Study Guide

Troilus and Cressida Quotes

By William Shakespeare

  • Warfare

    [...] 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.

    Call here my varlet; I'll unarm again: Why should I war without the walls of Troy, That find such cruel battle here within? Each Trojan that is master of his heart, Let him to field; Troilus, alas! hath none. (1.1.1-5)

    Someone is always drawing our attention to the relationship between warfare and love in this play. Here, Troilus compares the "cruel battle" within his heart (a.k.a. his love for Cressida) to the "war" that's being fought outside the walls of Troy. Isn't that poetic?

    Peace, you ungracious clamours! peace, rude sounds! Fools on both sides! Helen must needs be fair, When with your blood you daily paint her thus. I cannot fight upon this argument; It is too starved a subject for my sword. (1.1.88-93)

    Troilus is pretty sarcastic when he says that Helen must be "fair" (a.k.a. hot) if so many guys are willing to spill their blood for her. Here, he insists that the Trojan War isn't being fought for a good enough reason—fighting over a woman is "too starved a subject for his sword." What's interesting is that, later in the play, Troilus argues that fighting for Helen is a matter of Trojan "honor." Plus, after Cressida betrays him, Troilus is more than willing to spill blood over a personal relationship. What's up with that?

    'Deliver Helen, and all damage else— As honor, loss of time, travail, expense, Wounds, friends, and what else dear that is consumed In hot digestion of this cormorant war— Shall be struck off.' (2.2.3-7)

    Nestor's message to the Trojans is a stark reminder of the consequences of the Trojan War—the loss of countless lives, honor, time, money, and so on. We're also interested in how Nestor describes war as a "cormorant" (a.k.a. a giant bird that goes around devouring everything in sight). Something tells us that we're not in Muppet territory.

    She is a theme of honor and renown, A spur to valiant and magnanimous deeds, Whose present courage may beat down our foes, And fame in time to come canonize us; (2.2.199-201)

    Hang on a tic. In a previous passage, didn't we just hear Troilus say that Helen wasn't worth fighting for? Now he's arguing the Trojans should keep fighting? Okay. Troilus is a bit of a hypocrite. (So is just about everyone else in this play.) But what's even more interesting to us is the fact that Troilus says Helen is a "theme of honor." Translation: Helen is just an excuse for the Trojans to keep fighting in order to gain "honor and renown" by carrying out "valiant and magnanimous deeds" on the battlefield. In other words, Helen is really beside the point. Gee, women can't do anything right in this play.

    Here is such patchery, such juggling and such knavery! all the argument is a cuckold and a whore; a good quarrel to draw emulous factions and bleed to death upon. (2.3.70-73)

    Thersites is pretty crude when he reduces the origins of the Trojan war to "a cuckold and a whore" (Menelaus and Helen). And, although nobody else in this play is quite as vile and nasty and Thersites, this is an argument we hear over and over throughout Troilus and Cressida. We're starting to wonder if Thersites is supposed to be the play's official spokesperson.

    The cuckold and the cuckold-maker are at it. Now, bull! now, dog! 'Loo, Paris, 'loo! now my double- henned sparrow! 'loo, Paris, 'loo! The bull has the game: ware horns, ho! (5.7.9-12)

    When Thersites describes the man-to-man combat between Paris ("the cuckold maker") and Menelaus ("the cuckold"), he describes the action as though it's a bull-baiting contest. Bull-baiting was an Elizabethan blood sport that involved setting a pack of dogs on a chained up bull. (Kind of like bear-baiting, except … with a bull.) So, basically, Thersites reduces the epic battlefield to a bull-baiting arena. In the process, he reduces the actions of so-called heroic warriors to the actions of, well, animals.

    Stand, stand, thou Greek; thou art a goodly mark: No? wilt thou not? 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. (5.6.27-31)

    Here, Hector reduces the war to a brawl between animals, although unintentionally. When he chases a soldier who tries 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 idea of war as a game is reinforced by the fact that Hector initially wants to kill the soldier so he can take his "armour" as a trophy.

  • Love

    The Greeks are strong and skilful to their strength, Fierce to their skill and to their fierceness valiant; But I am weaker than a woman's tear, Tamer than sleep, fonder than ignorance, Less valiant than the virgin in the night And skilless as unpracticed infancy. (1.1.7-12)

    If this were an opera—oh look, it is—Troilus would totally be the tenor, the wimpy guy who can't stop talking about love. And he knows it. He associates love with effeminacy and warfare with masculinity. Here, he says the Greeks are "strong," "fierce," and "valiant" because they're willing to fight. He, on the other hand, feels like he's "weaker than a woman's tear" because he's too preoccupied with his desire for Cressida to fight in the Trojan War. In other words, Troilus thinks love turns men into wimps, which is something we hear from a lot of Shakespearean characters. (Go talk to Romeo or Hotspur if you don't believe us.)

    I tell thee I am mad In Cressid's love; thou answer'st she is fair, Pourest in the open ulcer of my heart Her eyes, her hair, her cheek, her gait, her voice, [...] Thou lay'st every gash that love hath given me The knife that made it. (1.1.51-63)

    Can you hear us rolling our eyes? At this point in the play, Troilus sounds like a typical "Petrarchan lover," moping around and around sighing dramatically about fact that his crush doesn't know he exists. This kind of guy also spends a lot of time talking about his lady's individual body parts (eyes, hair, cheeks, lips, breasts, and so on). Plus, he usually runs around declaring that his love is totally killing him. Sound like Troilus? We think so. This was sort of a cliché by Shakespeare's time, so Troilus is meant to sound a little dramatic and silly. One more thing, Shmoopers. We also want to point out how all this talk about the "open ulcer" of Troilus's heart anticipates the play's emphasis on diseases—especially sexually transmitted diseases. Go to "Symbols" for more on this.

    Let Paris bleed, 'tis but a scar to scorn; Paris gor'd with Menelaus' horn. (1.1.111-112)

    We can't get through a single Shakespeare play without a reference to cuckoldry (when a wife cheats on her husband). Also penises. When Troilus finds out that Menelaus wounded Paris in battle, he says that Paris was probably "gor'd" with a "horn." As we know, horns are a common symbol for cuckolded husbands. In other words, Troilus thinks Paris deserves what he gets for stealing another guy's wife. We should also point out that the image of Paris getting "gored" with Menelaus' "horn" is often read as a reference to rape.

    Yet hold I off. Women are angels, wooing: Things won are done; joy's soul lies in the doing. That she beloved knows nought that knows not this: Men prize the thing ungain'd more than it is: (1.2.286-289)

    Why buy the cow if the milk is free, right? Well, Shakespeare may have gussied that sentiment up, but he's basically saying the same thing here. Cressida tells us that she's been playing hard to get with Troilus because she's afraid he won't value her as much once he sleeps with her. So—deceptive whore, or smart and savvy lady who's playing by the rules her society dictated to her? You decide.

    After this, the vengeance on the whole camp! or rather, the Neapoli- tan bone-ache! for that methinks, is the curse depend ing on those that war for a placket. (2.3.17-20)

    References to syphilis really undermine the idea of love, twue love. Here, Thersites says he hopes that the whole army gets the "Neapolitan bone-ache" (a.k.a. syphilis) because they've agreed to fight over a "placket" (a crude term for a woman). At the same time, Thersites also manages to remind us that he thinks Paris's relationship with Helen is based purely on sexual desire, not love.

    I am giddy; expectation whirls me round. The imaginary relish is so sweet That it enchants my sense: what will it be, When that the watery palate tastes indeed Love's thrice repured nectar? (3.2.18-22)

    As Troilus waits for Pandarus to bring him and Cressida together, he tells us he's so excited about finally hooking up with Cressida that he's salivating just thinking about what it's going to be like to finally "taste" her sweet "nectar." This isn't the first time Troilus's desire is linked to food. Earlier in the play, Pandarus compared his pursuit of Cressida to baking a "cake" (1.1.15). In other words, Troilus' love may be nothing more than sexual appetite. Check out "Symbols" for more on this.

    Come, come, what need you blush? Shame's a baby. Here she is now, swear the oaths now to her that you have sworn to me. [...] So, so, rub on and kiss the mistress [...] Go to, go to. (3.2.40-53)

    Hey, cool it Pandarus! This guy is always reducing Troilus and Cressida's relationship to nothing more than sex. Here, he tries to rush them to the bedroom instead of allowing them to talk for even a few moments. It's no wonder Cressida calls her uncle a "bawd" (a.k.a. "pimp").

    Will you walk in, my lord? (3.2.60)

    When Cressida invites Troilus inside her house, she uses a phrase commonly associated with Elizabethan prostitutes—not once, but twice. This reinforces the idea that the relationship between the famous lovebirds isn't actually about love.

    This is the most despiteful gentle greeting, The noblest hateful love, that e'er I heard of. (4.2.33-34)

    This isn't the first time we've seen the play emphasize the relationship between love and conflict, right? Here, Paris describes the relationship between opposing warriors as "noblest hateful love." Translation? Total frenemies, except the good kind. (We guess?) Guys like Aeneas and Diomedes may be on opposite sides of the war, but they've got a lot of "love" and respect for each other as warriors. Most of the guys in this play seem to value this kind of male bonding more than other "love" based relationships.

    The [...] orts of her love, The fragments, scraps, the bits and greasy relics Of her o'er-eaten faith, are given to Diomed." (5.2.158-160)

    Um. Gross. When Cressida betrays Troilus with Diomedes, Troilus compares Cressida's love to "scraps" and "bits of greasy" food leftovers. Yep. That's about as crude as saying something like Diomedes is getting "sloppy seconds" or that he's getting leftovers that someone else (a.k.a. Troilus) has puked up.

  • Principles

    [...] Hector, whose patience Is, as a virtue, fix'd, to-day was mov'd: He chid Andromache and struck his armorer, (1.2.4-6)

    We just love it when Shakespeare's characters gossip, because it makes our job so much easier. Here, we find out that the great Hector flipped out on his way to the battlefield and yelled at his wife... after he smacked around the guy who helps him arm for battle. Why does this matter? Well, in classic literature like The Iliad, Hector is the poster boy of "virtue" because he's the ultimate family man / honorable warrior. In this play? Not so much.

    ALEXANDER
    They say he is a very man per se and stands alone.

    CRESSIDA
    So do all men, unless th' are drunk, sick, or have no legs. (1.2.15-16)

    When Alexander gives Ajax props for being the poster boy for manly independence and heroic self-sufficiency, Cressida cracks a joke that undermines the whole idea of heroism. Standing alone? A 12-month-old can do it.

    The great Achilles, whom opinion crowns The sinew and the forehead of our host, Having his ear full of his airy frame, grows dainty of his worth, and in his tent Lies mocking our designs. With him Patroclus Upon a lazy bed the livelong day (1.3.142-147)

    Uh, oh. This doesn't sound good at all, Shmoopers. Here, we find out that the "great Achilles" (the dude who eats Trojan soldiers for breakfast in Homer's Iliad) has got a big head and thinks he's too awesome for his own good. Not only that, but the guy spends the "livelong day" in a "lazy bed" with his lover Patroclus instead of going out to the battlefield to fight. And he doesn't even bother to give the military leaders a good excuse. That doesn't sound like heroic behavior, does it?

    I have a young conception in my brain, Be you my time to bring it to shape. (1.3.312-313)

    Mere moments after Ulysses delivers a big, fancy speech about the importance of social hierarchy and respect for authority (1.3.75-137), he hatches a scheme to trick Achilles back onto the battlefield by making him jealous of Ajax, who is being sent to fight Hector in man-to-man combat despite the fact that Achilles is the better man. We know that Ulysses has got a literary rep for being all crafty (especially in the Iliad), but Shakespeare makes the dude downright hypocritical in this play.

    But I would have the soil of her fair rape Wip'd off, in honorable keeping her. What treason were it to the ransack'd queen, Disgrace to your great worths, and shame to me, Now to deliver her possession up On terms of base compulsion! (2.2.148-153)

    When Paris argues that the Trojans should never give Helen back to the Greeks, he doesn't exactly sound like an honorable guy, does he? Here, he acknowledges the fact that the kidnapping ("rape") of "fair" Helen has brought about some kind of dishonor ("soil"). But, he thinks that if he can keep her, it will somehow erase the dishonor he caused when he captured her in the first place. That's some pretty fuzzy logic.

    [...] But, worthy Hector, She is the theme of honor and renown, A spur to valiant and magnanimous deeds, Whose present courage may beat down our foes, And fame in time to come canonize us. (2.2.198-202)

    Troilus thinks that defending the Trojans' right to keep Helen will bring "honor" and "fame." Here, he looks to the future and insists that the war will memorialize ("canonize") the Trojans as heroes. This is pretty ironic. Shakespeare is memorializing the Trojans, all right, but there's nothing "valiant and magnanimous" about the way he's portraying them.

    I am yours, You valiant offspring of great Priamus. (2.2.207-208)

    Up until now, Hector has been arguing pretty fiercely with his brothers that they should send Helen back to Greece ASAP. But here, he gives in and agrees to keep fighting, despite the million and one reasons he listed for ending the terrible war. Hector may be the most respected of all the Trojans, but that isn't really saying much. Shakespeare shows us over and over that Hector is a hypocrite no better than anyone else (which means, he's pretty bad).

    What, blushing still? have you not done talking yet? (3.2.100-101)

    Despite Troilus' chivalric declarations of his "love" for Cressida, Pandarus always reduces the relationship to the mere sex. Instead of letting the lovers talk to each other, he rushes them off to the bedroom. You'd almost think he was the one about to enjoy Cressida's honey.

    Hold thy whore, Grecian!—now for thy whore, Trojan!—now the sleeve, now the sleeve! (5.4.24-25)

    When Troilus and Diomedes engage in man-to-man combat, Thersites doesn't see anything noble or chivalric about it. He insists that both men are simply fighting over a "whore" as he eggs them on. And guess what? We think Shakespeare probably agrees with him.

    HECTOR
    I am unarm'd; forego this vantage, Greek.

    ACHILLES
    Strike, fellows, strike; this is the man I seek. (5.8.9-10)

    Moments after killing a Greek soldier for his shiny armor, Hector unarms and takes a break from battle. That's when Achilles shows up with his gang of Myrmidons. Everyone knows there's nothing honorable about killing a guy who's "unarm'd" on the battlefield, but Achilles doesn't actually care at this point. So, when Achilles goes after Hector here, it's the ultimate dishonorable action. But wait. It gets worse.

    He's dead, and at the murtherer's horse's tail, In beastly sort, dragg'd through the shameful field. (5.10.4-5)

    After Hector is slaughtered, Achilles orders his body tied to a horse and dragged around the battlefield. This is majorly dishonorable, guys. Troilus uses the word "beastly" to describe what happens, although we don't think any animals could be so spiteful. Except maybe cats.

  • Philosophical Viewpoints

    Her bed is India; there she lies, a pearl: Between our Ilium and where she resides, Let it be call'd the wild and wandering flood, Ourself the merchant, and this sailing Pandar Our doubtful hope, our convoy and our bark. (1.1.100-104)

    Troilus is head over heels for Cressida. But, what's weird is that he sees himself as a "merchant" who is embarking on some kind of business venture (with Pandarus as a go-between). What does that make Cressida? A commodity. According to Troilus, she's a "pearl" that he'd be willing to sail across the ocean to get his hands on. Throughout the play, Troilus will use this same kind of marketplace language to describe why women like Cressida and Helen are so "valuable" to men like him and Paris. And Cressida is wise to this. When she calls her uncle Pandarus a "bawd" she points out how she is basically being trafficked to Troilus by a man who is acting like her "pimp."

    Things won are done, joy's soul lies in the doing. That she belov'd now knows nought that knows nought this: Men prize the thing ungain'd more than it is. (1.2.287-289)

    This is where Cressida explains why she's been playing hard to get with Troilus: she's afraid that he won't value or "prize" her anymore after he's had sex with her. The idea that women lose their "value" after they've had sex with a man is an idea that's repeated throughout the play. (And, uh, in a lot of other places, too.)

    Therefore 'tis meet Achilles meet not Hector. Let us, like merchants, show our foulest wares, And think, perchance, they'll sell; if not, The lustre of the better yet to show, Shall show the better. Do not consent That ever Hector and Achilles meet; For both our honor and our shame in this Are dogg'd with two strange followers. (1.3.357-364)

    Ulysses uses the language of selling and bartering to explain why the Greeks should send Ajax to battle Hector instead of the great Achilles. Basically, he compares himself and the other military leaders to "merchants" or businessmen who are trying to "sell" their products by showing a customer their "foul wares" (a.k.a. Ajax) first so that when they bring out the really good stuff (Achilles), it will look that much better to the consumer. Used car salesman, much?

    Brother, she is not worth what she doth cost The keeping. (2.2.51-52)

    Hector and his brothers and father spend a whole lot of time arguing about whether or not Helen has any "value" to them and whether or not she's "worth" all the lives that have been sacrificed to the war. Wow, talk about familial love.

    What's aught but as 'tis valued? (2.2.52)

    Highlighter time, because this passage is super important. Here, Troilus argues that a person's "value" is in the eye of the beholder or, the person doing the valuing. According to Troilus, nothing has an inherent value that is automatically built in from the get-go. It depends on what it's worth to the people who take it upon themselves to assign value to it. In other words, Troilus argues that Helen's "worth" depends on whether or not the Trojans "value" her. (Kind of like a skateboard or a bike that can be won on eBay if you think it's worth more than what other people are willing to bid.) That's a pretty depressing and dangerous thought. This basically explains how and why the Greeks and Trojans can treat people (especially women) like objects that can be stolen, bought, and bartered for.

    We turn not back the silks upon the merchant When we have soil'd them, (2.2.69-70)

    Here, Troilus compares Helen to some silk fabric that's been stained. The idea is that Helen is like a product in the marketplace that can be bought, sold, and stolen—and ruined by previous owners. The "soil" suggests that her sex life has somehow ruined her.

    [...] Why, she is a pearl, Whose price hath launch'd above a thousand ships, and turned crown'd kings to merchants. (2.2.81-83)

    Okay. Now Helen is an expensive "pearl"? We told you she's portrayed as a product. What's interesting is that Troilus also compares his girl Cressida to a "pearl" earlier in the play. What's up with that? Oh, yeah, these guys are all awful.

    You have a Trojan prisoner, call'd Antenor, Yesterday took: Troy holds him very dear. Oft have you—often have you thanks therefore— Desired my Cressid in right great exchange, Whom Troy hath still denied: but this Antenor, I know, is such a wrest in their affairs That their negotiations all must slack, Wanting his manage; and they will almost Give us a prince of blood, a son of Priam, In change of him: (3.3.19-28)

    When Calchas arranges for his daughter Cressida to be "exchange[d]" for a Trojan prisoner named Antenor, he reconfirms the notion that Cressida is an object that can be simply traded between men. We also want to point out that, in this passage, it's not just a woman who is being treated like merchandise. Antenor is a guy, and it's pretty clear that the Trojans value him because they'd probably give up a prince in exchange for him. Although, we should point out that Cressida is valued for her sexual appeal. That's not the case for Antenor, who is worth something because of his political connections.

    What, am I poor of late? [...] Save these men's looks, who do methinks find out Some thing not worth in me such right beholding As they have often give. (3.3.74-91)

    Achilles is afraid that he's no longer valued by his fellow Greeks because nobody is giving him props like they used to. In other words, he thinks his value as a person depends on whether or not other people think he's worth something. This is pretty much what Troilus argues earlier in the play when he asks, "What's aught but as 'tis valued?" (2.2.52).

    [...] no man is the lord of any thing, Though in and of him there be much consisting, Till he communicate his parts to others: Nor doth he of himself know them for aught Till he behold them form'd in the applause Where they're extended; (3.3.96-101)

    Ulysses wants Achilles to feel worthless so the guy will get back out on the battlefield. That's why he tells him he's reading a book that says a man is only as good as his reputation. (Which, seriously? Achilles falls for this?) If a man doesn't have a lot of friends and admirers to give him props, then he's totally worthless. Clever Ulysses, because this confirms what Achilles already believes.

  • Politics (vs. Personal Life)

    The ravish'd Helen, Menelaus' queen, With wanton Paris sleeps; and that's the quarrel. (Prologue, 9-10)

    From the very beginning we're told that Paris' personal relationship with Helen is the root cause of the Trojan War. Notice how "Helen" is the subject of the sentence, though? It sure sounds like they're blaming her—when it really sounds like they should be blaming him.

    Why should I war without the walls of Troy, That find such cruel battle here within? Each Trojan that is master of his heart, Let him to field; Troilus, alas! hath none. (1.1.2-5)

    The first time we hear from Troilus, he tells us that he feels torn between his personal life (his love for Cressida) and his public duty (his service in the military). Way to set the tone, Shakespeare.

    Fools on both sides, Helen must needs be fair, When with your blood you daily paint her thus. I cannot fight upon this argument; It is too starv'd a subject for my sword. (1.1.90-93)

    Hmm. Troilus raises a pretty good question here, don't you think? Why are so many men willing to risk their lives to fight in a war just so that Paris can continue his affair with Helen?

    I do not care whether you do or no. She's a fool to stay behind her father; let her to the Greeks; and so I'll tell her the next time I see her: for my part, I'll meddle nor make no more i' the matter. (1.1.80-83)

    Although Cressida's dad (Calchas) has betrayed the Trojans and gone over to the Greek side, Cressida has chosen loyalty to her country (and maybe to Troilus?) over loyalty to her father. Too bad that she doesn't actually have a say in the matter.

    The great Achilles, [...] Grows dainty of his worth, and in his tent Lies mocking our designs: with him Patroclus Upon a lazy bed the livelong day. (1.3.142-147)

    We're always hearing about how the formerly "great Achilles" neglects his political and military duties. Instead of fighting on the battlefield, he spends all his time in bed with his lover. Way to totally ignore your duties, man.

    Paris, you speak Like one besotted on your own sweet delights. You have the honey still, but these the gall; (2.2.142-144)

    Here, Priam reminds his son Paris that while he gets to enjoy Helen's "honey," the rest of the Trojan army has nothing but "gall" (bitterness) for their efforts in the war. In other words, Paris is letting the Trojans suffer in the interests of his own personal pleasure. Not cool. Too bad Paris stopped listening to his dad a long time ago.

    ACHILLES
    Of this my privacy I have strong reasons.

    ULYSSES
    But 'gainst your privacy
    The reasons are more potent and heroical:
    'Tis known, Achilles, that you are in love
    With one of Priam's daughters. (3.3.190-194)

    Achilles defends his decision not to fight in the war by citing personal and "private" reasons. But what are these "reasons," exactly? Earlier in the play, we're told that Achilles is too busy getting it on with his lover Patroclus to fight in the war (1.3.146-147). But here, Ulysses claims that Achilles refuses to fight because he's in love with Polyxena. (Later, we'll learn that Achilles promised her he would stay off the battlefield.) Either way, Achilles comes under attack in this play for neglecting his military duties.

    When fame shall in our islands sound her trump, And all the Greekish girls shall tripping sing, 'Great Hector's sister did Achilles win, But our great Ajax bravely beat down him.' (3.3.211-214)

    Ulysses tries to use a little reverse psychology on Achilles. Here, he claims that Achilles' personal reputation will suffer if he doesn't get back out on the battlefield ASAP and fulfill his political obligations. And you know what? It totally works.

    AENEAS
    That I assure you:
    Troilus had rather Troy were borne to Greece
    Than Cressid borne from Troy.

    PARIS
    There is no help;
    The bitter disposition of the time
    Will have it so. On, lord; we'll follow you. (4.1.47-52)

    There's a real pass-the-buck mentality at work here. As we know, Troilus and Cressida's romance is thwarted because the politics of warfare get in the way when Cressida is traded to the Greeks for a Trojan prisoner. Here, Paris says there's nothing that can be done about it because the "bitter disposition" of war dictates that the political exchange must be made.

    O, courage, courage, princes! great Achilles Is arming, weeping, cursing, vowing vengeance: Patroclus' wounds have roused his drowsy blood, (5.5.30-32)

    It turns out that the only thing that can "rouse" Achilles to action on behalf of his country is a very personal matter—the death of his best friend and lover, Patroclus. Well, we get that. But it's too bad he didn't get out of his tent earlier, right? Maybe Patroclus would still be alive.

  • Art and Culture

    [...] and hither am I come A prologue arm'd, but not in confidence Of author's pen or actor's voice, but suited In like conditions as our argument, To tell you, fair beholders, (Prologue, 22-26)

    Shakespeare loves drawing his audience's attention to the fact that we're watching a play. Here, the Prologue talks to us (the "fair beholders") directly and confesses that he doesn't have complete knowledge of what's going to happen in the play. He says he's not in "confidence" of Shakespeare's "pen," which means, the Prologue is not omniscient or "all knowing." But wait a minute. Who cares what the Prologue does or doesn't know? Anyone who knows about the Trojan War or who has read Chaucer's famous poem (Troilus and Criseyde) already knows exactly what's going to happen in this play. Cressida will cheat on Troilus and Achilles will slaughter Hector. Eventually, Troy will "burn" (even though we don't see it in this play). So, Shakespeare knows that we know what will go down. And why does that matter?

    [...] our play Leaps o'er the vaunt and firstlings of those broils, Beginning in the middle, starting thence away To what may be digested in a play. Like or find fault; do as your pleasures are: Now good or bad, 'tis but the chance of war. (Prologue. 27-31)

    When the Prologue says we're beginning our story "in the middle" of the action, it reminds us that we're watching a play with some serious roots in the classical literary tradition. As we know, Shakespeare bases most of the Trojan War material in this play on Homer's Iliad, which also famously starts off "in the middle" of things. (The fancy technical name for this is in medias res. It's how writers kick off other epic poems like The Odyssey, The Aeneid, and Paradise Lost.)

    [...] the bounded waters Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores And make a sop of all this solid globe: (1.3.111-113)

    Did you notice the major shout-out to the famous Globe Theater in this passage? During Ulysses' big speech about why social order and hierarchy (a.k.a. "degree") is so important, he says that if you take away social hierarchy, then chaos will ensue and the land and seas (a.k.a. the globe) will become all mushed together. At the same time, there's a reference to the theater and Shakespeare's play-going audience here because the passage also suggests that taking away social hierarchy will make the Globe Theater's audience cry, flooding the theater with their tears. But we seriously doubt that Shakespeare's audience (especially the rowdy "groundlings") would boo-hoo about the loss of social order.

    And with ridiculous and awkward action, Which, slanderer, he imitation calls, He pageants us. Sometime, great Agamemnon, Thy topless deputation he puts on, And, like a strutting player, whose conceit Lies in his hamstring, and doth think it rich To hear the wooden dialogue and sound 'Twixt his stretch'd footing and the scaffoldage (1.3.149-156)

    Hmm. This is interesting. When Patroclus imitates and makes fun of the Greek leaders like a "strutting player" (a.k.a. an Elizabethan actor), Shakespeare aligns his rebellious behavior with his own stomping grounds, the theater. In other words, Patroclus is doing in his tent exactly what the actors performing Troilus and Cressida are doing on stage—taking infamous warriors, heroes, and lovers from mythology and literature and then "pageant[ing]" them on a stage.

    [...] At this fusty stuff The large Achilles, on his press'd bed lolling, From his deep chest laughs out a loud applause; Cries 'Excellent! 'tis Agamemnon just. Now play me Nestor; hem, and stroke thy beard, As he being drest to some oration.' (1.3.161-166)

    Patroclus doesn't just act like a "strutting player" because he doesn't have anything better to do. When he makes fun of the Greek military leaders, he's got an audience (Achilles), who applauds and begs for more. Why does that matter? Because Shakespeare has a habit of drawing his audience's attention to the relationship between professional acting and rebellion. Yep. In the 16th and 17th centuries, theaters were associated with rebellion. Elizabethan playwrights and actors could get into a lot of trouble for criticizing and making fun of important political and military leaders (like the monarch) on stage and government officials were always censoring plays. This entire scene is a reminder of that.

    They say all lovers swear more performance than they are able, and yet reserve an ability that they never perform, vowing more than the perfection of ten and discharging less than the tenth part of one (3.2.72-75).

    Oh, the irony! Here, Cressida says that all lovers make promises they can't keep. Ah-hem. As we know, Cressida most definitely does not keep her promise to be faithful to Troilus. What's interesting is the way Cressida associates love with "performance," or acting. This sort of makes us wonder if all of Cressida's declarations of love for Troilus are just one big act. What do you think?

    PANDARUS
    If ever you prove false one to another, since I have
    taken such pains to bring you together, let all
    pitiful goers-between be called to the world's end
    after my name; call them all Pandars; let all
    constant men be Troiluses, all false women Cressids,
    and all brokers-between Pandars! Say, amen.

    TROILUS
    Amen

    CRESSIDA
    Amen (3.3.199-206)

    Remember how we said that Shakespeare knows that we know what's going to happen in his play and that he uses it to his advantage when he puts ironic statements in his characters' mouths? Well, here's a perfect example. When Pandarus says that if Troilus and Cressida break their promise to each other, all future go-betweens should be called "Pandars," all future cheaters should be called "Cressids" and all faithful lovers should be called "Troiluses"? Well, that is exactly what will happen. In fact, by the time Shakespeare wrote this play, it already had happened, because Chaucer made the lovers' story famous in a poem. Yep, this is irony all right.

    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. (5.6.27-31)

    In the previous passage, we saw that some of Shakespeare's characters (like Pandarus, Troilus and Cressida) live up to their literary reputations. But here, we can see that some characters don't live up to their literary and historic identities. That's because Shakespeare takes some important heroes from mythology and epic literature and turns them into seriously flawed characters. In this passage, we see that Hector isn't exactly the honorable soldier that Homer made him out to be in the Iliad. Hello. He kills a man who is trying to run away from him because he wants the dude's armor. So, even though this play depends on a long literary tradition for its material, Shakespeare often debunks the myths that turned the story of the Trojan War into a heroic epic.

    ULYSSES
    You shake, my lord, at something: will you go?
    You will break out.

    TROILUS
    She strokes his cheek!

    ULYSSES
    Come, come.

    TROILUS
    Nay, stay; by Jove, I will not speak a word:
    There is between my will and all offences
    A guard of patience: stay a little while. (5.2.50-54)

    This is where Troilus and Ulysses watch from a hiding spot as Cressida agrees to become Diomedes' lover. Notice how Troilus is placed in the same position as the audience? We both see and hear Cressida's betrayal from a distance, even though we don't really have much access to her motives or thoughts at this point. The effect of this is that we tend to identify with Troilus, because it's as if we're standing right next to him as he watches Cressida betray him.

    The cuckold and the cuckold-maker are at it. Now, bull! now, dog! 'Loo, Paris, 'loo! now my double- henned sparrow! 'loo, Paris, 'loo! The bull has the game: ware horns, ho! (5.7.9-12)

    When Thersites describes the man-to-man combat between Paris ("the cuckold maker") and Menelaus ("the cuckold"), he describes the action as though it's a bull-baiting contest, an Elizabethan blood sport that involved setting a pack of dogs on a chained bull. (The Elizabethans preferred baiting bears but bears were more expensive and harder to come by. So, you know, they made do.) So, basically, Thersites reduces the epic battlefield to a bull-baiting arena. And another thing: bull-baiting and Elizabethan theater went hand in hand back in the day. That's because bull-baiting contests were held in the same neighborhoods as the theaters. In fact, patrons could make an entire afternoon out of watching a bull-baiting contest and then heading on over to the theater to catch a play. Fun times!

  • Time

    [...] our play Leaps o'er the vaunt and firstlings of those broils Beginning in the middle, starting thence away To what may be digested in this play. (Prologue, 26-29)

    Shakespeare knows he's got a big challenge ahead of him in this play. How do you cram the events of a ten-year Trojan War into a two-hour play? Well, you don't. That's why Shakespeare "leaps" over the first seven years of warfare and starts his story "in the middle" of the action. Starting a story like this is a technique called in medias res (in the middle of things). One of the most famous examples of beginning in medias res is in Homer's Iliad, which is Shakespeare's main source for this play.

    'Deliver Helen, and all damage else— As honor, loss of time, travail, expense, Wounds, friends, and what else dear that is consumed In hot digestion of this cormorant war—' (2.2.3-6)

    Shakespeare never lets us forget that the Trojan War has been a long, drawn out series of battles that's resulted in a "loss" of "time," not to mention money, human lives, and honor. You know. Like a lot of wars.

    She is a theme of honor and renown, A spur to valiant and magnanimous deeds, Whose present courage may beat down our foes, And fame in time to come canonize us; (2.2.199-202)

    Okay, time for something important. Here, Troilus says that fighting to keep Helen is going to bring the Trojans "honor and renown" that will make them famous "in time to come." Why is this important? Because when characters look to the future and predict how their actions will make the Greeks and Trojans go down in history, Shakespeare is drawing our attention to the process of myth making. P.S. The events of the play go down in just four days.

    Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back, Wherein he puts alms for oblivion, A great-sized monster of ingratitudes: Those scraps are good deeds past; which are devour'd As fast as they are made, forgot as soon As done: (3.3.145-150)

    This is where Ulysses says that nobody thinks Achilles is awesome anymore because the guy hasn't performed any valiant deeds on the battlefield lately. The imagery Ulysses uses is pretty astonishing in this passage. He describes Time as though it's a huge, devouring monster that eats up a warrior's past "good deeds." Yikes! Ulysses is basically saying something like this: "Tick-tock, Achilles. You better get back on the battlefield ASAP before everyone forgets you and there's nothing left of your honor."

    For time is like a fashionable host That slightly shakes his parting guest by the hand, And with his arms outstretch'd, as he would fly, Grasps in the comer: welcome ever smiles, And farewell goes out sighing. (3.3.165-169)

    As he urges Achilles to get back on the battlefield before everyone forgets his past heroic deeds, Ulysses really ups the imagery. Here, he describes Time as a person "with his arms outstretch'd, as he would fly." The idea is that Time is just like a fickle person who goes through friends or lovers faster than we change our socks. In this way, Time is portrayed as an unfaithful person. (Kind of like Cressida, right?) There's also a play here on the famous Latin phrase "tempus fugit," or "time flies."

    For beauty, wit, High birth, vigour of bone, desert in service, Love, friendship, charity, are subjects all To envious and calumniating time. One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. (3.3.171-175)

    Human morality is 100%. In other words, all humans share the same destiny—death. It's only a matter of time before we all die, regardless of how beautiful, smart, rich, or healthy we are. What's interesting about this passage is how "time" is described as being "envious and calumniating," as if "time" is a jealous person who is out to destroy the lives and reputations of all mankind. Pretty scary, don't you think?

    TROILUS
    O Cressida! but that the busy day,
    Waked by the lark, hath roused the ribald crows,
    And dreaming night will hide our joys no longer,
    I would not from thee.

    CRESSIDA
    Night hath been too brief.

    TROILUS
    Beshrew the witch! with venomous wights she stays
    As tediously as hell, but flies the grasps of love
    With wings more momentary-swift than thought.
    You will catch cold, and curse me.

    CRESSIDA
    Prithee, tarry:
    You men will never tarry. (4.2.8-16)

    Don't you hate it when your one-night stand won't even make you breakfast in the morning? Even though it's clear that Troilus isn't happy about leaving, he's still pretty eager to get on with his "busy day," despite the fact that he says the night has "been too brief."

    Time, force, and death, Do to this body what extremes you can; But the strong base and building of my love Is as the very centre of the earth, Drawing all things to it. (4.2.101-105)

    Cressida sees her love as something that's strong enough to resist "Time" or "death," even if her physical body will eventually grow old and die. This is ironic, of course, because she betrays Troilus about a nanosecond after she promises she'll be true to him forever. Still, the idea that love is timeless is pretty appealing.

    Injurious time now with a robber's haste Crams his rich thievery up, he knows not how: (4.4.43-44)

    When Cressida is taken away from him, Troilus declares that time has robbed him of his love. Later, when he finds out that she is unfaithful to him, he says "Never did young man fancy / with so external and so fixed a soul" (5.2.166-167). It almost seems like Troilus thinks that time can make Cressida into two different people—the faithful girl of the past and the unfaithful girl of the present.

    HECTOR
    Let me embrace thee, good old chronicle,
    That hast so long walk'd hand in hand with time:
    Most reverend Nestor, I am glad to clasp thee.

    NESTOR
    I would my arms could match thee in contention,
    As they contend with thee in courtesy.
    [...]
    I have seen the time. (4.5.202-210)

    Because old Nestor has "seen the time," (he's super old), he's portrayed as a storehouse of history (a.k.a. a "chronicle"). As such, he's a figure to be admired, respected, and cherished—but that doesn't mean they're not going to make fun of the way he strokes his beard.

    [...] the end crowns all, And that old common arbitrator, Time, Will one day end it. (4.5.224-226)

    Here, Hector drops in a famous Latin proverb: finis coronat opus, which means "the end crowns the work," but with a little twist. He says that the "end" is brought about by Time (not the gods, fate, or some other outside force)—as if they're moving toward an inevitable fate that cannot be avoided. Hm, almost makes you wonder why you bother getting up in the morning.

  • Gender

    AENEAS
    How now, Prince Troilus! wherefore not afield?

    TROILUS
    Because not there: this woman's answer sorts,
    For womanish it is to be from thence. (1.1.104-106)

    This isn't the first time we hear Troilus say that falling in love has made him a girly wimp. Here, he says that he's "womanish" for not being out on the battlefield. A few lines earlier, he confesses that he doesn't want to fight in the war because he's so in love with Cressida and declares "I am weaker than a woman's tear" (1.1.9). The idea that participating in warfare makes one a "man" and that falling in love makes one effeminate is something that shows up all over this play.

    The great Achilles, whom opinion crowns The sinew and the forehead of our host, Having his ear full of his airy frame, grows dainty of his worth, and in his tent Lies mocking our designs. With him Patroclus Upon a lazy bed the livelong day (1.3.142-147)

    There's a lot of pressure on men to engage in battle in this play. Even the "great Achilles" is accused of being effeminate when he refuses to leave his tent and fight in the Trojan War. Here, Ulysses claims that Achilles has become "dainty" because he hasn't seen combat lately and spends all his time hooking up with his lover.

    If there be one among the fair'st of Greece That holds his honour higher than his ease, That seeks his praise more than he fears his peril, That knows his valour, and knows not his fear, That loves his mistress more than in confession, With truant vows to her own lips he loves, And dare avow her beauty and her worth In other arms than hers,—to him this challenge. Hector, in view of Trojans and of Greeks, Shall make it good, or do his best to do it, He hath a lady, wiser, fairer, truer, Than ever Greek did compass in his arms, And will to-morrow with his trumpet call Midway between your tents and walls of Troy, To rouse a Grecian that is true in love: (1.3.265-279)

    When Hector issues a thrown down challenge to face a Greek soldier in man-to-man combat, he says the winner gets to go around bragging that his wife or girlfriend is hotter, smarter, and more faithful than any other girl around. Weird, right? What does male combat have to do with women? Could it be that they're just looking for an excuse to engage in a little naked wrestling with each other?

    Brother, she is not worth what she doth cost The keeping. (2.2.51-52)

    The Trojan princes spend a whole lot of time arguing about whether or not Helen has any "value" to them and whether or not she's "worth" all the lives that have been sacrificed to the war. In fact, Helen is portrayed as a commodity throughout the play, as is Cressida, who is actually traded to the Greeks as if she's nothing more than a piece of merchandise that can be bought, sold, or traded.

    She is the theme of honor and renown, A spur to valiant and magnanimous deeds, Whose present courage may beat down our foes, And fame in time to come canonize us. (2.2.199-202)

    After a lengthy argument about whether or not Helen is "worth" fighting the Trojan War for, Troilus announces that, Helen is just a "theme of honor and renown." In other words, Helen is merely an excuse for the men to fight so they can perform "valiant and magnanimous deeds" and earn serious props on the battlefield. Basically, Helen is beside the point.

    [...] all the argument is a cuckold and a whore; a good quarrel to draw emulous factions and bleed to death upon. (2.3.70-73)

    We hear some version of this offensive argument over and over again throughout the play. According to Thersites, the Trojan War is being fought over nothing more than a "whore." It's not a noble war, like, say, a land grab or a colonizing attempt.

    A woman impudent and mannish grown Is not more loathed than an effeminate man In time of action. I stand condemn'd for this; (3.3.217-219)

    This is where Patroclus complains that everyone blames him for Achilles refusing to come out of his tent and fight. And hello, gender roles! Men are expected to participate in combat; women are expected to be obedient to their men. When people step outside the gender roles that have prescribed for them, they become "loathed," social outcasts.

    AGAMEMNON
    Is this the Lady Cressid?

    DIOMEDES
    Even she.

    AGAMEMNON
    Most dearly welcome to the Greeks, sweet lady.

    NESTOR
    Our general doth salute you with a kiss.

    ULYSSES
    Yet is the kindness but particular;
    'Twere better she were kiss'd in general. (4.5.17-22)

    After Cressida is traded to the Greek army, she's treated like a piece of meat. Here, the Greek commanders line up to greet her as she arrives at camp—they each kiss her, paw at her, and Ulysses even insults her. This is a far cry from what happens when Aeneas visits the camp. When he shows up with a message for the Trojan army, he's treated with respect and is given a hero's welcome in Act 1, scene 3.

    Ah, poor our sex! this fault in us I find, The error of our eye directs our mind: (5.2.107-108)

    Here, Cressida blames her bad behavior on the fact that she's a woman. In Shakespeare's day, a lot of men thought that women were born with a character flaw or moral weakness that made them incapable of being faithful. What's interesting about this particular passage is that the woman apparently believes she was born flawed. We like to call this "double consciousness."

    HECTOR
    Andromache, I am offended with you:
    Upon the love you bear me, get you in.

    TROILUS
    This foolish, dreaming, superstitious girl
    Makes all these bodements. (5.3.78-81)

    Women just can't win. If they're not slutty like Helen and Cressida, they're superstitious and annoying like Andromache and Cassandra. Remember how Cassandra's prophetic warnings about Troy's imminent downfall are dismissed as the ramblings of a "brain sick" lunatic (2.2.99-101)? Here, Hector blows off Andromache's warnings about his impending death by ordering her to go in the house and be quiet. And make him a sammich while she's at it, all right?