Sunday, June 13, 2010

Troilus and Cressida

"A stirring dwarf we do allowance give
Before a sleeping giant."
Troilus and Cressida, 2.3.135-6

The first two acts of Shakespeare's "Trojan" play, Troilus and Cressida, succeed in introducing most of the important players, but do not move the plot forward.  We are treated to scene after scene of talking, first with Troilus himself imploring his beloved Cressida's uncle Pandarus to talk with Cressida about his love for Cressida.  He certainly does not appear to be a steadfast hero when he intones, "I cannot come to Cressid but by Pandar, And he's a tetchy to be wooed to woo as she is stubborn-chaste against all suit." (1.1.91-3)  We will have to read further in the play if we are to find a Homeric hero here.

Pandarus does his best to sell Cressida on Troilus in the following scene, but his words seem hollow and unconvincing.  When Troilus appears again we are ready for fireworks, but are disappointed.  The rest of the first two acts includes meetings - Greek general meetings and Trojan warrior meetings.  Exciting stuff!  One notable exception to the generally uninteresting lack of events is the introduction of Thersites, as unpleasant character as any in Shakespeare, but the most interesting guy in a room of dull generals.  He is described in the Dramatis Personae as "a deformed and scurrilous Greek", but we recognize him as a dwarf, one of the first in literature, and worthy to bear that name.  So scurrilous he may be, but he speaks the truth in a play where that quality is in short supply.  I look forward to his stirrings as the play progresses through the remaining acts.

Troilus and Cressida by Shakespeare. The Arden Shakespeare, London. 2006 (1609)

No comments: