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MonkeyNotes-Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
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PLOT(Structure)

The Prologue verbally recreates the scene, and places the action in its appropriate geographic location. There is no other Shakespearean tragedy (if this can be called a tragedy) in which two such different plots run parallel and yet are so separate without any clearly dominating figure. The martial Prologue does not even mention the lovers, but appears to introduce a history play about the Trojan War.

Act I, Scene 1 establishes Troilus as a typical young man in love with love. For all its comedy - intensified by Pandarus’ frivolity, there is a current of seriousness in the scene especially when Troilus refers to the senselessness of the Trojan War and the dubious value of the prize, Helen, for which it is being fought.

The whole conflict is fixed in terms of the sordid Paris-Helen- Menelaus triangle, and the scene provides a number of pointers to later scenes.

In Scene 2, Shakespeare introduces his heroine Cressida, who has decided that a non-committal attitude is, for the time being, her best defense against the clichés of romantic love as well as against the clumsy tactics of Pandarus.

In Scene 3, the audience first meets the Greek leadership. There are five or six scenes that are crucial to any discussion of Troilus and Cressida, this is one of them. This Greek council scene and the Trojan council scene are nearly symmetrical, reflect one another, and are built on a similar pattern of discussion/interruption/resumption or fresh topic/change of course by a major speaker.


Ulysses speaks thrice: two long speeches (63 lines and 43 lines) followed by a coda of 14 lines; and when he is done, the so-called debate is over. When he launches himself into the ‘degree’ speech, he is brisk and confident. Ulysses says that if the principle of order is hidden, then value is also lost, and the unworthy appears worthwhile, if a mask hides both the ruler and the subject, both become indistinguishable. Leaping from the natural world to that of the Greek army, he proceeds to a vision of ultimate anarchy in which degree is lost and the growing evil of individual license proves self-destructive.

He says that communities, academic ranks in schools, guilds and societies in cities, peaceful commerce, right of secession and inheritance of the first-born, prerogatives of age, crowns, scepters, laurels, all stand in their places because of hierarchy. Once the hierarchy was taken away, discord follows. So the disregard of degree causes retrogression, and not progress. Ulysses says it is not Troy’s own strength, but this fever among the Greeks that keeps the Trojans going. Ulysses speech which is strictly co- ordinate with the speeches of Hector in the Trojan council, is chiefly important for its general account of disorder in society.

Ulysses then describes the burlesque acting of Patroclus who satirically enacted Agamemnon as an actor playing a conqueror part while Nestor was depicted as a senile, arthritic fool. Ulysses verges upon miming the original satire for the two objects of it, thus demonstrating what he will subsequently recommend for the treatment of Achilles: if men cannot understand an explanation, they must be shown an example instead. Agamemnon must be shown the growing anarchy that he has so far ignored. The scene is halted by the entry of the herald, Aeneas. Ulysses who has spoken so eloquently of the need for order and degree, now proposes a complete negligence of degree in order to cure Achilles. By Ulysses’ degree speech, and by Hector’s later appeal to the ‘laws of nature and of nations’, the audience is meant to judge the action of the play.

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