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MonkeyNotes-Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
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Troilus is the only person whom the audience is allowed to watch as he involves himself emotionally both in the act of judgment and the consequences of the act. In doing that, he becomes a developed character - the only one who can be seen to change in any significant way. Because Troilus and Cressida is such a schematized play, and because Troilus himself is not really at the center of its affairs, he is not permitted to live out the consequences, but has in effect, only this scene in which to find his balance. Like Hamlet, Troilus is a young man who has received a profound shock to his moral being, but unlike Hamlet, he proceeds at once to effect his revenge if he can. He unpacks his heart with words. His triumph, in this scene, is to work out in linguistic terms something that corresponds to the moral interlude that he has seen, and in which what the spectator had thought to be love was shown to be nothing but a lust of the blood.

The comedy of seduction enacted in Calchas’ tent is an episode in a War fought in consequence of a very similar incident: Troilus is not the first to be so conspicuously betrayed. The play is addressed to an audience thoroughly familiar with the outline of the story and the reputation of all the chief actors. This general foreknowledge provides an important focus.


The whole play has shown that Troilus’ idea of Cressida and of love was founded on an illusion. The contrast between rhetoric and reality is at times so glaring as to be no longer tragic. Troilus’ infatuation has not been presented as innocently pure and ennobling, and Cressida ’s fall is less seriously moving or morally disturbing than Chaucer’s Creseyde’s. These contradictory impressions make for the peculiar complexity of the scene, which makes unusual demands on the audience’s attention and sympathy. It is also closely linked with the earlier debates about value, reputation, and the working of time, which gives added weight to Troilus’ experience.

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