Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Troilus and Cressida - Shakespeare

Troilus and Cressida are lovers that are trapped in the city of Troy during the Trojan war.  Cressida's father, Calchas, has fled the city and thrown in with the Greeks.  This has brought great shame and difficulty to Cressida.  Fortunately for her, one of the princes of Troy, Troilus, has fallen in love with her.  He loves from afar.  The two rely on Pandarus, her uncle, to go between them.  He does this by heaping praise on Troilus without a hint of subtlety.
The lovers storyline is fairly plain.  There is a bit of 'will she/won't she' because Cressida is coy with her love.  In fact, one of the key questions that I had while reading this, is whether or not she really 'fell' for him or was she just playing him off.  She is a maiden in a very difficult spot, both because of her father's betrayal and the fact that the city could be taken at any moment.  Could she afford to love?  Or must her affections be bartered only?
Actually, there is another problem.  Her father bargains to have her traded out of the city, thus breaking up the lovers after they have just been joined.  Cressida immediately starts flirting with the Greeks.  Troilus sees this and is devastated.

The other part of the story, possibly the bigger part, is the story of what is happening with the Greeks on the beach.  They talk (at length) and the only interesting part is a scheme that Ulysses uses to bring Achilles out of his tent.  He does it by making him jealous of Ajax in an upcoming fight with Hector.
There is also some interest in talk between the Greeks and Trojans as to whether the war is worth it or not.  Here is Diomed, a Greek, talking to Paris, who abducted Helen and kicked off the whole problem.  He is talking about Helen:
She's bitter to her country. Hear me, Paris:
For every false drop in her bawdy veins,
A Grecian's life hath sunk; for every scruple
Of her contaminated carrion weight,
A Tryoyan hath been slain. Since she could speak,
She hath not given so many good words breath
As for her Greeks and Troyans suff'red death.
This is certainly a defensible, if cynical take.  It's a very cynical play with very little happiness or nobility.  We believe in a) Troilus' love for Cressida (which is betrayed) and b) Hector's chivalry (which gets him killed).  That's about it.

From what I've read, this is probably the hardest Shakespeare play to categorize.  It's labeled as a history but all of the other history plays are historical kings of England, while this story is recognizably from fiction.  It could be a tragedy, though it doesn't quite follow the rules of the tragic play.  Ask me in a few months, and I'll have an opinion on whether or not it is a 'romance'.
It is put into the comedy section mostly because it was originally printed there.   No one is sure if that was intentional or not.  So a comedy it is, even though it isn't funny or happy.  Many comedies end with a wedding.  This one ends with battle and death.
Not my favorite, I'll be honest with you.  I read it first a few years back and reviewed it then.  My outlook hasn't changed much, though now I think it suffers in comparison to other Shakespeare that I've read recently.
I will say this though, much of my bad opinion could be from reading and not seeing the play.  I would like to see what a talented director and cast could do with this.  Could they make the Greeks less to suffer through?  Could they convince me that I should care about Cressida's happiness?  I'm not sure, but I'd like to see them try.

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