Troilus and Cressida: Ending, what ending?

Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy gets (laid and) the girl. Boy loses girl when she gets exchanged for a soldier. Another boy (let’s call him boy 2) meets the girl. Girl betrays boy with boy 2. Boy vows revenge. Have I got the broad strokes of the Troilus and Cressida plot of Troilus and Cressida? Yes, I know: technically, the meeting (as well as the falling in love) happens before our choric Prologue, but you get the idea.

There’s really only two ways for this to go. One: Boy kills boy 2 in revenge (consider Goneril’s poisoning of her sister Regan over the bastard Edmund’s love in King Lear as the distaff version of this). Two: Boy kills girl in a jealous rage (think Othello, and Desdemona’s untimely end at the hands [and pillow] of the Moor).

We get neither in our play.

We see Troilus pursuing Diomedes on the field of battle in Act Five, Scenes Four and Six (in the former, the Greek merely runs away; in the latter, Diomedes engages Troilus, but only when supported by Ajax). Any chance that they might bring their fight to a conclusion and resolve their conflict by the play’s end is destroyed by the death of Hector, which brings all other plots to a grinding halt.

Troilus doesn’t even consider the second path to revenge (thankfully).

Of course, there’s more than the love plot to Troilus and Cressida. However, at no point in our play does the other plot–the Trojan War–come to its conclusion, either. While both sides discuss the inevitable Greek victory after Hector’s killing by Achilles’ Myrmidons (Agamemnon proclaims, “Great Troy is ours, and our sharp wars are ended” [V.ix.9]; Troilus alludes to Troy’s “sure destructions” [V.x.9]), we don’t actually see this fall of Troy, nor do we see Troilus’ death at the hands of Achilles, or Achilles’ at the hand of Paris (though, to be honest, even the Iliad doesn’t show Achilles’ death).

We’re left knowing the end, but not given the satisfaction of seeing it happen. We’ve known the end since the beginning (or even before)… Is that a priori knowledge supposed to provide the satisfaction of a resolution to the plots? Or does Shakespeare withhold those endings to further subvert this ending?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *