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Themes

Honor and principles? No such thing. In Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare flips classic ideas about honor, valor, chivalry, and romance on their heads. Troilus and Cressida shows us a world that is corrupt and fallen. Lovers cheat, leaders manipulate and lie, and traditionally epic heroes behave badly. The "great Achilles" refuses to fight for most of the play and when he does, he kills a guy who's unarmed... and then has the body dragged through the fields by a horse. Helen, whose "price hath launch'd above a thousand ships" is nothing more than a whore. Pandarus, the go-between for Troilus and Cressida, reduces their love to mere sex with his bawdy jokes and crude matchmaking. Even Ulysses is a cutthroat manipulator and hypocrite. Nope. Nothing is sacred in this play. Well, after seven years of a basically groundless war, we'd probably have our priorities mixed up, too.

Questions About Principles

  1. According to Ulysses, why is the Greek camp so out of control? What's gone wrong with their principles?
  2. Why does Achilles refuse to come out of his tent and fight? Does he appear to have any sense of honor? If he truly is fighting because Polyxena asked him not to, does that excuse his behavior?
  3. How is Hector killed? What does this suggest about the play's attitude toward "honor"? Does Hector die with honor?
  4. Are there any real "heroes" in this play? Anyone we are supposed to admire?

Chew on This

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

Shakespeare's play takes heroic characters from classical mythology and literature (like Homer's Iliad) and turns them into a bunch of creeps.

Troilus and Cressida's bad attitude toward heroism is the exact opposite of what we find in most modern day superhero movies and comic books. In the world of Shakespeare's play, heroes simply don't exist.

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