Jamelah Reads the Classics: Troilus and Cressida

My quest to read the classics continues, this time with everybody’s favorite literary enigma. That’s right, I’m talking about Shakespeare, the writer people like to say wasn’t Shakespeare at all, but rather, a blind, lyre-playing Greek who — wait, now I’m getting confused with Homer.

But then, it’s easy to get Shakespeare and Homer confused, because they both wrote about the Trojan War. You know, the one with the horse. Yes, that’s right, they both covered the story of the wacky ancient hijinks that went on because of Helen and her famously beautiful ship-launching face. Not that her face did the actual launching of the ships itself, because that would be both freakish and bizarre. Okay, anyway. The point is that today’s installment of Jamelah Reads the Classics is all about Shakespeare’s Trojan War love story, Troilus and Cressida.

Troilus and Cressida is one of Shakespeare’s more obscure plays (unless you can prove me wrong and show that it’s on par with Hamlet), and focuses on the eponymous Troilus and Cressida, two young lovers from the ill-fated city of Troy. They hook up, thanks to the help of Cressida’s uncle Pandarus, the pimp (whose name is responsible for the word “pander”), but, as it would have to be, there is trouble for the pair. As Shakespeare wrote in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the course of true love never did run smooth, and the story of Troilus and Cressida involves infidelity, broken trust and woe. Woe! I’d tell you more, but I don’t want to ruin it for you in case you ever decide to read it.

And then there’s the whole Trojan War thing. The Trojans discuss whether they should keep fighting, considering the possibility of sending Helen back to Menelaus where she belongs, but Troilus, silly cad, talks them into keeping up the struggle. Achilles, prize-winning sulking bastard that he is, is sitting around the Greek camp, sulking. He is finally coerced back into the fight when his homeboy Patroclus is killed by Trojan badass Hector. This is where Shakespeare differs from Homer, because in the Iliad, Hector and Achilles have a big, dramatic fight, culminating in Hector’s dead body being dragged around the Trojan city walls from the back of Achilles’ chariot. In Shakespeare, however, Achilles waits until Hector is unarmed, and then has his posse jump him with lots of stabbing and whatnot, after which, there’s the dragging of the body around the Trojan city walls and all is right with the world.

So, I know the question you’ve been waiting for me to answer is, what do I think of Troilus and Cressida? Well, although Shakespeare is everybody’s back-up answer when they can’t think of someone to call the Greatest Writer Ever, I didn’t like this one so much. It was okay, I mean, Shakespeare could turn a phrase, and all. But without even trying very hard, I can think of ten plays of his that I liked a lot better. The love story is so-so, and I’m absolutely sick of the Trojan War, so I won’t even get started on that. I will say, though, that the final speech of the play, given by pimpdaddy Pandarus makes the whole thing worthwhile — nothing like a few double-entendres about being racked with VD and some talk about the perils of pimping to, you know, keep it real.

But even Shakespeare is allowed to have an off day, I suppose, so even though I found Troilus and Cressida mostly snoozeworthy, I won’t hold it against him.

3 Responses

  1. No donkey ?You picked one of
    No donkey ?

    You picked one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays on purpose, no doubt. So, do Troilus and Cressida experience interesting woe, or just run-of-the-mill woe, because it seems like this would be the part that would make or break the story. And are those the two names which Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell cry out at the end of Overboard, or am I confusing them with someone other pair of star-crossers? And finally, do you think Shakespeare would have used squib packets of fake blood if they had them back then?

  2. Well, I’ve read all of the
    Well, I’ve read all of the major ones, so I had to delve into more obscure territory to get Shakespeare on my list. And the woe that Troilus and Cressida experience is pretty damned woeful. Quite dramatic, but then, isn’t everything that has to do with love? I cannot answer your Goldie Hawn/Kurt Russell question, unfortunately, and for this I feel deep shame. As for the packets of fake blood, I have to say that my working theory is yes, definitely.

    I hope this has been helpful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!