Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
The language in the play is tough and many speeches are not merely ambiguous, but have an awkward construction, the verse often exhibiting a strain which reflects the stress of emotions 2experienced by the characters who voice them. Characters often use a distinctive kind of language. Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks talks in an orotund, pompous style often using fantastic and newly coined words like ‘tortive’, ‘protractive’ and ‘persistive.’ Thersites scabrous words and abuse flow out in a rush - the unstoppable truth, and Cressida’s double entente gives a glimpse of her real divided nature.
Shakespeare uses instant verbal patterning: parts are compared with wholes, delineation, disintegration, fragmentation and linking of these to the fabric of kinship and the associations of food in its various forms including remains, to make the audience more conscious of the way in which humans handle their affairs.
There are constant comparisons and contrasts between characters in the play and division is an important theme. Hector and Achilles and by extension the Trojans and the Greeks, Paris and Menelaus who are presented as being equally contemptible, Troilus and Diomedes are all contrasted while Helen and Cressida are constantly compared in the play.
If Helen is the ostensible cause of the War, Cressida is at the centre of the love story. Both the stories are commented upon directly and indirectly throughout the play. At the centre of the War are two unfaithful women who are fought over, enjoyed, abused and denigrated. Both women are light stuff but of the two, Cressida is clearly the more artful and vivacious. Helen or ‘Nell’ as she is cloyingly refered to by the besotted Paris is in comparison, indolent and almost dim-witted.
Hector and Troilus acknowledge that though the ostensible cause might not be admirable, the War could be used to gain honour on the battlefield. Otherwise, Helen is ‘not worth what she doth cost the keeping.’ In fact, the War is most succinctly summed up by Thersites as ‘All the argument is a whore and a cuckold: a good quarrel to draw emulous factions, and bleed to death upon.’ Likewise, the love story is commented upon both directly and indirectly and ultimately, Troilus, Ulysses and Thersites all view Cressida’s betrayal. So both the love story and the War are exposed as shams.
Pandarus and Thersites both comment on the action and prevent the audience from identifying with any one person and so are parallel characters in a sense. Likewise, Agamemnon and Priam can be compared in their roles as nominal leaders. Even the attitudes of Troilus and Cressida - Troilus is the lover who almost can’t understand the darker side sexuality, while Cressida is the quibbling beloved with a fair idea of the manipulative powers of sex. Shakespeare constantly compares and contrasts characters until the audience finally perceives the utter futility of the War, and even questions the very nature of physical attraction and love.