all our Troy deceive. [Exit.]

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.
Enter Pandarus.
Do you hear, my lord? Do you hear?
What now?
Here’s a letter come from yond poor girl.
Let me read. Reads.
A whoreson tisick, a whoreson rascally tisick so troubles me, and the foolish fortune of this girl, and what one thing, what another, that I shall leave you one o’ these days. And I have a rheum in mine eyes too, and such an ache in my bones that, unless a man were cursed, I cannot tell what to think on ’t.—What says she there?

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.

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