These two Shakespeare characters are ripe for a comparisons and contrast study. On the surface, their similarities – two young women in love with men from warring families – cry out for comparison, but at a close look, their differences show two differing approaches to Shakespeare’s story-telling techniques. Juliet, the most familiar figure to modern readers, is a typical teenager, in love with the idea of love, entranced by Romeo’s romantic gestures and social unavailability – the “bad boy” appeal – and defiant of the taboo relationship, seeking the help of grown-ups – the nurse and the friar – acting on her belief that she and Romeo are “star-crossed lovers.”
Cressida, on the other hand, is older, under the instruction and protection of her father, much more a pawn in the larger game of the Trojan War, not really even the main character except insofar as Shakespeare chose to explore the Trojan War story through her minor role as the romantic attachment to a Trojan prince. (A more recent example of this device would be Gone with the Wind, a romantic approach to talking about America’s Civil War). But the most glaring difference between these characters is that one (Juliet) is in a tragedy, while Cressida appears in what is called a “comedy” in all Shakespeare anthologies (Aristotle says comedy is “tragedy avoided).
Troilus, especially compared with Romeo, is noble and worthy of Cressida’s love, but is betrayed by her fickleness; she is not the pure and tragic figure that Juliet is (much more experienced), encouraged by Pandarus ("Still wars and lechery; nothing else holds fashion"), and her fate is not in the balance – the drama rests not in these (non-star-crossed) lovers, but in the characters of Ulysses, Priam, Agamemnon, and the rest. Troilus and Cressida is a story improvised from real history; Romeo and Juliet's origins are much more obscure. Juliet is the home of the play’s tragic action; Cressida is a sidebar in a greater story.