Essay on Troilus and Cressida

Essay on Troilus and Cressida

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Troilus and Cressida

 

Assessing the sources of Troilus and Cressida, it is usual to separate them according to their specific historical or literary influence. Caxton's 1474 Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye and Lydgate's Troy Book, as well as Chapman's seven book translation of the Iliad are cited as sources of the historical matter of the play, all with their antecedents in earlier treatments of Trojan history: Dares, Dictys and Guido's 1271 Historia Troiana. Literary influences include, of course, Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, and Henryson's Testament of Crisseid (which were published under one author until the early 18th century), and to an extent, Chapman's Homer. Dividing the sources this way for the sake of ease of discussion may be a common practice, but it misses one crucial point. When we look at Shakespeare's sources, we look not only for the particular content that Shakespeare derived from them, but, more interestingly, for the diversions he created from this material. Study of Shakespeare's sources is most interesting in those cases where it may illuminate for us, as students, a difference of design or emphasis which marks the genius of Shakespeare's innovation. We are not, after all, interested in Shakespeare the Borrower, but Shakespeare the Originator. To divide the source materials used in Troilus and Cressida according to their historical or literary background, we may miss the true design of Shakespeare's deviation from their conventions, which, I will argue, points to a fundamental theme of this drama. Shakespeare, in using these particular sources in fashioning this particular drama, invokes the literary and cultural giants of his time so that he may hold a mirror up to their true nature, and e...


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...er, also bitterly satirizes the chivalric code of Chaucer's romance, as Shakespeare, sickened by the self-mythologizing of the court, attempts to topple another of his age's grand cultural narratives. It has been noted that the points in his play which most bitterly satirize Chaucer's poem are those which correspond with Chaucer's deviations from HIS sources, Boccacio etc. Shakespeare is not only condemning the myths which pass through history, but also the alteration of these, whether for propagandic or artistic reasons. Shakespeare is at pains to demonstrate that tradition, which grants the illusion of official history to myth and legend, is a 'whore and a cuckold', just as its idealized heroes and heroines are. What we see in Troilus and Cressida are the ugliest implications of conflict and strife - opportunities for heroism and chivalry are continually perverted.

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Essay on Troilus and Cressida

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