Troilus and Cressida

Shakespeare’s story about the Trojan War begins in the seventh year of the epic struggle. The conflict has reached a deadlock as Troy appears to be an impenetrable fortress. Exhausted from battle, the Greeks lie on their camp beds, longing for a decisive conclusion, a catharsis. But discord and chaos have crept into their ranks, and the mutinying soldiers are eager to return home. Inside the walls of Troy, Troilus and Cressida, who are deeply in love, are finally able to spend the night together. However, this first night of passion is also their last: the following morning, not long after the couple have professed their eternal love, Cressida is exchanged for an important Trojan prisoner of war. She is delivered to the military leaders of the Greeks and falls victim to their lust. Cressida sees no alternative but to play along, pretending to be flattered by the Greeks’ amorous advances. Troilus misinterprets her behaviour as a betrayal of his love and he angrily attack the Greeks. This way, Shakespeare steers this Romeo-and-Juliet-like story towards a final bloodbath that sees the death not only of the Trojan prince Hector, but of his entire offspring. Troilus, the only survivor, swears on his broken heart that this is just the start of his revenge. While the massacre spells the end of the Trojan War, it is also the beginning of a chain reaction of vengeance that ultimately turns the conflict into the “mother of all wars“. Shakespeare expresses the central notion underlying this bitter comedy through the words of Cressida: “To be wise and love exceeds man’s might; that dwells with the gods above“ (III,2) With Troilus and Cressida, then, Shakespeare rather cynically and spitefully expresses his disbelief in human love.