Study Guide

Hector in Troilus and Cressida

By William Shakespeare


Hector is definitely the most crush-worthy of the Trojans, at least by reputation. Most stories show him as the biggest, baddest, most honorable Trojan soldier around. In classic literature like The Iliad, Hector is the poster boy of "virtue" because he's the ultimate family man and honorable warrior.

In this play? Not so much. Let's look at all his flaws.

(1) He Yells at His Wife

He's supposed to be heroic and honorable, but the first thing we hear about him is that he recently yelled at his wife and slapped around the guy in charge of helping him with his armor: "He chid Andromache and strook his armorer" (1.2.90).

Hmm. That's not how heroes are supposed to act, is it? It looks like Hector isn't such a family man after all. This, by the way, comes back to bite him later in the play. When his wife begs him not to go to battle because she had a vision of his death (5.3.3), he blows her off and winds up getting slaughtered (5.8.10).

(2) He Totally Gives Into Peer Pressure

When it comes to politics, Hector is also kind of lame. At the big council meeting, Hector lists a boatload of terrific reasons why the Trojans should end the war. Namely, because every human "soul" that's been sacrificed to the war in the last seven years is just as "dear as Helen" (2.2.17-20).

Okay, so far so good—until he gets caught up in the idea that warfare will bring the Trojans honor and glory and agrees to keep fighting (2.2.190-193). Big mistake.

(3) He's Not All That Noble

What about Hector's rep as a warrior? He's supposed to be noble on the battlefield and in the combat arena, too, right? We're always hearing from other characters about how honorable he is because he's merciful and level headed. Here are a couple of examples:

When he throws down with Ajax, he agrees to a draw because he's not interested in killing his nephew: "Why then, I will no more," he says to Ajax, because "thou art, great lord, my father's sister's son [...] the obligation of our blood forbids / a gory emulation 'twixt us twain" (4.5.119-123). Aww. That's so sweet! We love it when characters decide NOT to kill their relatives.

And later, when Hector goes toe-to-toe with Achilles on the battlefield, he lets his opponent stop and take a breather (5.6.14-19). That's downright courteous, don't you think? Did you notice how polite and respectful the guy is whenever he encounters his noble adversaries? And just about everyone gives him props, too. Even his enemies.

So, why have we been arguing that Hector isn't all that? Because, eventually, he gets greedy and kills a soldier just because he likes the dude's shiny armor and wants to take it home and put it in his trophy case:

I like thy armour well;
I'll frush it and unlock the rivets all,
But I'll be master of it: wilt thou not,
beast, abide?
Why, then fly on, I'll hunt thee for thy hide.

When Hector chases the soldier who, by the way, is trying to run away from him, he says he'll "hunt" the guy like an animal, as if killing another soldier is some kind of sport. This makes us wonder if Thersites is right when he says that warfare is basically a mash-up between beasts (5.7.9-12).

As we know, killing the soldier for his armor turns out to be a big, big mistake. Especially since Hector decides to unarm, take a break, and brag about what he's just done. That's the perfect opportunity for Achilles to come along and hack him down (5.8.10). Check out this film version of how it goes down—although we have to say he doesn't seem too pleased with himself in this version.

(And, uh, for a slightly prettier but worse acted version of a Hector/ Achilles standoff … check out the 2004 Hollywood extravaganza Troy.)

Hero, Shmero

If Hector is the closest thing we have to a "hero" in this play, what does his death say about Shakespeare's concept of heroism? Well, he doesn't seem to think much of it. When Hector's body is dragged around the Trojan battlefield by a horse, you can almost hear Shakespeare saying, "Hey guys, here's what I think of your bloody heroism."