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MonkeyNotes-Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
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Cressida

Troilus’ love interest; Cressida is bartered by the Trojans in return for Antenor. Her subsequent betrayal of Troilus made her a symbol of female inconstancy in the medieval texts that are the source for Troilus and Cressida. But Shakespeare’s Cressida, a witty woman with a risqué sense of Humor, has been portrayed on the modern stage, as a complex character who can be viewed either as a faithless lover or a victim of War.

No other character in the play is viewed and commented upon from so many different angles. For Troilus, she cannot be equaled.

She is seen engaging in bawdy banter with her servant Alexander and Pandarus, playing the coy lover with Troilus, pledging her love to Troilus, parting from him in distress, enjoying the attentions of the Greek leaders, succumbing to Diomedes.

A scene made even more sordid by being observed by her deceived lover, Ulysses and Thersites and finally attempting to maintain her deception of Troilus in her letter to him.

Pandarus sees his niece as being at least as fair as Helen is. But unlike Helen, Cressida is artful and vivacious. She does not exhibit self-knowledge but does reveal an understanding of the position of women in relation to men.

If she rivals Helen in beauty, she has the potential to surpass her in faithlessness. Her passion for Troilus and her grief at her separation from him are quite genuine, but nothing is deep-rooted in her. Of the four outstanding cases of jealousy in Shakespeare, only in Troilus and Cressida do we find a mad outburst, which is justified.

Like Ajax, Cressida is a symbol of division. The daughter of the traitor Calchas, she forms part of a transaction by which she is used to ‘buy’ Antenor from the Greeks. Though she initially protests, she has to move over to the Greek side. Helen and Cressida are often compared in the play, and at the center of the Trojan War are two faithless women who are fought over, enjoyed and denigrated.


Pandarus

Cressida’s uncle facilitates the union of Troilus and Cressida. A lightweight character given to bawdy talk, Pandarus provides much of the comedy in the play in his role as go-between. As Helen’s servant who deliberately misunderstands Pandarus’ question, gauges in Act III, Scene1. He has such little substance that brief acquaintance is enough to plumb his depths.

Along with Thersites, Pandarus is a key figure in ensuring that the audience does not identify too closely with any of the characters. He forms part of the structure that underlines the questioning of other characters, and irony, paradox and deflation - all essential elements in maintaining the detachment of the audience - occur in his dialogues. He also plays a key role in introducing the audience to the Trojan commanders in Act I Scene 2

For all its brilliant comedy, and though Pandarus has the last word, Troilus and Cressida ends on a bleak note.

Pandarus laments after he is shooed away by a disillusioned Troilus who has witnessed Cressida’s betrayal in a scene that was originally thought to be a later interpolation, but is now considered a fitting end to an unclassifiable ‘problem play.’

Observers like Pandarus and Thersites ensure that heroic language never remains uncriticized. Pandarus by his utterances debases the love story. Watching the lovers who are about to be parted he says ‘Ah, sweet ducks!’ Plainly, he reduces the intensity of emotion in the meeting. Intelligence is not the most obvious characteristic of Thersites and Pandarus. Pandarus seems to have no great critical capacity at all but only the ability to involve himself in a situation sufficiently to debase it.

Thersites debases whatever he meets and contemplates but does so by vituperation and dissociation - he will strip the attributes from any man and provide a fresh set from his own imaginings. Pandarus is a romantic gone rotten. Thersites is a romantic gone sour. Despite the skill with which they are deployed and especially despite the brilliant invention of Thersites’ language, their true function in the play is structural. They present to the audience other possible views and evaluations.

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