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Troilus and Cressida

Troilus and Cressida

Character Clues

Character Analysis

Sex and Love

In this play, characters with active sex lives are criticized for their priorities. Guys who like sex more than warfare tend to be portrayed as weak and effeminate. Troilus, for example, tells us he's "weaker than a woman's tear" (1.1.7) and not fit to fight because his love for Cressida has made him "womanish." Achilles, who would rather sleep with his lover than fight on the battlefield, is accused of "growing dainty of his worth" (1.3.145) because he spends all day "lolling" around in bed.

As for Paris? Well, he likes sex and warfare. (Hello, he's willing to war with Greece just so he can keep sleeping with Helen.) On the one hand, you could argue that because he's willing to fight, he's not portrayed as being weak or effeminate, just selfish. As King Priam points out, Paris is willing to let Trojan soldiers die because he enjoys Helen's "honey"(2.2.144). On the other hand, we could point out that he spends most of his time off the battlefield flirting with Helen, and when he does fight, he gets wounded—"gored with Menelaus' horn" to be exact (1.1.113).

What about the women in the play? Helen and Cressida both have active sex lives and they're portrayed as the cause of conflict and warfare. Every time we turn around someone is reminding us that the whole Trojan War was caused by Helen's sexual relationship with Paris. Plus, when Cressida is unfaithful to Troilus with Diomedes, both guys end up on the battlefield duking it out over her. Of course, both Helen and Cressida are portrayed as promiscuous cheaters, so the entire play calls into question whether or not an unfaithful woman is worth fighting over.

Culture

A lot of people have argued that there's a big, big difference between the Greeks and Trojans in accounts of the Trojan War. Greeks = bestial and stupid; Trojans = noble and honorable.

Well, not here, or at least not necessarily. It's true that most of the Trojans are definitely old-school when it comes to ideas about honor and romance. But that's not necessarily a good thing. They tend to be emotional instead of reasonable, which doesn't really work when you're in the middle of a big, nasty war. Case in point, they refuse to give Helen back as a matter of "honor," which ultimately leads to their downfall.

Oh, but wait a minute. What about Pandarus? He's a Trojan and there's nothing old-school or romantic about that guy. He's all about reducing Troilus and Cressida's romance to mere sex. Hmm. That's something to keep in mind, don't you think?

The Greeks, on the other hand, are never governed by romantic ideals. Some of them (like Ajax and Achilles) are total selfish meatheads who just want to roar out onto the battlefield to kick butt. Some of them (like Ulysses) are more intellectual and rational but would do just about anything for political gain. But, are the Greeks and Trojans really all that different when it comes down to it? Check out "Actions" for more on this.

Actions

A lot of characters will say one thing and then turn around and do another, whether they're Greek, Trojan, male, or female. Take Cressida. Even though she promises Troilus she'll never cheat, she hooks up with Diomedes the second she's shipped off to the Greek camp.

But Cressida isn't the only "false" character in this play. During the big debate between Priam and his sons, Hector lists a million reasons why fighting the war is a bad idea. But then, he turns around and agrees to keep fighting, even though he knows it's wrong.

What about Ulysses? He delivers a big, fancy speech about how warriors need to respect hierarchy and social order and then goes right out and sends Ajax to fight Hector, even though Achilles should be the one to fight because he's the more prestigious soldier. And Achilles promises Polyxena and Hecuba that he won't fight, but what does he do when he finds out his best friend has been killed? He rushes out to the battlefield.

The moral? Actions speak louder than "words, words, mere words" (5.3.108). Even when those words are spoken in a fancy verse like iambic pentameter.

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