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While it goes without saying that The Iliad is a story of fate and fortune, where the gods’ quarrels and the humans’ loyalties are played out in a “fateful” epic, Ironically, Shakespeare’s treatment of the story, dramatized in the smaller story of Troy’s lovers, Troilus and Cressida, is more a “comedy” of passions and human-level loves, losses, and weaknesses. (even the earliest Shakespeare scholars hesitated to place it among either the histories or the tragedies.) While the story can never be completely disconnected from The Iliad and its stories of Fate, the forces that move the play forward are not gods’ wills but human foibles—Cressida’s fickleness, Calchas’ political treachery, Pandarus’ pandering, Diomedes’ lust, and Troilus’ youthful naivete about love. The contrast between Paris/Helen and Troilus/Cressida is perfectly expressed in Thersites’ famous observation: “Still wars and lechery; nothing else holds fashion.” The Trojan War was fated long before the Greeks sailed for Priam’s kingdom, and (in the Odyssey) long after Troy’s fall. But Troilus and Cressida, while living in that warlike milieu, lived closer to lechery than to the workings of Fate.
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