Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Troy. Ancient city in Asia Minor that is ruled by King Priam. Faced with an unrelenting siege by the more powerful Greeks, the Trojans debate the wisdom of continuing their resistance. Troilus, who loves the Greek woman Cressida, represents the Trojans, who idealize love as integral to chivalrous behavior. Hector, a reasonable man epitomizing Troy’s best values and strengths, urges his brothers to abandon the war as neither justified nor worth the cost.
Greek camp. Military encampment outside Troy, which the Greeks have been besieging for seven years. In contrast to the idealistic Trojans, the Greeks, who are soldiers, not courtiers, are pragmatic and ego-centered—differences reflected in the play’s two centers. Lack of progress in the siege has demoralized the Greek leaders, whom Agamemnon, the overall commander, tries to hearten by declaring that the long siege has been a test of Greek stamina. Ulysses argues that the problems of the Greeks lie in a lack of order and discipline, not in Trojan strength. Rather than debate their motive for war, the leaders urge their greatest hero, Achilles, to fight.
Battlefield. The two sides meet with the strength initially on the Trojan side. The Greek victory spells the end of Troy and its chivalric code as well.
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Elizabethan audiences would probably have been intimately familiar with the details and nuances of the Trojan War from both medieval and classical accounts. The Elizabethan age glamorized and romanticized the myths and accounts of antiquity. Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida disappoints that romanticism by presenting a picture of the Trojan War, in which all its participants fall short of their mythological proportions and become all too human and frail. But Shakespeare's intention, perhaps, is not to present a pessimistic world both inside and outside the walls of Ileum in order to induce a similar pessimism and cynicism in his contemporary audiences; rather, he reduces the mythological figures of the antique world to human proportions in order to debunk the notion that the antique world embodied a nobility and virtue against which the Elizabethan world could not compare. It is worth noting that the practice of idealizing the past is not limited to the Elizabethan's idealization of antiquity. Many societies look back on past times and wistfully recall values that the present time may lack.
Many of the characters in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida border on the despicable, and none of the characters are consistently noble and virtuous. Thersites is a character so vicious, unsavory, and ungovernable that the Greeks, not only tolerating his presence but finding him amusing, condemn their own virtue. Pandarus, by his own admission, is a...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Barton, Anne. Introduction to
Troilus and Cressida
, by William Shakespeare. In The Riverside Shakespeare, edited by G. Blakemore Evans, 443-47. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974. Barton discusses the textual history and presents a general reading of the play. She argues that no character in Troilus and Cressida is consistent or representative of truth or nobility. The only thing that saves the audience from the characters' destructive nihilism, Barton maintains, is the integrity and artistry of the play shaped by Shakespeare.
Cole, Douglas. "Myth and Anti-Myth: The Case of Troilus and Cressida." Shakespeare Quarterly 31, no. 1 (1980): 76- 84. Cole argues that Shakespeare's treatment of the myth of Troy undermines the way societies create myth as a way to connect with specific histories and define their values.
Dusinberre, Juliet. "Troilus and Cressida and the Definition of Beauty." Shakespeare Survey 36 (1983): 85-95. Dusinberre examines how concepts of beauty function in the play. She argues that Helen and Cressida are valued only for their physical beauty and not their spiritual or moral beauty.
Fly, Richard D.''Cassandra and the Language of Prophecy in Troilus and Cressida." Shakespeare Quarterly 26, no. 2 (1975): 157-71. Fly examines the prophecy that abounds in Troilus and Cressida and argues that from the...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Barroll, J. Leeds, ed. Shakespeare Studies VI. Dubuque, Iowa: William C. Brown, 1970. Part of an annual series of Shakespearean review anthologies. “The Traditions of the Troy-Story Heroes and the Problem of Satire in Troilus and Cressida,” by Mark Sacharoff, considers the story of the play and its earlier sources in light of previous criticism.
Barroll, J. Leeds, ed. Shakespeare Studies VIII. New York: Burt Franklin, 1975. A later volume in the above-cited series. In “Cressida and the World of the Play,” by Grant L. Voth and Oliver H. Evans, the role of Cressida is considered in terms of her calculating ways, which are seen as a direct response to Troilus’ temporary infatuation.
Bullough, Geoffrey, ed. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. Vol. 6. New York: Columbia University Press, 1966. Part of a six-volume series of critical essays concerning the sources of Shakespeare’s plays. Troilus and Cressida is discussed in a forty-page introduction, which is followed by the actual texts and translations of the sources Shakespeare would have known.
Donaldson, E. Talbot. The Swan at the Well: Shakespeare Reading Chaucer. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985. A comparison between several of Shakespeare’s plays and their sources in Chaucer’s poems. There are...
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