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Troilus and Cressida Theme of Gender

In the world of Troilus and Cressida, men and women are expected to behave according to the kinds of gender roles that were typical in Elizabethan England at the time Shakespeare was writing this play. Basically, men are expected to excel at combat and politics if they want props from their peers. When a man refuses to fight in the Trojan War, he's accused of being "dainty," effeminate, and worthless. Women, on the other hand, are expected to be chaste, silent, and obedient. When a woman is sexually promiscuous—even if she had no choice—she's referred to as a "whore" and is seen as a threat. And if she's disobedient to her husband or father and voices an opinion of her own, she's dismissed as being "superstitious," "brain sick," or disloyal.

Questions About Gender

  1. Why does Troilus say that he is "weaker than a woman's tear"? What does that say about male and female roles in the play?
  2. How do male characters earn props from other men in this play? What about from women? Are there scenes when we see women showing their approval of men?
  3. How are the play's female characters portrayed? How do we learn about women, and what are their roles in all this war?
  4. Compare the way the Greeks treat Cressida when she arrives at camp to the way they treat Aeneas when he shows up.

Chew on This

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

Female sexuality is portrayed as dangerous and threatening in Troilus and Cressida.

In order for men to have any street cred in this play, they have to go around eating enemy soldiers for breakfast.

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