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MonkeyNotes-Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
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Notes

After the martial preparation of the Prologue, the actual beginning of the play comes as a surprise. We are introduced to the protagonist of the ‘love’ story - the young Trojan prince, Troilus. His very first words, which are also the first words of the play, introduce us to the contrast between the spirit of War and the conventions of love poetry.

The comic Pandarus’s dismissive reply, ‘Will this gear ne’er be mended?’ immediately undercuts whatever genuine romantic emotion that might have been aroused by the first lines, and throughout the scene, there is an uneasy clash of different levels of speech. The high-minded protestations of Troilus are constantly juxtaposed with the heavy obscenities of Pandarus, who is attempting to facilitate a union of the lovers - whose baking metaphor for love uses verbs like ‘grinding’, ‘bolting’, ‘kneading’ and ‘heating of the oven.’ The Troilus-Pandarus relationship is a familiar Shakespearean juxtaposition - one that is similar to the Mercutio-Romeo, Nurse-Juliet and Iago-Cassio matches.

This is basically a comic scene, and Troilus’s proclamations of love for Cressida occasionally seem ridiculously unreal as when he resorts to the brief Petrarchanism. The scene gives an insight into the character of Troilus, the naive lover, whose Platonic idealism transforms his beloved into something angelic, almost untouchable in her perfection. Nothing can compare to her. The Platonic lover who places his beloved on a pedestal, Troilus turns to the hyperbolic mode.

Shakespeare devastatingly uses the mock hero when the naive Troilus addresses. Even Apollo in his lovesickness draws parallels between the god’s pursuit of the offensively coy Daphne and his own pursuit of Cressida. That Troilus is the typical young man in love with love is established in this scene.

Yet for all its comedy - intensified by Pandarus’s presence and his frivolity, there is a current of seriousness especially when Troilus refers to the senselessness of the Trojan War and the dubious value of the prize for which it is being fought.


The scene also serves to drop some facts about other characters in the play. By bringing in Calchas - in Greek myth, Calchas, the son of Thestor has the gift of augury from Apollo, and crosses over to the Greek side, in Chaucer - one of Shakespeare’s sources for the story of Troilus and Cressida. Calchas goes over to the Greek side after he is told by Apollo Delphicus that Troy will fall to the Greeks. In the play, the audience learns from Pandarus that Cressida’s father Calchas is a traitor who went over to the Greek side and immediately they are introduced to her potential duality. The idea of Calchas’ daughter Cressida’s eventual defection is introduced in this very first scene.

When Aeneas enters bearing news that Paris has returned home after being hurt by Menelaus - Helen’s husband, Troilus says, ‘Let Paris bleed, ’tis but a scar to scorn;/Paris is gor’d with Menelaus’ horn.’ Troilus is referring to Menelaus’ cuckolded state - a cuckold is traditionally represented as having horns. So the whole conflict is fixed in terms of the sordid Paris-Helen-Menelaus triangle and to Menelaus’s shame and loss of status - something that is made clear in the later ‘kiss’ scene when he is openly sidelined and treated shoddily by the Greeks. This scene then provides a number of pointers to later scenes.

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