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The Love Theme in Troilus and Cressida


The love theme in Troilus and Cressida is undramatic, lacks plot interest and suspense since Shakespeare was concerned with portraying characters and the sketching of their emotions. Only a sad ending is likely since the audience already knows the outline of the story, the separation of the lovers. There are characters' utterances and actions which emphasise how an ironic undertone features throughout the play especially in the first two scenes in the presentation of idealised Cressida being undercut by Pandar and by Cressida herself. The apex of the love theme in Act 3 and Act 4 portrays the fundamental fragility of Cressida and the hollow passion of Troilus. The play's riddle lies in ''Let all constant men be Troiluses, all false women Cressida, and all brokers-between Pandars.''


The Role of Time

In Troilus and Cressida the prevalence of time is never questioned and so controls the lover's fate. Moreover in the play, it is assumed that passion is vain and transitory - time destroys personal values and makes them groundless - a person really in love betrays his partner only on the morrow of their love's consummation. Contrary to Anthony and Cleopatra, here the lovers do not develop mature emotional ties that transcend mutability. The notion of impossibility due to time could have been clearly traced in Troilus' speech to Cressida in Act 5 Scene iv l.30-48 , where ''rudely'', ''roughly'', ''forcibly'' ( time and hostile circumstances ) undermine the ''airy'' passion that could only be expressed in ''sighs'' and ''labouring breath''. Even the taste imagery, as hinted during seminar, shows a sense of delicacy and triviality in Troilus bodiless idealism. Cressida also explains the grief of separation ''The grief is fine, full, perfect, that I taste.'' (IV. Iv. 3).


The controversy around Cressida

.Is Cressida a slut or a victim ? There are various contrary views about Cressida. She can be seen as sacrifice in the hands of a masculine society.


''And yet good faith, I wished myself a man, Or that we women had men's privilege Of speaking first'' ( III. iii )


I do agree with such a conclusion. The kissing scene and her affair with Diomed are simply instances offering survival in the current of circumstances dashing against her. Moreover I think that awareness of her feebleness contributes to her tragic fate. Her falseness does not spring from a deep seated baseness or attraction for Diomed but from the process of events. One must however highlight the fact that Cressida was given over to the inclination of the moment, which Troilus' idealism forbids him to see. She is genuinely sincere, her speech in Act IV Sc.ii shows her moving appeal when Troilus prepares to leave her after a night together, but what she tells Troilus in Act III Sc ii L.149-51 is also worth noting ;

''I have a kind of self resides with you, But an unkind self that itself will leave To be another's fool.''


I think that, in placing the words of falsehood in her utterances, and in portraying her realistically lacking the marvellous diction of a Juliet, Shakespeare is only abiding to convention He doesn't really put her responsible for her actions to invite for a moral evaluation. As D.Travesi asserts, Cressida lacks a fully realised character endowed with consistency and responsibility and she does not deserve the punishment which Taclock and Rollins suggest.


Troilus ... Archetype of True Love ?

Troilus is still tied to the mediaeval tradition - one feels ''to shake'' him up a bit. Was Troilus really and maturely attracted to Cressida ? Surely, he is sexually drawn to her but needs Pandar to assure him that the other side is also willing. When he talks of Cressida in the first scenes, he parallels Racine's Phedre when seeing Hippolyte - ''Je le vis, je rougis, je palis a sa vue'' ... ''I am giddy ... enchants my sense.'' (III.ii). An aspect of his passion is that it has inadequate foundation and is vitiated by the strained self-pity which in Act I Sc.i L 53-63 allows him to refer to the ''ulcer of my heart'' and to admit his weakness ''I'm weaker than a woman's tear.'' The intellectual confusion in him is seen in his ascribing the pearl image to both Helen and Cressida, and is proleptic of the short lived love - affair. What one can add here is that Shakespeare allows him to be involved in arguments as the one on honour with Hector, where he awkwardly contradicts himself, thereby is put in an ironic light. I wouldn't agree with Coleridge's description Troilus' affection as the only meriting of being called true love. I feel that he is thus discarding of Cressida as a whore unworthy of the great Troilus' love. Does his true love permit him to remain passive when his beloved is about to be taken away ? Is he ready to throw away the precious ''pearl'' just like that ? His idealism fits him in Campbell's description ''an expert in sensuality; ''an Italianate English roué'' who seeks fulfilment in love during the ''pretty encounter'' on the over-refined sensual level which proves to be unattainable. In addition, reference should be made to Act IV Sc.1 where he tells Aeneas ;


''We met by chance: you did not find me here.''


which shows that he is shameful to admit his love to a lady that was ready to give up her virginity. Is he really ''true as truth's simplicity'' ? ( Act III Sc.ii ). I feel that he hides after frivolous syllogisms;


'' This she ? No; this is Diomed's Cressida. If beauty have a soul, this is not she;... This is not she.''


Blake's metaphors of innocence and experience find their place here. One can discern the impact of experience on Troilus' innocence, the shattering appearances under the revelations of truth, the disintegration of the ideal when brought in contrast with hard fact. Here one can claim that Troilus discovers the bi-fold authority of soul - as Nowottny asserts there is the reason that deals with facts and the poetic ''reason'' that deals with value. Troilus, the lover, is overcome with apathy and only when his love fails he is instigated into action. Then his action stems more from hate. He is, I think, a new Menelaus, a new Hamlet revenging over a man who has made him a cuckold.



One feels that there is an undercurrent of satire that stems from an overbalancing on the critical element. Worth noting is the role of minor characters in satirising the love issue. I feel that although the technique used by Shakespeare is mock-heroic, he is not smiling away and mocking inanity of mediaeval love, but he is subtly scrutinising human passions - lust, greed, selfishness, pride. Boas (l900) claims ''the absolute devotion of a gallant to his mistress, is transformed into delirious passion of a youth for a mere wanton ... the infatuation of Troilus is paralleled by that of Menelaus and Paris ... Helena and Cressida are made to figure in the same light.''


Thersites' nauseating vision infects love, reducing it to lechery ... ''a juggering trick to be secretly open.'' Cressida is now a ''turned whore'' shamelessly ''whetting'' Diomed's desire. One feels that Thersites doesn't let us to approach so close to the characters so as to sympathise with them, considering Troilus realisation of Cressida's falsehood in Act V Sc.ii. Its structure with the one for whom the purpose of war is ''a cuckold and a whore'', eavesdropping both dialogues, doesn't yield us any reason why we should identify with Troilus. Together with Ulysses' comments only external pity is felt. There is no breakdown of truth itself as is perceived when Othello discovers Desdemona's betrayal. With the poetic anger of Troilus, the worldly cynicism of Diode and the filthy sarcasm of Thersites, Shakespeare wanted to exhibit that there is no greatness, no faith, no selflessness, no purity in love.


Pandarus, the flesh seller, is the accelerator of the love of Troilus and Cressida, and consequently he sheds a lusty shadow. He shows up Cressida as the ''wheaten cake'' that is to be consumed by Troilus. He subverts conventional habit and Christian ritual for betrothal and marriage;


'' I'll be the witness. Here I hold your hand; here my cousin's say Amen ... Amen.''


He also insists on a song punning on the sexual significance of ''die''. One can contrast how the lovers converse in Act II Sc.ii in his absence with the scenes where he appears. He is specially concerned with marring Helen's beauty that seems to have thrown a bane in the camp.


The other Loves

The other love between Paris and Helen is more pictured as lust and it satiric presentation sets the mood of the whole play. During the seminar, it was said that this love had indirect influence on the ending of the love of Troilus and Cressida. Moreover, a similarity with the latter was drawn in that both men are distracted from their duties as warriors. One can also add here Achilles who is only instigated into action when his ''masculine whore'' is killed. There has also been a reference to his loss of reputation due to his love for Polyxena - when he resorts to trickery in the gang murder of mighty Hector.The love theme in Troilus and Cressida has pressures from the public world. As Hamlet's uncle believed there is ''within the very flame of love'', a power that would destroy it, that would not let it remain constant, but would grow ''to a plurisy and die in its own excess'' ( Act IV Sc. vii ), a metaphor very much like that used by Ulysses in describing passion ... '' the universal wolf that would last eat up himself ''. ( Act I Sc i ).

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