Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Troilus (TROY-luhs), the heroic young son of Priam. An idealistic and trusting young lover, he first wins Cressida with the aid of Pandarus, then loses first her presence and afterward her faith. He becomes bitter in disillusionment. He is a good fighter, showing no compassion toward his enemies.
Cressida (KREHS-ih-duh), the daughter of Calchas. She is a beautiful woman but not gifted with the power to say “no.” She yields to Troilus after a certain amount of coyness, and she shows real regret when she has to leave him to go to her father with the Greeks. She swears eternal truth to him, but in her fickleness she soon accepts Diomedes as her lover. William Shakespeare’s Cressida is much less complex and less appealing than Geoffrey Chaucer’s Criseyde. Ulysses in the play finds her contemptible, and audiences do not greatly disagree with him.
Pandarus (PAN-duh-ruhs), the uncle of Cressida and the go-between for Troilus and Cressida. Much simplified and considerably degraded from his complex original in Chaucer’s fine poem, he is an off-color jester, especially in the presence of the lovers. He speaks a particularly unpleasant dirty epilogue, which a number of scholars have ascribed to some unknown play-dresser instead of to Shakespeare.
(The entire section is 961 words.)
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Cressida is the daughter of Calchas and the niece of Pandarus. She is united with Troilus through the efforts of her uncle, Pandarus, who has to work at convincing her that Troilus is a worthy match. He situates her so that she might see a parade of noble Trojan warriors as they pass. Pandarus devalues each of these warriors in order to inflate the value of Troilus in Cressida's eyes. But Cressida resists her uncle's efforts. When he leaves, she says, "But more in Troilus thousand fold I see / Than in the glass of Pandar's praise may be" (I.ii.284-85). She again plays the coquette when she is conducted into the Greek camp after being exchanged for Antenor.
Cressida kisses all of the Greek commanders with barely subdued enthusiasm, prompting Ulysses to remark that everything about her can be set down ''For sluttish spoils of opportunity, / And daughters of the game" (IV.v.62-63); he considers her a prostitute. Diomedes's assessment of her is no more noble. He is interested only in her physical beauty, and he refuses to play her trifling games of love-making. When she plays hard to get and refuses his early advances, he walks away, and she is forced to go after him, losing the advantage which she seems to find so enjoyable in her relationships with men. Cressida perhaps knows what men want of her, and she attempts to maintain a sense of dignity in what she seems to perceive as the only way available to her. In her soliloquy after Pandarus attempts to con...
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Troilus is the son of Priam and the brother of Hector and Paris. He is young and idealistic. He appeals to Pandarus to woo Cressida for him, believing that she is a beautiful and worthy maid. When he argues with Hector over the desirability of continuing to protect Helen, he may have in mind his idealized conception of Cressida. He envisions Cressida as having the kind of beauty that Helen is thought to have, a beauty that sets men at war against one another. He is unaware that neither of the women is what she seems. When Pandarus brings the two lovers together, Troilus is passionate and vows his faithfulness and seems to view the arranged tryst (Pandarus has prepared a chamber for them complete with a bed and a guaranteed privacy) as a lasting love affair.
Later, when Troilus watches Cressida caress Diomedes and show him affection, his pain is almost palpable to the audience. Troilus cannot believe his eyes, preferring to think that there are two Cressidas than to think that she has soon betrayed his love. His reason and passion struggle against one another. He knows by reason that Cressida cannot be in two places at once, but his emotion desperately wants to make it so. He does not mature, however, in this moment of witnessing Cressida's infidelity. He still clings to a romanticized version of their relationship, vowing to avenge the loss of that romance on the head of Diomedes. Troilus, as Cressida comments in V.ii.l 11-12, is full of turpitude, a...
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In most accounts of the Trojan battles, Achilles is the most prominent Greek warrior. In Shakespeare's account, Achilles has that reputation but performs no noteworthy deeds. He spends most of his time in his tent being amused by the impersonations of his aide Patroclus and accepting the adulation of the common soldiers for deeds he has performed in the past. In the minds of his military commanders, Achilles sets a dangerous precedent for the other soldiers who imitate him and take their ease, refusing to fight the Trojans. Achilles's arrogance has grown to such a degree that he refuses to answer even a summons from the Greek general Agamemnon. It is implied that the Trojan war drags on as a consequence of his inactivity.
When Hector issues his challenge to fight any Greek willing to do so, Achilles is the natural choice. But Ulysses, Nestor, Agamemnon, and others have hatched an elaborate plot to bring Achilles down a peg by advocating Ajax as the Greek champion. In another calculated effort to puncture Achilles's pride, a Greek contingent passes Achilles's tent and treats him with less respect than that to which he has been accustomed. Achilles questions Ulysses, who is the last person in this entourage, and Ulysses advises him of what today we might call the "old gunslinger syndrome": The reputation that is not constantly renewed against every ambitious newcomer becomes tarnished and fades. Shakespeare downplays the fact that...
(The entire section is 3250 words.)