Troilus and Cressida

The Tragedy of Misogyny in Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” College

Echoing Homer’s Illiad, Shakespeare cites in the prologue to Troilus and Cressida that the Trojan war erupted because of the kidnap of Helen: ‘Menelaus’ queen,/With wanton Paris sleeps – and that’s the quarrel’ [prologue, 9-10]. We therefore believe from the outset that the war plot [and all the tragedies that occur as a result of it] exists because of this woman, whilst in the love plot it is the infidelity of Cressida which creates tragedy by destroying any hope of romantic love surviving in the play.

It appears then that the tragedy in the play orbits around these two women, but whether they can be held personally responsible for this is doubtful. Shakespeare mirrors the epic tradition of beginning his play in medias res; as far as the audience’s perception is concerned, the war has been constant. Because of this we are made constantly unsure whether the sexual quarrel is at the heart of the war or the war has become the heart of the sexual quarrel; as Kenneth Muir suggests, Shakespeare ‘turns his back upon his former ideals and the world’s ancient ideals of heroism and romance, and questions them’ by melding together the love and war plots. In particular, throughout the play we see war intruding upon the love plot in both...

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