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MonkeyNotes-Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
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OVERALL ANALYSES

CHARACTERS

Hector

Warm-hearted, courageous, magnanimous, kind and dynamic, Hector, son of Priam is the brain and the arm of Troy. The views expressed about Hector proclaim him as the very prop of Troy, unmatchable in battle, except by Achilles. Brave and generous to the point of foolhardiness, he is a powerful fighter, but too naive on the battlefield to live long. Often, he neglects to kill adversaries whom he has knocked down - a habit that prompts Troilus to comment: ‘Brother you have a vice of mercy in you, /which better fits a lion than a man.’

Hector’s attractive personality has an almost magical effect on most of the other characters in the play - the Greeks are reduced to awe-struck admirers, almost a fan club, when he put in an appearance at their camp. The force of his personality transforms Ajax who, for the larger part of the play, seems devoid of generosity, into a courteous knight. But even feeble-witted Ajax knows that this degree of magnanimity does not suit the times. Everybody, except Achilles, recognizes and admires Hector’s bravery, generosity and stature.

Troy’s most admired warrior, and certainly the most admirable character in Troilus and Cressida. Hector’s tragic naiveté makes him willfully irresponsible. He fails to see that Achilles is a ruthless coward willing to put aside all principles of ‘fair play’ to murder ‘the pillar of Troy.’ Excessive generosity costs him his life. The audience sees that the great warrior lives in a never- never land where honor is placed before life itself. He believes the code to which he adheres, is universal, and his dying words express disbelief that Achilles can discard it.


But Hector has his share of bad points. He has to be judged not only as a soldier but also as a leader and decision-maker and in the ultimate analysis, he is a failure. He has gambled the survival of Troy in the pursuit of honor and has hopelessly misjudged the values that animate the arena in which he excels - the War. His failure to comprehend the real nature of his world costs him his life. He might be the most attractive character in the play, but he lets himself down twice. Once, during the debate, and next when he chases and kills a man for his armor. His failure is the greatest in the play because his responsibility is the greatest, and he betrays it through his folly. His fatal error occurs when he chivalrously spares Achilles’ life in the scene just before the armor incident. But though Hector is warm-hearted and generous, he stoops to hunt a man for his armor. The diseased body in the shining armor is emblematic of the hopelessness of the War and the disjunction between appearance and reality. He dies, paradoxically through both fulfilling and violating his code.

Troilus

A brave warrior and second only to Hector in the Trojan camp, Troilus is the youngest son of Priam and lover of Cressida. Ulysses who speaks admiringly of him and compares him favorably to Hector paints the most complete picture of Troilus. But though Troilus is a great warrior, his judgment is severely defective in the world of love, and he gives himself totally to Cressida to receives in exchange, ‘no matter from the heart.’

Troilus judgment is also shown to be weak in the debate over the continuation of the War. He, like Achilles and Ajax, is perfectly adapted to the battlefield, but ill equipped for the council chamber. Troilus tragedy is his failure to distinguish between bodily impulses, and those of the spirit. His love for Cressida is based upon a Platonic idea of her fairness and chastity. He does not or will not realize that a large part of his fascination is sexual. This propensity for delusion is duplicated in the debate scene where he swerves from recognizing the essentially sordid and trivial nature of the War and insists on concentrating on the honor that can be won fighting it.

He is dedicated to both Cressida and the War, but his failure to join his mental faculties with his passion ensures the annihilation of his love and his city. Even when Troilus realizes that he has been completely deceived by Cressida but he still treats her as if she were a goddess, even risking his arm for the love token which she has besmirched and playing out in miniature the Helen-Paris (Trojans)-Menelaus (Greeks) triangle.

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