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MonkeyNotes-Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
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Literary and Historical Information

The title of the play and Shakespeare’s material for the love story were taken from Chaucer’s poem Troilus and Criseyde, along with Henryson’s sequel, The Testament of Cresseid, which up to 1721 was printed as Chaucer’s.

For the War story, Shakespeare’s main sources were William Caxton’s Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye (1474), John Lydgate’s Troy-Book (1513) and George Chapman’s translation of Books I-II and VII-XI of Homer: Seven Books of the Iliads. Shakespeare may also have read one or more of the numerous translations of the Iliad which were available in English, French and Latin. He also probably drew on Virgil’s Aeneid and Golding’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses(1567). Elyot's The Governor (1521) may have influenced Ulysses' famous speech on order, Hooker’s Treatise Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie(1593) and the Homilie on obedience. Another possible source is Robert Greene’s Euphues, his Censure to Philautus(1587).

The Ephemeris Belli Troiani of Dictys the Cretan that belongs to the 4th Century AD and the De Excidio Troiae Historiae by Dares Phrygius that dates from the 6th Century AD, are the main works that lie behind Shakespeare’s medieval sources. Joseph of Exeter rendered dares pro-Trojan work into Latin hexameters in the 12 Century. Though Dares does describe Troilus, Diomedus and Briseis, the love story emanates from Benoit de Sainte-Maure’s Roman de Troie, dating from the second half of the 12th Century, which takes up the story with the departure of Briseida from Troy. Benoit’s French verse was translated into Latin prose by Guido delle Colonne, and his Historia Troiana (1287) became the most widely used version of the love story. Chaucer’s immediate source, Boccacio’s Il Filostrato, drew heavily on Benoit because of his more compelling treatment of the love triangle.


Although the embryo of the love story is to be found in Benoit, it was Boccacio, who was responsible for the creation of a genuinely moving poem. This focuses directly on the lovers, from the beginning of Troilo’s wooing of Criseida to her betrayal of him for Diomedus. The poem is infused with passionate feeling, and Boccaccio, who changes the name of Troilus’ sweetheart from Briseida to Criseida also introduces the key character of Pandarus, thereby providing the potential for a lot of the comic irony found in Chaucer and Shakespeare.

Sources and influences include ideas drawn from Boethius and Dante. Chaucer in the House of Fame lists the chief authorities on the Troy story as Homer, Dares, Dictys, Boccacio, Guido delle Colonne. Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose Historia Regium Brittaniae (1139) narrated the story of Aeneas’ flight from Troy and settlement in Italy and the expulsion of his great grandson Brute, who reached Albion to become the founder of London. This linked Britain to Troy and intensified the tragic force of the destruction of Troy and its civilization. Both medieval versions of the War story used by Shakespeare derive ultimately from the same source - William Caxton’s The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, which was the first printed book in English. Translated in 1471 and published in 1474. Caxton’s work was a translation of Raoul Lefevre’s fifteenth-century French prose translation of Guido delle Colonne’s Historia Troiana. John Lydgate’s Troy- Book, which was begun in 1412 and published in 1513 and again in 1555 was translated directly from Guido.

Shakespeare then shaped all this diverse material into his Troilus and Cressida.

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