The Role Of Heroism In Shakespeare's 'Troilus And Cressida'

1369 Words6 Pages
It is not surprising that Shakespeare wrote a play based on the events of the Trojan War. The myth had incredible staying power in and of itself during the early modern period, not only in a literary way, but also culturally, as the monarchy of England and the heritage of the city of London were intrinsically linked to the Troy legend. Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his Historia Regum Brittanniae (c. 1136), begins his history of Britain with Aeneas, one of the most enduring figures of the Greek myth in Latin literature. Edmund Spenser calls London “Troy-novant”, and the city of London clung tight to its mythical heritage as being founded by Brute (or Brutus), the grandson of Aeneas. It is easy to see, in Pandarus’ epilogue, that he is at once addressing…show more content…
Despite their differing value sets, the Homeric and chivalric ideals of heroism are both similarly dependent on definitive perspectives of valuation, action, and selfhood. This is why the lens of heroism is the most effective lens through which to analyse Troilus and Cressida as a textual and thematic palimpsest. Most obviously, the conflicting versions of heroism have contradicting ideals. As Bruce Smith observes, “A man cannot be the chivalrous knight and the saucy jack or the Herculean hero and the merchant prince at the same time – or at least he cannot comfortably be so.” The Troy legend produced in medieval and Renaissance collective consciousness an originary basis for literary tropes and heroic moulds. Characters such as Achilles, Ajax, and Hector become synonymous with various brands of masculinity and heroism, and the titular characters of Troilus and Cressida have cultural resonance as archetypal lovers, a concept which is moralized and gendered, who are either true or false in their vows to one another. The play engages with the audience’s collective memory, refiguring the well-known myths so that they are self-referential and distorted. Troilus and Cressida is the Trojan War inverted, the character or Achilles, or Helen, seen as if reflected in a funhouse mirror. They are at once themselves, and (potentially poor) imitations of themselves (a point which is stressed in Ulysses’ criticism of Patroclus in Act 1, Scene 3). Edward L. Hart asserts that the play is a dramatic question, posed by Shakespeare to himself: “What would happen if one should write a play in which all values are reversed, a play in which the mirror held up to life reflects not a positive but a negative image?” The very nature of these characters as archetypes further emphasizes the effect of Shakespeare’s particular moulding of them in a way that destabilizes

More about The Role Of Heroism In Shakespeare's 'Troilus And Cressida'

Open Document