Troilus and Cressida Troilus Criseyde Essays
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 expose the pretentiousness and futility of grandiose self-mythologizing. Shakespeare takes tradition to speak against tradition, and, in doing so, questions the politics and mores of his time.
The Trojan myth was one which the Britons of the 17th century held dear. Geoffrey of Monmouth had traced the ancestry of the Britons to a grandson of Aeneas, Brutus, and the Tudors, if they did not believe this myth, hosted it for their own propagandic purposes. The Elizabethan age was thus a Troy-sympathising age, and the details of the myth (viewed still as history by many, if a questioning of its historicity had begun) were known to most. Against this, the Greek, Achilles, was also ...