Troilus and Cressida Synopsis
Period written: 1600-1608
First known performance: 1898 (for Ludwig II of Bavaria)
Troilus, the youngest son of Trojan king Priam, is in love with Cressida, the niece of Pandarus, through whom he is hoping to arrange a meeting. While Cressida watches the nobles and soldiers pass by, Pandarus draws her attention to Troilus, and she is attracted to him. Pandarus begins to liaise between the two.
The Greek commander Agamemnon discusses the unsatisfactory military situation with Ulysses, Nestor and other leaders, noting especially the way Achilles has become proud and temperamental, along with Ajax, who spends time exchanging insults with Thersites, a hanger-on at the camp and observer of events. Aeneas arrives with a challenge from Hector to fight any Greek in single combat. They recognize that the challenge is aimed at Achilles, but they put Ajax forward as their champion. Agamemnon and the other lords visit Achilles’ tent, but Achilles refuses to speak to them. The lords heap praises on Ajax instead.
The Trojans consider the conditions of a Greek proposal for peace, which involves the return of Helen, whose abduction began the war. They reject the proposal, ignoring Cassandra’s prophecies of doom. Pandarus visits Paris to ask him to present Troilus’ apologies if Priam should ask for him at supper. Paris and Helen suspect a liaison between Troilus and Cressida, though Pandarus denies it. He then brings Cressida to a secret meeting with Troilus, and they declare their mutual love, promising fidelity.
Calchas, Cressida’s father, visits Agamemnon, and persuades him to release Antenor, recently taken prisoner, in exchange for Cressida. Agamemnon and the other lords treat Achilles with disdain as they pass him standing at the entrance to his tent. Ulysses explains their attitude, and makes Achilles see that his reputation is at stake. Achilles invites the Trojans to his tent after the combat next day.
Diomedes is sent to conduct Cressida to Troy. Aeneas arrives at Cressida’s house with the news, where Troilus has spent the night. Accepting the inevitable, Troilus delivers her to Diomedes, after they exchange tokens and promise to be faithful. Cressida arrives at the Greek camp, where she is warmly welcomed.
Hector and Ajax fight, but agree a draw, and Ajax invites the Trojan lords to the Greek tents.
When Achilles and Hector meet, they insult each other, promising to fight next day. Troilus asks Ulysses to take him to Calchas’ tent, where Cressida is staying. They observe Cressida’s meeting with Diomedes, and see her become increasingly drawn to him, then giving him Troilus’ token. Troilus is enraged.
The next day, Hector prepares to fight, disregarding warnings from Andromache, Cassandra, and Priam. Troilus goes to the battle with the intention of killing Diomedes, but fails. Hector kills Patroclus. Achilles and his Myrmidons find Hector resting, and kill him. Troilus reports Hector’s fall, and responds to an approach from Pandarus with an abrupt dismissal. Pandarus reflects gloomily on the way he has been treated, and curses the audience.
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