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MonkeyNotes-Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
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THEMES

Major Theme

Value, worth and honor: Honor is a central theme and the debate scene in Act II, Scene 2 focuses sharply on value, worth and honor. The play invites a probing of honor especially, and separates its various standards. In the skewed logic of the Trojan War, Hector asserts the primacy of honor over life but fails to recognize the dependence of others on his life and so fails.

Minor Themes

Authority, hierarchy, decision making and the consequence of these decisions for society and for particular individuals: Ulysses ‘degree’ speech emphasizes the need to contain disorder and maintain hierarchies. Pandarus’ withering reference to the general soldiers as ‘Asses, fools, dolts, chaff and bran, chaff and bran; porridge after meat....crows and daws’ points up the plight of the common people. They are part of a conflict, over which they have no control, and are expendable in a War directed by the faulty decisions of a few.

The conflict between appearance and reality: Often, an attractive exterior gives way to an unattractive interior - a theme brought out by the soldier in sumptuous armor who turns out to be diseased.

Sex: Love and lechery feature powerfully in both the strands of the play, and at the center of the Trojan War are two women who are fought over, enjoyed, and abused. The play poses serious questions about power, sexual attraction and desire.

Identity and kinship: Almost every character in Troilus and Cressida is identified in terms of kinship - Ajax is Hector’s cousin, Cressida is Pandarus’ niece, Troilus, Hector and Paris are all sons of Priam. Even Thersites sites their common status as bastards as a kind of kinship bond with Margarelon. Identities seem fluid and essences are constantly questioned.

Time: Time constitutes a major concern of the play and is seen as a key concept in the human imagination that can be defeated only through the immortality of fame or procreation.


MOOD

Troilus and Cressida is grouped with Measure for Measure and All’s Well That Ends Well as one of Shakespeare’s ‘Problem Plays’ - a label applied to those of his works that cannot be classified under the traditional categories of history, romantic comedy, tragedy or romance.

In each instance, the reader enters a society, which is introspective and manifests a sense of having a major problem. The mood is that of an advanced civilization under severe threat that is slipping beyond rational control even as the audience watches. In Troilus and Cressida, the failure of both societies is manifested. The Greeks and Trojans have punched themselves to a standstill and the mighty antagonists who are maneuvering towards mutual destruction, seem unable to change direction. They have learnt nothing from the disasters of the past, and lack the energy and the imagination to transform their situation.

Like Shakespeare’s other ‘Problem plays’, Troilus and Cressida explores fundamental problems relating to personal and social values within a framework which makes the audience acutely aware of similar problems in their own society.

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