The History of Troilus and Cressida (a Satiric Tragedy or Tragicomedy)
- the 3rd longest Shakespeare play by number of lines (3496)
- Troilus sounds like the words Troy bull us
- Cressida sounds like the words mess mid up, with the first syllable accented
Character list (Since I got confused between who was a Trojan and who was a greek):
|Priam, King of Troy, married to Hecuba, Queen of Troy|
|Priam's sons: Paris, Deiphobos, Helenus, Troilus, Hector, Margarelon (a bastard son)|
|Priam's daughters: Cassandra and Polyxenes|
|Helen, originally wife of Menelaus from Greece, now wife of Paris|
|Andromache, wife of Hector|
|Calchas, a Trojan lord who has defected to the Greeks|
|Pandarus, Calchas' brother (still in Troy)|
|Cressida, Calchas' daughter (still in Troy)|
|Alexander, Cressida's servant|
|Trojan commanders: Aeneas and Antenor|
|Agamemnon, the Greek general|
|Menelaus, Agamemnon's brother, ex-husband of Helen|
|Greek commanders: Achilles, Ajax, Ulysses, Nestor, Diomedes, and Patroclus|
|Thersites, a deformed and scurrilous Greek|
The play opens with a prologue explaining that the Greeks have sailed to Troy to wage war against the Trojans since Menelaus' wife Helen has been kidnapped by Paris (and now loves him). The prologue tells us the story starts in the middle of the wars rather than at the beginning. In Troy, Troilus (son of Priam) speaks with Pandarus how he loves Cressida, yet he doesn't want his brother Hector or his father to know this. We learn that Troilus feels the war over Helen is dumb; also that Pandarus refuses to woo Cressida for Troilus and that she is stubborn, chaste, and against all suitors. Separately, Pandarus and Cressida joke about Troilus' looks compared to his brothers, while Pandarus begins to flatter Troilus at every turn, trying to convince Cressida to like him. Privately, we begin to see signs that she does indeed love him, but she asserts she will not let anyone know this. At the Greek camp, Agamemnon and his generals debate as to why, after seven years of war, Troy still stands unbeaten. Ulysses states that he believes that disorder in the Greek ranks is the cause, and not that Troy is still strong. Specifically, Ulysses believes the refusal of Achilles and Patroclus to follow Agamemnon's lead in battle (or to fight at all) hurts the Greek army's effectiveness and morale. Nestor points out that Ajax too has grown "self-willed". The Trojan general Aeneas arrives to speak with the Greek generals. He tells them that Hector challenges the Greeks that he is very honorable and loyal to his wife and wishes to battle any Greek that declares himself more loyal than Hector. Agamemnon accepts the challenge for the Greeks and invites Aeneas to dine with him. Separately, Ulysses and Nestor discuss that Achilles will most likely meet Hector's challenge, but this would make the Greeks look bad since he is so insolent lately. Rather, they decide Ajax (ironically Hector's cousin) would be good to fight Hector since Ajax is relatively harmless. They plan to get Ajax chosen via a rigged lottery.
At the Greek camp, Ajax quarrels with Thersites since he won't tell Ajax what Hector's challenge is. We learn from Thersites that Ajax detests Achilles and continually complains about him. Achilles and Patroclus appear and scorn Thersites, then tell Ajax of Hector's challenge. In Troy, Priam reads a letter demanding Helen's release, in return for which the Greeks will return home. Hector asserts they should let her go since the war fought over her is not worth the loss of lives. However, Troilus declares they should keep her and continue fighting since it would be dishonorable to return a prize which they had all cheered Paris for acquiring seven years ago, namely Helen. Further, Helen is happy with Paris. Priam's daughter Cassandra, who is plagued by dark prophetical visions, storms in and declares Troy will burn, unless Helen be returned to the Greeks. Troilus ignores her and, at length, he and Paris convince Hector to continue waging war against the Greeks. At the Greek camp, Patroclus, Achilles, and Thersites trade wits until Agamemnon approaches and Achilles retreats into his tent. Patroclus tells them Achilles is sick, but they know better. Even after both Patroclus and Ulysses visit Achilles, he still refuses to come out of his tent and see Agamemnon, further scorning the Greek lords. They decide to let Achilles and Patroclus be, and go to battle without them.
In Troy, Pandarus asks Paris to dine with Troilus while Helen blatantly (yet playfully) flirts with Pandarus. In private, Paris asks Helen to flirt with Hector too in order to convince him to continue fighting. Separately, Pandarus brings Cressida to Troilus for him to woo her. While wooing, Troilus' actions eventually cause Cressida to admit she has loved him for many months, unintendedly breaking her vow to herself to hide her emotions. They both rejoice in their mutual love and promise to be true to one another. Pandarus, too, rejoices and tells them to seal their promises in bed (The editor states Pandarus' actions imply he gains sexual pleasure from helping Troilus and Cressida come together, both in love and in bed). Further, he says, if either Cressida break her oath of loyalty to Troilus, "Let all constant men be Troiluses, all false women Cressids, and all brokers-between Pandars." At the Greek camp, Cressida's traitorous father Calchas requests that Agamemnon swap their new Trojan prisoner Antenor for Cressida, since Calchas desires her to be with him. Agamemnon grants the request, asking Diomedes to see it done. Ulysses then suggests all walk past Achilles tent and either ignore him or look upon him strangely to get a rise out of him since he has vowed to no longer fight against Troy. Ulysses speaks to Achilles, urging him to begin fighting again by telling him all are starting to honor Ajax for fighting Hector and forget Achilles' deeds. Ulysses also tells Achilles he knows he is in love with Priam's daughter Polyxenes, and urges him to change his mind, lest he be ridiculed in Greece. Patroclus also urges Achilles to resume fighting. Achilles refuses, and asks Thersites to ask Ajax to invite Hector to Achilles' tent after his fight with Ajax.
Diomedes comes to Troy and meets Aeneas and Paris, informing them of the proposed trade of Cressida for Antenor. Diomedes tells Paris of his hate for Helen for deserting Greece and allowing the war to continue. At Calchas' house, Cressida and Troilus wake from their first night together, when Aeneas arrives and informs Troilus of the trade. Troilus leaves to speak with his father and Pandarus is stuck with informing Cressida, at which she falls into deep despair. Troilus returns and informs her she must leave "Troy and Troilus". Both promises to stay true to the other during their separation, then Troilus gives Cressida part of his sleeve and she gives him a glove of hers, as tokens of their love. Troilus meets Diomedes and charges him to promise to use Cressida well (i.e. chastely), but Diomedes rudely declares she will be his mistress, greatly enraging Troilus who promises he will kill him in battle. At the Greek camp, Ajax prepares for his battle with Hector, when Diomedes arrives with Cressida. All of the generals give her a welcome kiss, though she manages in riddle to insult them. Aeneas, Troilus, Paris, and Helenus (not Helen) arrive with Hector to fight Ajax; they fight and Hector wins, but will not kill Ajax as he is Hector's father's sister's son (aka, his cousin). Ajax (as dictated by Thersites) asks Hector to dine with Achilles and Hector agrees. However, upon meeting Achilles, he immediately starts ridiculing and threatening Hector, while all the other Grecian generals had been polite to him. Tensions are calmed, though, and all go to dinner with Agamemnon while Troilus entreats Ulysses to bring him to Calchas' tent (to see Cressida) after dinner. Ulysses, not knowing of Troilus' love for her tells him Diomedes dines with her and Calchas and grows increasingly amorous of her.
Still at the Greek camp, Achilles vows to get Hector overly drunk so he'll be hung over the next day in battle. However, he then receives a letter from Hecuba and Polyxenes reminding him of his promise not to fight. He remembers and again vows not to fight. Hector goes to Achilles' tent while Ulysses and Troilus follow Diomedes to Calchas' tent. There, they oversee Cressida toying with Diomedes, first promising herself to him, then saying no, then promising, then not. This confuses and angers Troilus, but he stays hid. Eventually, she offers Troilus' sleeve to Diomedes, then asks for it back, but Diomedes refuses and swears to wear it to battle hoping to provoke her (unknown to him) lover to fight him. After Diomedes leaves, Troilus hears Cressida proclaim she has "one eye" on Troilus, but her heart is bending toward Diomedes. Of course, this greatly depresses Troilus, even to the point that he questions whether it is really her or just a spirit. At length, he vows to forget her and kill Diomedes in battle. Back at Troy, Hector's wife Andromache and his sister Cassandra beg him not to go to battle, as both have had visions and dreams of dread for him. Still, he vows to fight. Troilus too vows to fight, even though Hector, to no avail, begs him not to. Priam even asks his son Hector to say home, but he will not. Pandarus, sick with a cough, delivers a letter from Cressida to Troilus, but he tears it up, to Pandarus' amazement and dismay. In the battlefield, Troilus and Diomedes fight while Thersites observes and privately makes fun of them. Later, Diomedes tells his servant to take Troilus' horse to Cressida as (false) proof that Troilus is dead. Separately, Agamemnon learns that the Greeks are losing with many lords captured or dead, including Polyxenes and Patroclus. He orders Diomedes to get reinforcements, while Nestor reports that Hector is fighting like a madman, killing many, as too is Troilus, adds Ulysses. Patroclus' death has newly invigorated Achilles and Ajax to fight. In the field, both Ajax and Diomedes fight Troilus, while Achilles and Hector duel. Troilus learns Ajax has captured Aeneas and vows to rescue him. Separately, Achilles instructs his personal troops to surround Hector and empale him. While Hector rests unarmed, Achilles appears and, without honor, has his minions kill him, then Achilles vows to take the body to the Trojans, dragging it behind his horse. The Greeks, of course, rejoice, while Troilus vows to kill the coward Achilles and fears Troy will soon fall after Priam learns of his son's death (Hector). As for Pandarus, he curses himself for bringing Troilus and Cressida together and predicts he will die from disease within two months.
Back to the index
Last Modified April 17, 2002