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Themes

So, you probably noticed all the shout-outs to actors, play-going audiences, and even the Globe Theater. What's up with that? Well, like a lot of Shakespeare's dramas, Troilus and Cressida is really self-conscious about its status as a stage play, and it's always drawing our attention to the fact that we're watching (or reading) a dramatic performance. The trick lets Shakespeare explore all kinds of nifty stuff like: (1) the relationship between real life and the theater and (2) the relationship between the theater and politics. To complicate matters, this particular play is also all worried about its relationship to the literary classics. (Someone give it some literary Valium, please, and stat.) Shakespeare always reminds us that his play's storyline depends on a long literary tradition. Yet, at the same time, the play debunks Homer's epic account of the Trojan War by recreating characters that don't live up to their literary reputations as "heroes."

Questions About Art and Culture

  1. How does Troilus and Cressida draw our attention to the fact that we're watching a play? Why do you think Shakespeare is so self-conscious about the theater in this particular work?
  2. How does Shakespeare give a shout-out to the Globe Theater in this play? Can you think of any modern-day culture that does similar shout-outs? (Think movies and Hollywood.) 
  3. Which character acts like a "strutting player" for Achilles' entertainment? Why does this enrage the Greek leaders?
  4. How does Shakespeare question the conventions of classical mythology and literature in this play? What do you think he's trying to say?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Acting and impersonation are associated with disorder and rebellion in Troilus and Cressida.

By making all the heroes and heroines actors, Shakespeare is suggesting that we're all just playing a part.

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