Troilus and Cressida
How we cite our quotes:
[...] From isles of Greece The princes orgulous, their high blood chafed, Have to the port of Athens sent their ships, Fraught with the ministers and instruments Of cruel war: sixty and nine, that wore Their crownets regal, from the Athenian bay Put forth toward Phrygia; (Prologue, 1-7)
Now this is interesting, Shmooperinos. The opening lines of the Prologue sound pretty grand and epic: "orgulous" (a.k.a. proud) princes of "high blood" (a.k.a. noble lineage) have sent a bunch of ships filled with the "ministers" (a.k.a. soldiers) of "cruel war" to Troy. The language makes the Trojan War seem, well, grand and important, don't you think? But then Shakespeare does something odd. He says the Greeks have sent "sixty and nine" ships to Troy. Huh?! Sixty-nine ships? That's it? Over 1100 ships are launched in Homer's Iliad, and in Christopher Marlowe's famous play, Dr. Faustus, it was more like 1000. Why the heck is Shakespeare low-balling this number? Well, here's a thought. Maybe the play is suggesting that the Trojan War isn't as epic as everyone says it is. When the Prologue deflates the number of ships launched to Troy, it anticipates the way the entire play will deflate the importance of the Trojan War and the so-called "heroes" who fought in it.
[...] and their vow is made To ransack Troy, within whose strong immures The ravish'd Helen, Menelaus' queen, With wanton Paris sleeps—and that's the quarrel. (Prologue, 7-10)
From the very beginning, this play tells us that the Trojan War is fought for one reason and one reason only: Paris ran off with "Menelaus' queen" and won't give her back—"and that's the quarrel." Wow. The entire war boils down to sexual relationships? That's quite a statement, don't you think? This idea surfaces over and over again throughout the play, so keep your eyes peeled.
Like or find fault, do as your pleasures are, Now good or bad, 'tis but the chance of war. (Prologue, 30-31)
Uh, oh. The Prologue seems to be warning us that we might "find fault" with all this Trojan War business. More importantly, when it generalizes about the "chance of war," it seems to suggest that nothing good ever really comes from any military conflict, regardless of its origins, time, or place. Maybe that's why so many modern productions of the play change the setting from Troy to, say, WWI or Iraq. The point seems to be that, when it comes down to it, all wars are alike.