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).
Act Two of Troilus and Cressida ended with more inter-personal backbiting by the Greek generals (primarily against Ajax and Achilles), and when Act Three begins, we are back in Troy with Pandarus attempting to see Paris, so that he can ask the prince to make an excuse for Troilus, when Troilus doesn’t attend dinner that night (as Pandarus is hoping to bring Troilus and Cressida together). But first he needs to get past Paris’ servant, a comic fool. The interplay feels a bit like that of Viola and Feste … Continue reading “Troilus and Cressida: Act Three plot synopsis”
A few days back, I brought up Homer’s The Iliad as a possible source for Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. That works for the Trojan War aspects of the play. But as I mentioned, there’s no link in the poem between Troilus (who’s mentioned in the poem only as a dead son) and Cressida (provided she is even the Chryseis of the poem).
So where did Shakespeare
steal, uh, get the love story?
When we last left the Troilus and Cressida plot synopsis in Act One, the commanders of the Greek forces were displaying some great strategy… against themselves, with Nestor and Ulysses plotting to use Hector’s courtly-love challenge of single combat to make either Ajax or Achilles (or both) look foolish. As Act Two begins, we meet one of their possible targets: Ajax.
Ajax is calling after and beating another Greek (“scurrilous” according to the “Names of the Actors”), Thersites. Ajax–who appears to be illiterate on top of being, at least according to Cressida in the previous scene, “dull (and) brainless” (I.iii.380)–needs Thersites to “learn (him) the proclamation” (II.i.20). As Ajax is quick to strike Thersites, we don’t get a clear idea of what the proclamation is (at this point), but it would make sense for it to be Hector’s challenge.
Troilus and Cressida is set during the Trojan War, and thus we can assume a partial source would be The Iliad, Homer’s epic poem (which Shakespeare probably encountered via George Chapman, whose translations began appearing in 1598). Broad strokes of the play’s plot regarding the war are taken from the poem, including the conflicts within the Greek army regarding Achilles and his reluctance to participate, as well as the minor character Thersites, a loud-mouthed Grecian soldier.
As The History of Troilus and Cressida begins, we get a prologue, “Spoken by a man in armor” (Prologue, opening stage direction). Instantly, we are taken both by this costuming direction and the opening words “In Troy” (Prologue, 1), to a time of war, the Trojan war. Our choric soldier tells us of the 69 warships sent from the “isles of Greece … To ransack Troy” (Prologue, 1, 8). What’s “the quarrel” (Prologue, 10)? To rescue the “ravished Helen, Menelaus’ queen // (who) With wanton Paris sleeps” (Prologue, 9-10). We learn of the Trojan siege, but then the Prologue states that our play
Beginning in the middle, starting thence away
To what may be digested in a play.
- Prologue, 26-9
The Prologue closes on a blatantly ambiguous and seemingly objective note: “Like or find fault; do as your pleasures are; // Now good or bad, ’tis but the chance of war” (Prologue, 30-1). This chorus may be armed, but he doesn’t seem to be a partisan to either side.
Ah, the first of June.
And for the first time in three months, the first of the month means and new play…
Troilus and Cressida!
This also means that for the first time since September 2010, I’m reading a play for the project for the very first time. The last time this happened, it was 12 plays ago, and we met the Bastard in King John.
Cross your fingers for a fun read, and join along!