Troilus and Cressida

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Troilus and Cressida

‘Troilus and Cressida appeals to the iconoclastic and sceptical temperament of the contemporary era. Its anxieties about the problems of locating stable values and meanings, and its distrust of the claims of military and political authority, have obvious applications to the personal and public crises of today.' Discuss this statement in relation to Shakespeare's play.

Troilus and Cressida was probably written around 1602, although scholars are not entirely sure of the exact date. Around the time of its creation, the play was not widely performed, and was not rediscovered until the beginnings of the 20th century. In modern times, however, it has received more critical attention and more performances than in all of its previous history. This could be, as the statement stresses, due to the fact that many parallels can be drawn between the concerns raised by Shakespeare and issues raised by modern social commentators and the media. Indeed, in his own time Shakespeare communicated concerns about the rapid change of his own era through what is described by R.A. Foakes as the ‘parody of the grand Homeric legend of the Trojan War'.
Critics have generally labelled Troilus and Cressida as one of the ‘problem comedies', or ‘dark comedies'. These plays are characterised by comedy woven with satiric commentary, and also tinged with tragedy.
Firstly the ‘problems of locating stable values and meanings' shall be dealt with. One of the most highly prized values of the ‘warriors' of the Trojan War is that of honour and chivalry. The closest thing in the play to a truly chivalric and heroic figure is most probably Hector, described by Nestor as follows;

‘When thou hast hung thy advanced sword in i'th'air,
Not letting it decline on the declin'd,
That I have said to some my standers-by
‘Lo, Jupiter is yonder, dealing life!'
(IV. v.185)

So, Hector is portrayed as a godlike figure on the battlefield. We should also note that he deals in life rather than death. However, Shakespeare injects satire into the proceedings by subverting the notion of a true hero. The majority of the males in the play are shown to be chivalric only in their extravagant language, while in action they are anything but. For example, in Act 2 Scene 2, the Trojans debate as to whether or not to return Helen back to the Greeks. Troilus thinks that this should be done, because Helen ‘is a theme of honour and renown'. Hector, k...

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