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A problem play by William Shakespeare, set during the Trojan War-- Shakespeare used The Iliad as a reference. It has been variously described as a tragedy, a romance, and a tragicomedy; its oddly opposite but interwoven A and B plots make it difficult to classify.

The A plot, which provides the play name, is a romance-- Troilus, a brave warrior and prince of Troy, is desperately in love with Cressida. She returns his feelings, but is playing hard to get. Troilus uses Cressida's scatterbrained uncle, Pandarus, as a go-between; as a result, Pandarus spends most of the play singing Troilus' praises (and making bawdy jokes). Eventually, Troilus woos her and they consummate their relationship. However, Cressida's father, who defected to the Greeks, exchanges her for a Trojan soldier, and so the lovers are separated. Troilus asks her to be faithful, and gives her a love token (sleeve) to remember him by. He can't bear to be apart from her, though, so when everyone gathers for a duel between the two sides (see below), he goes to visit her. He discovers, however, that she has been seduced by Diomedes, a Greek warrior. In an extended scene, he and Ulysses watch secretly as she betrays him. Infuriated, Troilus decides to kill some Greeks, yells at Pandarus, and leaves the old man wondering what he did wrong.

The B plot is more serious, and concerns the war, borrowing heavily from Homer. Agamemnon, the Greek general, is upset that Achilles is sulking in his tent and won't fight the Trojans. Ulysses and Nestor concoct a plan to get Achilles to return to battle: instead of using Achilles as their champion in a duel proposed by Hector of Troy, they send out strongman Ajax. This, they hope, will infuriate Achilles into fighting. Ajax boasts and beats up his extremely rude servant, Thersites, who snarks crassly at everyone. The duel falls through, and the next day, Hector kills Achilles' friend and lover, Patrocles. Mad with grief, Achilles hunts out Hector and kills him, dragging his body around the city.

An odd thing about Troilus and Cressida is that it doesn't end so much as stop. The drama between Troilus and Cressida, which is built up through the entire play, is never resolved; Troilus just storms off stage, and the play ends. Also, in defiance of Shakespeare's other tragedies, Troilus doesn't die at the end. The jarring juxtaposition between the political B plot and the romantic A plot is equally notable.


Troilus and Cressida provides examples of:

  • Achilles in His Tent: Literally.
  • Berserk Button: Achilles does not take kindly to Patroclus' death.
  • Cassandra Truth: With the original Cassandra!
  • Character Exaggeration
  • Character Filibuster: If Ulysses is speaking, there's a good chance it's going to be a two-page speech.
  • Darker and Edgier: Could be considered this for The Iliad. While the original is full to bursting with great Greek heroes doing great deeds, the play is a portrait of two armies mired in decadence, lechery, illness, violence, and corruption, where even young love turns sour and the final image is a syphilitic Pandarus promising to "bequeath you my diseases."
  • Doing in the Wizard: The gods do not appear.
  • Dumb Muscle: Ajax, whose lines tend to come in the form of short, uncomplicated prose exclamations. He would rather resort to violence than speech. Thersites mocks him mercilessly for it in their first scene.

 Thersites: Thou sodden-witted lord, though hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows; an asinico may tutor thee. Thou scurvy-valiant ass, thou art here but to thrash Trojans, and thou art bought and sold among those of any wit like a barbarian slave.

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