Troilus and Cressida
Abbreviations: Ant. = Antony and Cleopatra; Cym. = Cymbeline; Ham. = Hamlet; John = King John; H5 = Henry V; MM = Measure for Measure; R3 = Richard III; RSC = The Royal Shakespeare Company; Temp. = The Tempest; Tit. = Titus Andronicus; Tro. = Troilus and Cressida
Adelman, Janet. “ ‘This Is and Is Not Cressid’: The Characterization of Cressida.” In The (M)other Tongue: Essays in Feminist Psychoanalytic Interpretation, edited by Shirley Nelson Garner, Claire Kahane, and Madelon Sprengnether, pp. 119–41. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985. (Revised and reprinted in Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare’s Plays, Hamlet to the Tempest [New York: Routledge, 1991], pp. 38–75.)
Adelman contends that up to 4.4 Cressida is not a stereotype of wantonness but a whole character. In 1.2 we are encouraged to speculate about her motives, and in 3.2, a scene that “clearly focuses on her inner state,” we witness her fear of betrayal and her vulnerability. To the extent, however, that the play embodies Troilus’s ambivalent fantasies concerning desire for union with the separated mother and fear of maternal engulfment, Cressida’s characterological integrity needs to be sacrificed, something that begins in 4.4 when she moves suddenly into an “opacity” from which she never recovers. “Insofar as [Troilus’s] union with Cressida is an attempt to recapture the infantile fusion with a maternal figure, the rupture of the union threatens to soil the idea of the mother herself . . . [and] threaten[s] . . . to dissolve a universe felt as coherent into fragmented bits of spoiled food” (see 5.2.156–63, 182–90). Thus, Troilus can preserve his union with Cressida and his idealized sense of her only by splitting her in two, a shift in “the mode of characterization [that] forces us to participate in his fantasy about her.” For Adelman, Cressida’s loss of interiority does not constitute an artistic failure, because both her inconstancy and “radical inconsistency of characterization” occur simultaneously as “reflections of the same fantasy.”
Apfelbaum, Roger. Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida: Textual Problems and Performance Solutions. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004.
Seeking a way of balancing editorial and theatrical choices, the author brings stage history to bear on eight passages that have challenged editors of the play: the Prologue; Cressida’s “Who were those went by” (1.2.1); the stage directions regarding the entrances of Cassandra at 2.2.107 and of Patroclus at 2.3.24 (“Good Thersites, come in and rail”); the implications of music and extras in “Who play they to” (3.1.21); Cressida’s exit and the interpretations of Diomedes’ “Lady, a word. I’ll bring you to your father” (4.5.61); “They call him Troilus” (4.5.122), Ulysses’ secondhand account of a Troilus who presumably stands before him; and the play’s multiple and disruptive movements of closure as manifest in Troilus’s final speeches and Pandarus’s final appearance (“Hence, broker, lackey” [5.11.35]). Each chapter tackles the editorial and performance history of the passage in question but “the focus remains on the method of interrogating textual problems with performance decisions.” While many productions from William Poel’s (1912) to Peter Hall’s (2001) are discussed, the author pays extensive attention to Sam Mendes’s Tro. for the RSC in 1990. Since there is no real performance history to speak of until the twentieth century, Apfelbaum finds a “substitute for an early theater history” in John Dryden’s adaptation (1679), J. P. Kemble’s promptbook (c. 1795), and the acting editions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Apfelbaum’s intertextual approach to Tro. raises “many questions about what the text of a play can be and how editors, directors, and performers are special kinds of readers and shapers of the text.” Two appendices dealing with editions and productions of Tro., respectively, round out the volume.
Barfoot, C. C. “Troilus and Cressida: ‘Praise us as we are tasted.’ ” Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988): 45–57.
Barfoot explores the valuations that characters in Tro. offer of each other and themselves. His examination of the criteria for these valuations, the assumptions informing them, and their consequences leads him to conclude that neither the state of the valuer nor the conditions surrounding the valuation remain constant. As 5.2 makes clear, “the person valued is able to rate him or herself differently from the valuation attributed by another; and the individual, as distinct from an object, is capable of opposing his own estimation of his value to that of an outside observer, and has the authority of self-esteem or self-distrust to do so.” Within the oft-noted complex of mercantile imagery that shows interpersonal relationships to be transactional at their core is both a pervasive imagery of food and appetite and “a foregrounding of words based on ‘praise,’ ‘prize,’ and ‘price’ (including ‘pride’ and ‘place’).” Taken together, these image and word clusters articulate closely related themes “that question the stability of value and the reliability of attribution, despite the constant assumption of the former and the assertion of the latter.” With so many characters constantly being called on to introduce themselves, “conscious that their names are one of their major attributes[,] . . . [Tro.] leads us to the conclusion that we can no more trust our heroes, or even our anti-heroes, than we can trust our words.”
Bradbrook, Muriel C. “What Shakespeare Did to Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde.” Shakespeare Quarterly 9 (1958): 311–19.
Bradbrook claims that Tro. differs from most of Shakespeare’s plays in that it “was designed to be read as Literature and not only for the Boards.” She cites its many formal debates and complex vocabulary as marks of “conscious labor and effort.” Her chief concern is with the ways in which, by comparison with Chaucer’s poem, Shakespeare’s governing intention is revealed, an intention she sums up as one of inversion, speed, and compression. “The tone and flavor of the play, disturbing and ambiguous, controls and directs the response.” Shakespeare’s counterparts to Chaucer’s Troilus, Cressida, and Pandarus are less sympathetic, and with respect to the latter two, more distorted. Cressida, for example, is not as delicate or innocent as Criseyde, and the Pandarus of the play is more wily and raw, as evidenced in the “brutal exchange” between him and Cressida in 4.2.27–37. The epilogue exemplifies Shakespeare’s overall deflation of Chaucer’s “high and heroic romance”: whereas Chaucer concludes with a prayer that subsumes the human tragedy into something larger and beautiful, Shakespeare concludes with a deflating reference to brothels. And where Chaucer tells the tale in a leisurely, protracted manner, Shakespeare emphasizes the haste of “Injurious Time” (4.4.44) in both the courtship and the betrayal. The strength of Shakespeare’s play “lies in a vision not of the grandeur but the pettiness of evil; the squalor and meanness and triviality of betrayal, which here enjoy their hour.”
Bruster, Douglas. “ ‘The alteration of men’: Troilus and Cressida, Troynovant, and Trade.” Chapter 7 of Drama and the Market in the Age of Shakespeare, pp. 97–117. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Bruster explores how early modern English drama “responded to the market, even as it sprang from it.” Three strategies proved especially useful for playwrights trying to cope with the dynamics of a changing social and financial economy: the first connected identity with ownership, thereby “rendering the relationship between property and person as one of almost complete interdependence”; the second exploited the economic basis of the cuckold myth; and the third used urban tales of international cities, past and present, to stage the London market. Linking “the sexual and the economic, the urban and the rural, and the ancient with the modern” enabled playwrights to define the nature of those changes affecting the socioeconomic structure of London. In the chapter on Tro., Bruster demonstrates how Shakespeare used the Troy story “to mythologize the elaborate realities of London’s material base.” In 1602 (the year Bruster assigns to the play), tensions were mounting over military and mercantile supremacy involving England and Spain; at a time when war and trade were “inextricably entwined” and piracy and privateering dominated English foreign policy and politics, an ancient tale of national conflict rooted in an act of theft resonated historically and morally in the imaginations of Elizabethan playwrights. Bruster singles out the “sleeve business” in 5.4 to make the point that “the drama continually concerns itself with problems of the material, with exchange and its effects on action, language, and thought.” Because the “parlance of the market” informs matters of love and war in a world “unsettled by commodity,” the romantic treatment of Troy found in earlier writers gives way to cynicism in Shakespeare’s play. At the turn of the century, pessimism prompted by Elizabeth I’s age and illness and by the economic toll of wars with Spain, Ireland, and the Low Countries led many to see London’s decline as mirroring Troy’s final moments. Shakespeare’s Tro. is about “the passing of the old and the coming of the new”—i.e., about an economic system “that apparently distorts human relationships and actively encourages the lapses in morality once ascribed to the machinations of abstract sins and commodities.”
Charnes, Linda. “ ‘So Unsecret to Ourselves’: Notorious Identity and the Material Subject in Troilus and Cressida.” Chapter 3 of Notorious Identity: Materializing the Subject in Shakespeare, pp. 70–102. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993. (An earlier version of the chapter appeared in Shakespeare Quarterly 40 : 413–40.)
In her discussion of the ideological foundations of “notorious identity” (the pathological form of fame) in R3, Tro., and Ant., Charnes explores how Shakespeare is less interested in “reproducing cultural mythography” than in demonstrating what is involved in the “experience of being reiterated,” that process through which each “notorious” figure confronts the determinant power of an infamous name as he or she self-fashions a new identity. In the chapter on Tro., she uses the line “This is and is not Cressid” (5.2.175) to argue that the problem of self-identity is a “phenomenon that haunts” the play. “Subjectivity crippled by cultural inscription” is the particular neurosis represented in Tro.—“arguably . . . the most ‘neurotic’ ” work in the canon. Although the end is always known—Troilus will always feel betrayed and fail to trust, and Cressida will always be false—the play’s legendary characters do have moments of subjectivity, i.e., other selves determined “to lay to rest the haunting sense that they are, and are not, ‘themselves.’ ” Charnes examines in some detail 1.3 and 2.2 (the play’s “two major ideological” episodes). She finds in Helen a paradigm for the way characters attempt to subvert their official names and origins in a struggle to be mimetically spontaneous figures rather than rhetorical ones exploited by others. By deconstructing the “legend of Troilus and Cressida,” Shakespeare “reconstructs theater and drama as a new site not for representing ‘identity’ but for staging ‘kinds of selves.’ ”
Cook, Carol. “Unbodied Figures of Desire.” Theater Journal 38 (1986): 34–52.
Cook invokes the theories of Jacques Lacan and Luce Irigaray to examine the disproportion between anticipation and achievement that links the Greek and Trojan competition for Helen in the war plot and Troilus’s quest for Cressida in the love plot. The play’s entanglement in the “deeply problematic relation between desire and representation” is most clearly defined in the “problematic status of women as objects of desire” within a “heterosexual economy” that intersects with what Luce Irigaray labels “hom(m)o-sexuality.” That heterosexuality founded on a traffic in women “is a mediated homosexuality” can be seen in Troilus’s coming to Cressida by Pandar, and Pandar’s coming to Troilus by Cressida. In the war plot, this same structure of homosexual desire is repeated as Greeks and Trojans depend on the “mediation of a woman to ‘come by’ one another.” Masculine desire puts woman in the place of “that unbodied figure of the thought / That gave ’t surmisèd shape” (1.3.16–17); the female body thus becomes the means by which masculine desire represents itself to itself. But because the image proves insufficient, violence results, often in a rage expressed through the imagery of a woman’s fragmented body. Helen and Cressida “can be enjoyed in fantasy as disbursed and fetishized signs, flickering images, unbodied figures of the thought, but as bodies they threaten a monstrous entrapment in finitude, repetition, representation.” Tro. intermittently reveals and masks the “dependency of its parallel fables of masculine enterprise on this textual aperture—the feminine absence upon which masculine desire and truth are erected.”
Elton, W. R. “Shakespeare’s Ulysses and the Problem of Value.” Shakespeare Studies 2 (1966): 95–111.
In this influential essay on the play’s value context, Elton focuses on Ulysses’ degree speech (1.3.85–141) and his “mystery of state” speech (3.3.205–13) to argue that they reveal not an absolute, fixed hierarchal order but a relativistic, unstable world subject to market fluctuations and changing opinions. The “evaluative discourse” of the first two scenes shows that theatrically the play advances “by a process of multiplying perspectives”; those scenes, along with the Prologue, place Ulysses’ speech on degree in a context that encourages similar weighing of views. To emphasize the speech’s relation to orthodox Elizabethan political ideology, as so many past scholars have done, is to miss the “ironies of its dramatic context,” for what the pragmatic rather than idealistic Ulysses is saying is that “observance of degree is the best we can hope for in a self-devouring world.” Elton considers the play’s value context in light of the transformation of value philosophy from Aquinas—who saw value as inherent, fixed, and absolute—to Hobbes, who viewed it as external, quantified, and relative to a market economy of appreciation and depreciation that assigns each man or woman his or her fluctuating price; see, for example, Achilles’ sense of honor as an accidental attribute (3.3.83–86) and Agamemnon’s comment on Achilles’ quantifiable worth (2.3.141–42). In the mutable world of Tro., where nothing survives flux (3.3.153–55), Shakespeare shows that all the world is “a market place.”
Freund, Elizabeth. “ ‘Ariachne’s broken woof’: The Rhetoric of Citation in Troilus and Cressida.” In Shakespeare & the Question of Theory, edited by Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman, pp. 19–36. New York: Methuen, 1985.
In a deconstructionist reading of the play’s allusions and rhetoric, Freund uses the Ariachne reference (5.2.181) to gloss Shakespeare’s treatment of the powerful and canonical story of Troy. Whether the conflation of two distinct classical allusions—Arachne (who bested Athena in a weaving contest and was, consequently, turned into a spider) and Ariadne (whose thread guided Theseus out of the Cretan maze)—was deliberate on Shakespeare’s part or the result of compositorial error, the resulting confusion is paradigmatic of the split signifiers informing the play, as in the frequently cited “This is and is not Cressid” (5.2.175). An “aporetical figure in Shakespeare’s tapestry of citations,” “Ariachne” points us toward “the major labyrinth of citation and the travesty of citation that is the ‘stuff ’ out of which [Tro.] ‘make[s] paradoxes’ [1.3.188].” Persistently emphasizing its intertextuality and anachronicity, Tro. illustrates the dilemma facing Renaissance artists who wished to balance reverence for classical texts with the privileging of new values associated with originality. Freund concludes that in no other play does Shakespeare “strip both his sources and his own text of their ‘original’ substance with such spirited iconoclasm.” As a result, Tro. is “probably Shakespeare’s most daring experiment in defensive self-presentation, and perhaps his noblest failure.”
Girard, René. “The Politics of Desire in Troilus and Cressida.” In Shakespeare & the Question of Theory, edited by Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman, pp. 188–209. New York: Methuen, 1985.
Girard examines Tro. in accordance with his theory of “mimetic” desire, i.e., a “mediated” desire prompted not by anything intrinsic to the one being desired but by a rivalry with someone else for the same object, which cannot be shared. Shakespeare’s goal in writing Tro. was not “good theater” but rather the creation of “circumstances favorable to the genesis and revelation of . . . configuration[s] of mimetic desire” in both the erotic and political plots. Troilus, for example, loses interest in Cressida after their one night together (4.2.1–39), only to find a new desire awakened when he imagines her surrounded by “merry Greeks” (4.4.59–87)—namely, the desire to possess what they possess. Even the initial desires of Troilus and Cressida for each other are rooted in mimetic impulses: Pandarus entices Troilus to woo Cressida in the first place by comparing her to Helen (1.1.42–44, 76–80), and the rumor that Troilus is desired by Helen serves as Pandarus’s bait to attract Cressida to Troilus (1.2.95–177). In the political plot, desire also coincides with emulative rivalry. For just as Troilus needs the admiring look of other men in the love plot, Achilles needs the same among his fellow warriors. Achilles’ wish to replace Agamemnon, along with the desires of Agamemnon and Ajax to be Achilles, reveals that each man “wants to be the other man without ceasing to be himself ” (see, e.g., 1.3.133–38, 189–94). And just as Helen was central to the mimetic desires of Troilus and Cressida, so she embodies a typically vicious circle of mimetic desire at the center of the Trojan War: the more people die for her, the more valuable she appears to be and vice versa. As the play demonstrates, “it always takes other men to make an erotic or a military conquest truly valuable in the eyes of the conqueror himself.” From a dramatic standpoint, the two plots do not really come together, and that is one of the play’s failures. “But from the standpoint of the mimetic plague”—all those twists and turns of human desire in a world of competing desires—“they marvelously mirror each other.”
Grady, Hugh. “ ‘Mad idolatry’: Commodification and Reification in Troilus and Cressida.” In Shakespeare’s Universal Wolf: Postmodernist Studies in Early Modern Reification, pp. 58–94. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.
The writings of Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault, along with the Frankfurt School’s analysis of reification (i.e., “the property of social systems to act through their own objective logic, as if they possessed an autonomous intentionality”), are central to Grady’s postmodernist interpretation of Tro. as a “cheerless” and “nearly nihilistic” play that “present[s] a complexly organized, mirrors-within-mirrors exploration of mutually metaphoring systems of power, desire, market-value, and instrumental reason.” The result is a “full thematic development of . . . the basis of an implicit notion of Renaissance reification.” Through the “dizzying set of interactions” one can construe from the play’s elaborate parallels and contrasts, Shakespeare demonstrates “how it is possible to ‘think’ concepts analogically in poetry and drama that were not available in the (nascent) theoretical discourses of the time.” For Grady, the central organizing duality of the play is not that of Trojans versus Greeks, as many have argued, but “the mutual metaphor between love and politics, eros and power, lechery and war.” He contends that the play’s analogical system, through a sustained deflation of love/lechery and honor/power, collapses the very ideas that “inspirited” both the love story and the political story. Grady spends considerable time analyzing Ulysses’ speech on degree (1.3.85–141) because it reveals “ideology in the service of reified systems of instrumental thought.” Appearing as a traditionalist on the surface but really an “incipient modern,” Ulysses seeks to instrumentalize rationality as a strategic means to an end (see 1.3.204–14); his “universal wolf ” (1.3.125) of will (understood as desire) and power—reification itself—drives the play, infecting with a contagious negativity human relations and interactions. In Tro., where all is war and lechery, the destruction of honor, romance, and chivalry “is a triumph of instrumental reification in which the final self-destruction of the universal wolf is only deferred through an apparently endless play of destruction.”
Greene, Gayle. “Shakespeare’s Cressida: ‘A kind of self.’ ” In The Woman’s Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, edited by Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely, pp. 133–49. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980.
In this frequently cited essay, an early foray into feminist criticism of the play, Greene uses Tro., perhaps Shakespeare’s most misogynistic work, to further the argument that gender is a social construct—or, in the words of Simone de Beauvoir (The Second Sex), that “one is not born, but rather becomes a woman[;] . . . it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature.” Although Cressida is the “clearest representative of woman’s ‘frailty’ ” in Shakespeare, the playwright “provides a context that exonerates [her].” That context, one of “relativistic and mercantile standards,” subjects all the characters in the play to appearances and to the vacillations of Time (see 3.3.177–80). Women, however, are even more dependent than men on “external supports for identity, more vulnerable to ‘opinion’ [as] they are ‘formed in th’ applause’ [3.3.124] of others, ‘in the glass’ of others’ ‘praise’ ” [1.2.292]. What explains “the conspicuous disjunction between Cressida’s words and actions” is not a lack of coherent characterization but rather her required compliance with “ ‘opinion,’ with the assumption of her society that [an individual’s worth lies] in the eye of the beholder: and, as opinion changes, so does she.” Her characterization thus reveals “several principles we have come to understand as crucial to women’s psychology—the tendency of a woman to define herself in ‘relational’ capacities, to derive self-esteem from the esteem of others, and to ‘objectify’ herself.” The society represented in the play, so modern and familiar in its reduction of people to terms of appetite and trade, “prompts a powerful indictment of the mercantilism of the age, and Cressida reminds us of the effects of capitalism on woman.” Greene cautions against taking the identifying tags for Troilus, Cressida, and Pandarus in 3.2.204–6 as the last word: they are “stylized, simplistic definitions” that need to be understood in context. Cressida’s inconstancy is qualified by the world of the play, as is Troilus’s “truth.”
Greenfield, Matthew. “Fragments of Nationalism in Troilus and Cressida.” Shakespeare Quarterly 51 (2000): 181–200.
If Shakespeare’s histories invest in some healing idea of national community, Tro. is more pessimistic in its political argument, as it programmatically reveals the nation to be “a collection of fictions.” Instead of constructing a genealogy for England, something crucial to the history play, Tro. “attacks the very idea of genealogy” as it undoes or empties out the chroniclers’ efforts to establish Troy as the point of origin for the English nation. Unlike the bastard Faulconbridge in John, who incarnates England and the principle of legitimacy in every sense but the biological, the bastard Thersites “speaks from a cosmopolitan, extranational perspective.” Where Faulconbridge functions “as a synecdoche for the nation, Thersites stands outside its border” to “emblematize” the play’s “relentless attack on nationalism’s narratives, its tropes, its strategic amnesia, and its assumptions about human character and agency.” The defecting Calchas succinctly describes (3.3.3–12) “the division of identity that the war eventually effects in almost all of the play’s characters,” who embody “in microcosm not one but both communities”: e.g., the Cressida split between Troilus and Diomedes; the Iliadic Achilles in love with Patroclus versus the medieval romantic Achilles in love with Priam’s daughter, Polyxena; the hybrid Ajax—half Trojan and half Greek; and finally, the ambiguously heroic Hector, both disturbingly acquisitive and nobly chivalric. “With its procession of bastards, cuckolds, exiles, traitors, and racial hybrids, the play persistently undermines the idea that national identity is an unambiguous aspect of self-definition.” Noting that Shakespeare’s skepticism about the possibility of the nation varies from play to play, Greenfield calls for a more extensive examination of the “variety of [those] skepticisms.”
Harris, Jonathan Gil. “Canker/Serpego and Value: Gerard Malynes, Troilus and Cressida.” Chapter 4 of Sick Economies: Drama, Mercantilism and Disease in Shakespeare’s England, pp. 83–107. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. (An earlier version of the chapter appeared as “The Enterprise Is Sick: Pathology of Value and Transnationality in Troilus and Cressida,” Renaissance Drama, n.s., 29 : 3–37.)
The chapter revises and expands Harris’s initial study of the early modern linkage between discourses of economics and pathology by way of an intertextual analysis of Gerard de Malynes’s Treatise of the Canker of England’s Commonwealth (1601) and Tro. (written soon after). Both works reveal strikingly similar concerns with the migrations of disease and value across national borders. When compared with Shakespeare’s “light-hearted, mercantile comedies” of the 1590s, his problem plays written in the early seventeenth century, of which Tro. is one, appear “morbidly sick.” Finding the two dominant approaches to the disease discourse of these plays wanting—one engaged in speculation about Shakespeare’s physical or mental health at the turn of the century, and the other viewing the disease imagery as metaphorically figuring social decline—Harris proposes an alternative “mercantile and transnational framework” as a way of decoding Tro.’s preoccupation with a host of illnesses. He argues that the contest in the play between endogenous (humoral) and exogenous (infectious) models of disease (i.e., disease as resulting either from an imbalance of bodily fluids or from the invasive agency of foreign bodies) “bespeaks a larger tension between differing paradigms of not just disease but also value—a tension strained to the breaking point by the growth of global trade and foreign currency exchange”; the play’s pathological imagery thus manifests “an uncertainty specific to the mercantilist moment of early seventeenth-century England.” Both Tro. and the mercantile culture of the time grapple with similar questions: Can one determine whether the origins of disease and value are endogenous/intrinsic or exogenous/extrinsic? And if, as Ulysses suggests, “The enterprise is sick” (1.3.107), what exactly is the nature of economic illness and from where does it come? Harris contends that the play gestures toward an alternative model of value that is neither simply intrinsic to the object nor “derived from the external imposition of the wills of multiple, potentially competing subjects”; according to the new paradigm, value in Tro. is fixed by a single sovereign will synonymous with public authority. But as with its “double coding of ‘infectious’ valuation” as both endogenous and exogenous, Tro.’s presentation of the sovereign will—its authority questionable in the figures of both Agamemnon and Priam—is “mediated by a conflicted pathological vocabulary.” The chapter’s expansion of the original essay includes discussion of the early modern association of usury with “canker” and greater attention to the turbulent economic environment that gave rise to Malynes’s treatise.
James, Heather. “ ‘Tricks we play on the dead’: Making History in Troilus and Cressida.” Chapter 3 of Shakespeare’s Troy: Drama, Politics, and the Translation of Empire, pp. 85–118. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
James investigates the ways in which Shakespeare’s dramatic translations of the Troy legend in Tit., Tro., Ant., Cym., and Temp. served to legitimate the cultural place of the theater in late Elizabethan and early Stuart London. “Collectively the plays meditate what might constitute an English national politics rather than a narrow courtly politics; individually, they vary according to the historical stimuli that prompt Shakespeare to renew negotiations with court or city and produce a given ‘translation of empire.’ ” The cultural conditions leading to the composition of Tro. include (1) the appearance of Chapman’s Homer and (2) the fall of the earl of Essex and the “simultaneous collapse of the aristocratic culture of honor.” In contrast to Chapman’s Homer, Shakespeare’s play reveals the social mobility and economic tensions of a developing capitalist society. With respect to Essex, James takes 3.3.205–15 as a point of departure to argue that Tro. “engages the aftermath of the Essex rebellion,” when a “pall of suspicion and surveillance” engulfed London as censors and state officials adopted such theatrical tactics as disguise, plots, and entrapping dialogue “to keep citizens from overmighty lords [for whom Achilles provides a model] to recusants, printers, players, or rogues and vagabonds from ‘meddling’ with state practices.” Shakespeare’s interrogative rather than encomiastic treatment of the Troy legend robs it of both authority and integrity. By asking “what happens when subjects . . . perceive themselves as diminished and altered copies of a lost original,” and by investigating “the degree to which identity and thought are impinged on by politically authoritative codes ranging from statutes to hortatory norms,” Shakespeare “extends the destabilizing function of literary history from a single hero to the entire Troy legend: and when a writer demands that we confront the divisions internal to the myth of national origins itself, then the very authority which is its theme and raison d’être can only emerge as vitiated.” The scene between Helen and Paris (3.1) “typifies the way the play destabilizes generic, evaluative, and characterological categories.”
Mallin, Eric S. “Emulous Factions and the Collapse of Chivalry: Troilus and Cressida.” Representations, no. 29 (Winter 1990): 145–79. (Slightly revised and reprinted in his Inscribing the Time: Shakespeare and the End of Elizabethan England, New Historicism: Studies in Cultural Poetics 33 [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995], pp. 25–61.)
Mallin claims that the tense transitional years between the reigns of Elizabeth and James “materially shape . . . and misshape . . . [Tro.].” Specifically, he finds in the play a reflection of the political, military, and ideological anxieties associated with the late Elizabethan “neurosis of invasion,” when invasion was understood as both a military threat posed by war with Spain and Ireland and an ideological threat to the Virgin Queen herself. As a play dealing with a war precipitated by rape, Tro. becomes the perfect vehicle for exploring both senses of invasion. Mallin emphasizes Elizabeth’s cultivation of factions as a way of preventing challenges to the monarchy—a strategy, however, that in her final years came to fuel rather than restrain disorder, the most notable example being the anti- and pro-war factions of the Cecil and Essex camps, respectively. The emulative rivalry (1.3.133–38) of the “hollow factions” (1.3.84) among the Greek warriors mirrors late Elizabethan mimetic factionalism (whereby members of the queen’s court competed to equal or surpass each other in the quest for social/political advancement—imitation being the key method of rendering one’s rival obsolete); and the “antifeminist . . . homoerotic” chivalry of Priam’s sons mirrors the decline of chivalric codes of knighthood in Elizabeth’s court, where “masculine self-interest took precedence over obligatory chivalric service to a woman.” A “repressive misogyny,” in fact, infects both Trojan and late Elizabethan chivalry. Central to Mallin’s argument is the figure of Essex, who “bifurcates” into both Achilles and Hector: the former inscribes the earl’s aggressive militarism and surly reclusiveness; the latter, his status as the “final flawed representative of [a waning] martial, chivalric glory.” Just as violent emulation in Elizabeth’s court “wrought havoc on cultural templates such as honor, nobility, and distinction,” so Shakespeare’s “emulation” of the “overtold” Troy story “contaminates what it copies.”
Martin, Priscilla, ed. Troilus and Cressida: A Casebook. London: Macmillan, 1976.
The book is divided into two parts. The first extracts commentary written between 1679 and 1939 from such critics as John Dryden, Samuel Johnson, William Hazlitt, S. T. Coleridge, G. G. Gervinus, A. C. Swinburne, G. B. Shaw, A. C. Bradley, G. Wilson Knight, Oscar Campbell, and Mark Van Doren. The second half focuses on studies spanning the years 1945 to 1975 and includes excerpts from essays and books by Una Ellis-Fermor, Kenneth Muir, Alvin Kernan, A. P. Rossiter, David Kaula, Clifford Leech, Willard Farnham, Jan Kott, R. J. Kaufmann, Joyce Carol Oates, Northrop Frye, Arnold Stein, T. McAlindon, and John Bayley. A select bibliography rounds out the volume. In the introduction, Martin charts the play’s critical reputation from its first appearance (1609) until 1975. Among the topics discussed are differences between the Quarto and Folio texts; the play’s disputed generic classification (as either tragedy, comedy, or heroic farce); the transmission of the Troy story from Homer to Shakespeare by way of Chaucer, Lydgate, Henryson, Caxton, and Chapman; and Tro.’s affinity with the modern, post–World War I temper as found in its “bitter, anti-heroic elements” and “relativistic philosophy of value.” Martin briefly comments on performance history, citing the first known revival at Munich in 1898 and stagings at London theaters in 1907 (with Lewis Casson as Troilus), 1912 (with Edith Evans as Cressida), and 1938 (Michael MacOwan’s “terrifyingly contemporary” interpretation).
Weimann, Robert. “Bifold Authority in Shakespeare’s Theatre.” Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988): 401–17.
Weimann’s focus is “that disparate set of relationships between language, power, and authority best exemplified” in the plays of Shakespeare. The collision in Shakespeare’s theater between the early modern modes of negotiating authority and “a mimesis of premodern circumstances of authorization” results in the “text’s projection of two different . . . locations of authority: the represented locus of authority, and the process of authorization on the platform stage.” Central to this discussion of the bifold authority of the object represented and of the agency representing—i.e., of the script and performance, writing and stagecraft—is the division of the Elizabethan platform stage into locus and platea: the locus, “associated with the localizing capacities of the fictional role[,] . . . tended to privilege the authority of what and who was represented in the dramatic world”; the platea, “associated instead with the actor and the neutral materiality of the platform stage, tended to privilege the authority of what and who was representing that world.” Where the primary concern of the locus is “playing for an audience,” that of the platea is “playing with an audience.” This spatial division, mutable rather than rigidly fixed, demonstrates that the “authority” of theatrical mimesis ultimately requires validation by an audience willing to cooperate with the “imaginary forces” of author’s pen and actor’s voice. Although the term “bifold authority” derives from Tro. (5.2.173), the play at the center of the essay is H5. The findings related to that play’s “redefinition and use of ‘distance’ ” in the process of theatrical representation may open up “a perspective on a more highly experimental and self-conscious use of the platea projection of complementary authority” in subsequent plays such as Ham., Tro. and MM, “where divided uses of authority appear most centrally to involve a changing use of locus and platea conventions.”
Yachnin, Paul. “ ‘The Perfection of Ten’: Populuxe Art and Artisanal Value in Troilus and Cressida.” Shakespeare Quarterly 56 (2005): 306–27.
Yachnin uses Cressida’s “cheeky” remark at 3.2.84–88 (“They say all lovers swear more performance than they are able . . . vowing more than the perfection of ten and discharging less than the tenth part of one”) to begin his discussion of the “populuxe and artisanal dimensions” of Tro. “Populuxe” (a term coined by the cultural critic Thomas Hine to describe the “deluxe dressing up” of consumer goods in the 1950s and ’60s) denotes something that is “both popular and deluxe.” The “perfection” comment is popular because it can be enjoyed at the Globe, a public theater open to anyone with a penny and a couple of hours to spare; Cressida’s wisecrack is deluxe because of her “canonical pedigree” dating back to the twelfth century and because her “edgy wit” recalls the verse satires fashionable in the 1590s and the satirical plays by Jonson and Chapman (among others) performed at the private playhouses. “Classy but common,” Cressida embodies “one of the most salient and formative features of Shakespeare’s art”: an artisanal ethos, defined by Yachnin as “the ethos of theatrical labor,” i.e., the working conditions and stagecraft responsible for translating script into performance. If Cressida’s comment is read not simply as referring to sexual performance but as suggesting dramatic performance—the collective ability of ten engaged in the “work” of bringing a dramatic performance to completion—we begin to see not only that “playing” is an organized, goal-oriented undertaking but also that an artisanal ethos is present in “this up-market satire of classical, canonical, and aristocratic value-claims.” A socioeconomic approach that attends to the working conditions of the theater company in the course of production and to the players as craftsmen “yield[s] a fuller and more historical account of Shakespeare’s ideas about value” within this play, as well as a “more satisfactory account of his drama’s politics in general.”