“Trolius and Cressida,” from The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, by William Shakespeare

I gotta admit, maybe this was the perfect breaking-point (by accident) in the anthology. I got to resume my reading plans with Shakespeare with this interesting work, Trolius and Cressida. I like how when I took another look online at what the story was about, to see if I got the gist of it or was way off, many scholars of Shakespeare seem a bit baffled as to why this was written.

I have a feeling this is lumped in with his lesser works, like Titus Andronicus was for the longest time.

Trolius and Cressida refers to the two lovers in the middle of the Trojan war, but they’re really not central to the story. Trolius is the youngest son of King Priam of Troy and Cressida is the daughter of a Trojan priest who sides with the Greeks (why exactly, I don’t know). But she’s rarely been part of her father’s life, instead being counseled and nurtured by her uncle, Pandarus, who knows of the pair’s love for each other.

Around them are figures more familiar to the story of the Trojan War: Helen, Paris, Achilles, Ulysses, Ajax, Agamemnon, and of course Hector to name a few. The difficulty with such a story is at times the action is very quick and at times it slows to a crawl. Certainly at the end things seem to rush to the somewhat ambiguous conclusion. What fates befall our pair is uncertain. Cressida seems to genuinely love Trolius, but fears what may happen if they actually do marry, if she’s able to remain his or not. Trolius is a seemingly good young man, but blind in the way the romantic lead in a rom com is blind at the inevitable “misunderstanding moment” 20 minutes from the end of the film.

But the question of whether or not Cressida was true or false is, I think, left up to the reader/viewer more than anything. I’ve tried to read it a few times and am trying not to be swayed by online summaries I’ve found and bits of mythology. Her path is full of ambiguity, and I am wondering if the scene between Diomedes (who seduces her) and Cressida is about her being easily swayed to another man or resigned because she’s away from Troilus.

Too many questions regarding her behavior, at least to me.

Frankly, I found the pair boring; it’s the other characters that make the play have its most interesting moments. I almost laughed when I started reading about Achilles and Patroclus and their mockery of Agamemnon, who’s in charge of the Greek army. Achilles and Ajax, one of the soldiers who is jealous of Achilles’ fame and glory, are both ruthless and petulant thugs, and only when Ajax decides to claim some fame for himself and go to fight Hector does Achilles finally go “wait a minute, that’s my schtick!” and fight again.

It reminds me of The Iliad and Achilles brooding over Brieses (however you spell it) after Agamemnon took her as a war prize. This great warrior was whining in his tent and wouldn’t fight, and Shakespeare’s play just takes it a step further by making him more of a slacker, uncaring of the consequences of his actions.

For some reason, I thought of Thor in the first half of the first Thor movie being in that position (and that did make me laugh).

It’s just strange how this story of the Trojan War plays out, and the title characters seem to have so little to do with events. But I do think it’s worth reading for overall character development, the philosophic discussions regarding the war and Helen, and allowing for ambiguity in certain places.

I think I’ll read this one again…it has a feel like one of those good films where you see something new every time you watch it.

And now, some interesting quotables:

In Troy there lies the scene. 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 th’Athenian bay

Put forth toward Phrygia, and their vow is made

To ransack Troy, within whose strong immures

The ravished Helen, Menelaus’ queen,

With wanton Paris sleeps–and that’s the quarrel.

–Act 1, Scene 1

TROILUS: What news, Aeneas, from the field today?

AENEAS: That Paris is returned home, and hurt.

TROILUS: By whom, Aeneas?

AENEAS: Troilus, by Menelaus.

TROILUS: Let Paris bleed, ’tis but a scar to scorn:

Paris is gored with Menelaus’ horn.

–Act 1, Scene 1

PRIAM: Paris, you speak

Like one besotted on your sweet delights.

You have the honey still, but these the gall.

So to be valiant is no praise at all.

PARIS: Sir, I propose not merely to myself

The pleasures such a beauty brings with it,

But I would have the soil of her fair rape

Wiped off in honourable keeping her.

What treason were it to the ransacked queen,

Disgrace to your great worths, and shame to me,

Now to deliver her possession up

On terms of base compulsion? Can it be

That so degenerate a strain as this

Should once set footing in your generous bosoms?

There’s not the meanest spirit on our party

Without a heart to dare or sword to draw

When Helen is defended; nor none so noble

Whose life were ill bestowed or death unfamed

Where Helen is the subject. Then I say:

Well may we fight for her whom we know well

The world’s large spaces cannot parallel.

–Act 2, Scene 2

I admit, I like how even Shakespeare is weighing in a little on the debate whether Helen initially went willingly or was raped and abducted (though the use of the word “rape” above and its context–which I myself am still mulling over–has to be considered). I remember some classmates and I had question marks regarding some of the dialogue between Helen and Paris when we had to analyze The Iliad, and how much force (with and without the gods) was involved in their marriage.

Happy reading.

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