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.
Hector (HEHK-tohr), the greatest of Priam’s sons and chief defender of his country. He has better judgment than most of his fellows, but he yields to pressure and consents to Helen remaining in Troy instead of being sent back to the Greeks. Troilus accuses him of excessive clemency to fallen foes. In keeping with the medieval tradition of Hector as one of the Nine Worthies, he is given great prowess. His death at the hands of Achilles and his Myrmidons is depicted as the murder of an unarmed man by numerous opponents.
Achilles (uh-KIHL-eez), the most famous of the Greek champions. Painted from the point of view of the legendarily Trojan-descended English, he is a most unpleasant character, self-centered, stupid, arrogant, and ruthless. He avoids combat partly because of pique and partly because of desire for Polyxena, one of Priam’s daughters. He returns to combat partly out of jealousy of Ajax but perhaps chiefly because of the death of his friend Patroclus. Although allowed a respite by Hector when they first meet, he has Hector murdered while he is unarmed. He instructs his men to run through the Grecian camp shouting, “Achilles hath the mighty Hector slain.”
Thersites (thehr-SI-teez), a cowardly, foul-mouthed Greek. He ranges through the play as a sort of chorus, making impudent or vile comments on all whom he sees. When Hector, meeting him on the field of battle, asks him if he is a worthy opponent, he characterizes himself truthfully as “a rascal, a scurvy railing knave, a very filthy rogue,” thereby saving his life. He seems to be accepted by his cohorts as an “all-licens’d fool.”
Ulysses (yew-LIHS-eez), the shrewd Greek hero. He delivers a much-admired speech on order. He and Nestor are usually in agreement and are experienced practical psychologists. Despising Cressida, during a truce he conducts Troilus to a spot from which he can see and hear Cressida and Diomedes making love.
Nestor (NEHS-tohr), the venerable old man of the Greek forces. He confers frequently with Ulysses and represents with him the rational outlook.
Diomedes (di-oh-MEE-deez), or Diomed, the unprincipled warrior sent to escort Cressida to the Greek camp. After seducing her, he fights an indecisive match with Troilus.
Ajax (AY-jaks), a Greek champion related to the Trojan royal family. Slow and bearlike, he is as stupid as Achilles and as much filled with self-love, but he is a much less unpleasant character. He meets Hector in single combat but agrees to call off the battle because of their kinship.
Priam (PRI -am), the king of Troy. He appears very...
(The entire section is 961 words.)