Troilus And Cressida

By William Shakespeare
June 1 1997
directed by Tom Markus

Paris, son of the Trojan King Priam, has abducted Helen, wife of the Greek commander Menelaus. The cuckolded Greek decides to avenge this insult by waging war on Troy. As the play begins, the Greek and Trojan armies are in a stalemate after seven long years of battle. Troilus, the youngest son of King Priam, is enamored with the Trojan woman, Cressida. Through her Uncle Pandarus, Troilus arranges a tryst with Cressida. Meanwhile, to relieve the monotony of the stalemate, Troilus' older brother Hector challenges the Greeks to find a champion who will fight him in single combat. Thersites, a "scurvy, railing knave," assails everyone he encounters-both Greek and Trojan alike. In the Greek camp there is great dissension. Achilles, the great Greek warrior, is dissatisfied with his commanders and refuses to obey orders, preferring to stay in his tent with his friend Patroclus. To teach Achilles a lesson, his superiors plan to have Ajax, a junior commander, replace him and take up Hector's challenge. Troilus and Cressida meet for their rendezvous and swear everlasting love. However, after one brief night together, Cressida is taken away from Troilus and' sent to the Greek camp in exchange for a Trojan prisoner. Despite her vows to Troilus, she quickly accepts the attentions of Diomedes, a young Greek officer. Ajax meets Hector's challenge. After a friendly match, they go to a feast with Achilles, who insults Hector. When the war is resumed, Hector and Troilus go into battle. Hector is deter-mined to avenge his honor by killing Achilles; Troilus, disillusioned by Cressida's faithlessness, vows to kill Diomedes. When Achilles kills Hector, Troilus is left alive, unavenged and embittered, scorning the go between Pandarus, whose vitriol concludes the play.

Date Time
Sunday June 1 12:00 am
Closed

Many have remarked that Troilus and Cressida is a "problem play." The phrase was first used to describe Ibsen's work, and like Ibsen, Shakespeare probes the ills that plague society. Troilus and Cressida explores exalted themes such as honor and duty, heroism and courage, but from a subversive perspective, using satiric wit to puncture the smooth surface of apparent virtue. Disrupting critical expectation and dramatic convention, Troilus and Cressida rejects structural symmetry to embrace asymmetry and disorder. How appropriate for a play that's all about challenging assumptions and questioning ideals!

Paris, son of the Trojan King Priam, has abducted Helen, wife of the Greek commander Menelaus. The cuckolded Greek decides to avenge this insult by waging war on Troy. As the play begins, the Greek and Trojan armies are in a stalemate after seven long years of battle. Troilus, the youngest son of King Priam, is enamored with the Trojan woman, Cressida. Through her Uncle Pandarus, Troilus arranges a tryst with Cressida. Meanwhile, to relieve the monotony of the stalemate, Troilus' older brother Hector challenges the Greeks to find a champion who will fight him in single combat. Thersites, a "scurvy, railing knave," assails everyone he encounters-both Greek and Trojan alike. In the Greek camp there is great dissension. Achilles, the great Greek warrior, is dissatisfied with his commanders and refuses to obey orders, preferring to stay in his tent with his friend Patroclus. To teach Achilles a lesson, his superiors plan to have Ajax, a junior commander, replace him and take up Hector's challenge. Troilus and Cressida meet for their rendezvous and swear everlasting love. However, after one brief night together, Cressida is taken away from Troilus and' sent to the Greek camp in exchange for a Trojan prisoner. Despite her vows to Troilus, she quickly accepts the attentions of Diomedes, a young Greek officer. Ajax meets Hector's challenge. After a friendly match, they go to a feast with Achilles, who insults Hector. When the war is resumed, Hector and Troilus go into battle. Hector is deter-mined to avenge his honor by killing Achilles; Troilus, disillusioned by Cressida's faithlessness, vows to kill Diomedes. When Achilles kills Hector, Troilus is left alive, unavenged and embittered, scorning the go between Pandarus, whose vitriol concludes the play.

Opening fire on Our Hearts and Ideals: Everyone is Up in Arms in Troilus and Cressida The play's structure relies on a series of juxtapositions. Shakespeare depicts an ideal and then immediately undercuts the sanctity of that ideal by showing us how word and deed do not always agree. For example, in the opening of Troilus and Cressida, Thersites announces the play is about impassioned heroism, but in the first scene we discover Troilus has no interest in fighting whatsoever: "Call here my varlet, I'll unarm again." At the end of the same scene, Troilus contradicts himself when he tells Aeneas he's ready to "join the sport abroad" and the two leave to do battle. Is Troilus really motivated to fight now, or is he only trying to appear valiant? In Act 2, Hector argues for an end to the Trojan War because Helen is not a worthy prize. However, by the end of the scene he has changed his mind: "I incline to you in resolution to keep Helen still." After having argued for a truce and then resigning himself to war, Hector reveals he has already sent a message to the Greeks, challenging one of their men to a duel. Was his original appeal to end the war just empty rhetoric? Does he sense the futility of stemming the tide of war? Has his appetite for bloodshed waned, or is it increasing? One, of the play's most memorable speeches that has sparked endless debate occurs in Act 1. Ulysses' speech on Degree sums up what many believe to be the Elizabethan worldview. Ulysses warns anarchy will prevail if hierarchical authority is undermined. Nevertheless, he contradicts himself only a few lines later when, in consultation with Nestor, he makes plans to belittle Achilles by glorifying Ajax-a man less qualified and of lower rank than Achilles. What does Shakespeare want us to think about Ulysses? Does he really value a system based on loyalty to a hierarchical order? Or is his loyalty open to question? The irony of Cressida's faithlessness reverberates throughout the play. After spending one night of bliss with Troilus and pledging her fidelity, she's whisked away to the Greek camp and within a few moments is seen kissing all the Greek soldiers. How does Shakespeare want us to read her betrayal? Is it a calculated response to impossible circumstances or the fickleness of infatuation? With this "problem play," Shakespeare tackles the murky waters of an uncertain, ambiguous world: how to reconcile the ideal and the real; word and deed; virtue and vice. The play speaks to our minds and engages our hearts. Nonetheless, it's more than just a It problem play." It's a modem play. Troilus and Cressida exhibits an existential outlook-an attitude that may surprise and challenge us, and ultimately reveal to us that our own sensibility, after two world wars and countless wars in between, is not so very different after all.