As you know, I am participating in Miss Erin's Shakespeare Challenge. Today I bring you my thoughts on Troilus and Cressida. It is not so much a review as it is collected thoughts on the play. When I sat down to begin the play on Thursday night, I knew little about this play. I had never read it before. Never seen it acted on the stage. Never seen a film version of it. I chose it somewhat randomly. I was flipping through my RIVERSIDE SHAKESPEARE and it landed open to this play. When I saw it was set in Troy and covered the Trojan war, I thought the timing was right. After all, I had just read NOBODY'S PRINCESS and TROY. So I didn't know that this play was "one of Shakespeare's more difficult--and, some might say, unpleasant--plays to read or to watch" at the outset. (SparkNotes) Here is their description: "the play offers a debased view of human nature in war-time and a stage peopled by generally unsympathetic characters. Like many of the great tragedies, the broad theme is the relationship of, and conflict between, personal life and the interests of the state--in this case, the conflict between the romance of the title characters and the war-time politics that send Cressida away from her lover into the Greek camp. But this theme coexists with a general pessimism unmatched even in the darkest tragedies, as classical heroes like Achilles and Ajax are presented as self-absorbed thugs, and the central romance of Troilus and Cressida is rhetorically reduced to lust, so that in the memorable phrase of the Greek slave Thersites, "all the argument is a whore and a cuckold" (II.iii.75)." I would have described it, in my own words, as being anti-war, and carrying the message that life is pointless. The play depicts humans at their worst, but trying at times to do their best. They haven't given up completely on life, but they have given up on happiness. They're alive, but miserable essentially.
Is it worth your time? Shakespeare is still Shakespeare. There are some great lines in Troilus and Cressida. Some nice speeches. Lines that resonate with power and emotion. But if you're looking for something that is as emotionally moving that you can connect with personally...then Troilus and Cressida probably isn't the most satisfying play you can read. Sparknotes concludes: "There are many redeeming qualities to Troilus and Cressida, however, including some of the finest philosophical speeches in all of Shakespeare--which, some critics have suggested, are more impressive outside the context of the play than within it." In my opinion, it all depends on your expectations. If you're looking for a love story, this isn't it. It isn't a comedy or a romance. And it doesn't have the noble beauty of a tragedy. It's tragic. But it's just pointing out the meaningless of death and war and love and betrayal. Not really uplifting material. But not necessarily bad. Just different.
Sparknotes for Troilus and Cressida
Read Troilus and Cressida online
Here are some of my favorite lines:
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 unpractised infancy.
Well, I have told you enough of this: for my part,
I'll not meddle nor make no further. He that will
have a cake out of the wheat must needs tarry the grinding.
Have I not tarried?
Ay, the grinding; but you must tarry
Have I not tarried?
Ay, the bolting, but you must tarry the leavening.
Still have I tarried.
Ay, to the leavening; but here's yet in the word
'hereafter' the kneading, the making of the cake, the
heating of the oven and the baking; nay, you must
stay the cooling too, or you may chance to burn your lips.
I was about to tell thee:--when my heart,
As wedged with a sigh, would rive in twain,
Lest Hector or my father should perceive me,
I have, as when the sun doth light a storm,
Buried this sigh in wrinkle of a smile:
But sorrow, that is couch'd in seeming gladness,
Is like that mirth fate turns to sudden sadness.
'Well, well!' why, have you any discretion? have
you any eyes? Do you know what a man is? Is not
birth, beauty, good shape, discourse, manhood,
learning, gentleness, virtue, youth, liberality,
and such like, the spice and salt that season a man?
Words, vows, gifts, tears, and love's full sacrifice,
He offers in another's enterprise;
But more in Troilus thousand fold I see
Than in the glass of Pandar's praise may be;
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:
That she was never yet that ever knew
Love got so sweet as when desire did sue.
Therefore this maxim out of love I teach:
Achievement is command; ungain'd, beseech:
Then though my heart's content firm love doth bear,
Nothing of that shall from mine eyes appear.
Your mind is the clearer, Ajax, and your virtues the
fairer. He that is proud eats up himself: pride is
his own glass, his own trumpet, his own chronicle;
and whatever praises itself but in the deed, devours
the deed in the praise.
Blind fear, that seeing reason leads, finds safer
footing than blind reason stumbling without fear: to
fear the worst oft cures the worse.
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. They
that have the voice of lions and the act of hares,
are they not monsters?
Hold you still, I say;
Mine honour keeps the weather of my fate:
Life every man holds dear; but the brave man
Holds honour far more precious-dear than life.