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If I be false, or swerve a hair from truth,
When time is old and hath forgot itself,
When waterdrops have worn the stones of Troy,
And blind oblivion swallow'd cities up,
And mighty states characterless are grated
To dusty nothing, yet let memory ...
Upbraid my falsehood!

A story of love, war, and disillusionment, set during the ninth year of the Trojan war (about the 12th century BCE). Synopsis and quotations follow the Location and Logistics section.

LOCATION & LOGISTICS: See above for map of spot in Volunteer Park - I'll try for the picnic tables across the road from the wading pool / restrooms at the NE end of the park (east of the conservatory, which is a Victorian glass greenhouse). The tables tend to migrate, but there are usually some near a big silvery conifer, or the staked dahlia plantings, or a bit east of there (nearer 15th Ave E). You can call (206) 331-2910 if you can't find us. Bring lawn chairs if you like. Volunteer Park is right on the #10 busline from downtown.

If the weather seems likely to rain, I will look for an available library. Any location change will be announced by the day before.

Bring a copy of the text if you have one, if not we usually have an extra and can share. It's helpful though not necessary to read the play before hand; reading a synopsis at least is recommended. This is a relatively long play with some complex language and a variety of substantial parts. With intros, dividing out the parts, reading, break, and optional discussion afterwards, expect this to take most of the afternoon.

For text, synopsis and "character circles", see http://www.shakespeareswords.com/Troilus-and-Cressida

Synopsis

Troilus is one of the younger sons of King Priam of Troy. His siblings include Hector, famed for his valor and honorable conduct; Cassandra, the prophet who sees the catastrophes which will befall Troy but is cursed so that no one believes her; and Paris, who started the whole mess by running off with the legendary beauty Helen. Helen's husband Menelaus, his brother Agamemnon, and a host of other Greeks including Achilles, Ajax and Ulysses pursued them and have been besieging Troy ever since.

When the play begins, Troilus is preoccupied with longing for Cressida.

I tell thee I am mad
In Cressid's love...

Her bed is India, and there she lies, a pearl.

Cressida's father Calchas, a seer, had defected to the Greeks, leaving her to the dubious care of her uncle Pandarus. Pandarus is only too happy to arrange an assignation between Troilus and Cressida. Nobody mentions marriage, and no one seems to be looking out for Cressida's future. Though smitten with Troilus, she tries to play hard to get, worried that he will drop her otherwise.

... more in Troilus thousand fold I see
Than in the glass of Pandar's praise may be;
Yet hold I off. Women are angels, wooing:
Things won are done; joy's soul lies in the doing.

After all these years, the war is at a stalemate and both sides are tired of it. In the Greek camp, the greatest warrior, Achilles, keeps to his tent with his companion (and lover?) Patroclus, mocking Agamemnon and the other leaders. Thersites, a caustic commentator, mocks everyone. For example,

Here's Agamemnon, an honest fellow enough and one that loves quails; but he has not so much brain as earwax...

The policy of those crafty swearing rascals, that stale old mouse-eaten dry cheese, Nestor, and that same dog-fox, Ulysses, is not proved worthy a blackberry....

Among the Trojans, Hector argues that too many lives have been lost:

Let Helen go...

Brother, she is not worth what she doth cost
The keeping.

His sister Cassandra appears in the grips of prophecy:

Cry, Trojans, cry! a Helen and a woe:
Cry, cry! Troy burns, or else let Helen go.

But their brothers Paris and Troilus dismiss her as mad. After further argument Hector gives in and agrees to continue fighting.

Hector sends out a challenge to meet one of the Greeks in single combat. Ulysses worries that if Hector fights Achilles no good can come of it - if Achilles loses, the Greeks will be seen to have lost their best, and if Achilles wins, he will become even more arrogant. The other Greeks arrange to snub Achilles and have Ajax fight Hector instead. Ulysses counsels Achilles not to rest on his laurels:

Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back,
Wherein he puts alms for oblivion,
A great-sized monster of ingratitudes:
Those scraps are good deeds past; which are devour'd
As fast as they are made, forgot as soon
As done: perseverance, dear my lord,
Keeps honour bright...

Ulysses tells him, as well, that the spy system of the Greek state is aware of his romantic involvement with a Trojan princess. Achilles is left bemused.

My mind is troubled, like a fountain stirr'd;
And I myself see not the bottom of it.

Pandarus brings Troilus to his own home to meet with Cressida. Troilus is beside himself with anticipation:

I am giddy; expectation whirls me round.
The imaginary relish is so sweet
That it enchants my sense: what will it be,
When that the watery palate tastes indeed
Love's thrice repured nectar? death, I fear me,
Swooning destruction, or some joy too fine,
Too subtle-potent, tuned too sharp in sweetness,
For the capacity of my ruder powers...

Cressida seems conflicted:

.... I was won, my lord,
With the first glance that ever—pardon me—
If I confess much, you will play the tyrant...

I have a kind of self resides with you;
But an unkind self, that itself will leave,
To be another's fool. I would be gone:
Where is my wit? I know not what I speak.

... For to be wise and love
Exceeds man's might....

After kissing under the approving eye of Pandarus, they swear to be true to each other and go in to bed.

Unbeknownst to them, her father Calchas has persuaded the Greeks to exchange a Trojan hostage for his daughter, and the Greek warrior Diomedes is sent as envoy to bring Cressida back to the Greek camp. In the morning, Troilus has just left Cressida when he gets word that she is to be sent to the Greeks; he says only

Is it so concluded?

... How my achievements mock me!

and hurries away so as not to be discovered there. Pandarus, hearing the news, is concerned mainly with the disappointment Troilus must feel, and tells his niece

Would thou hadst ne'er been born.

Cressida proclaims:

O you immortal gods! I will not go.

I will not, uncle: I have forgot my father;
I know no touch of consanguinity;
No kin no love, no blood, no soul so near me
As the sweet Troilus.

Troilus returns with other Trojans to bring Cressida to Diomedes, and they manage a few minutes of emotional parting first. She is upset that he seems to doubt her faithfulness. Pandarus and Troilus both tell her that she must go, there is no remedy, but Troilus promises to sneak in to see her at night. He directs Diomedes to treat her honorably, but Diomedes sneers at him and expresses an interest in Cressida himself.

A lone woman entering the Greek camp, Cressida is passed from one general to another, all demanding kisses. She eventually finds her voice to banter with them. Ulysses dismisses her as a slut.

Fie, fie upon her!
There's language in her eye, her cheek, her lip,
Nay, her foot speaks; her wanton spirits look out
At every joint and motive of her body.

The men gather to watch the match between Hector and Ajax, which ends without injury because Hector does not wish to hurt Ajax, who is his cousin. Achilles invites Hector to visit him that night, and then insults him.

Troilus, who has come along to the Greek camp, goes off to look for Cressida and finds her with her "guardian" Diomedes, torn between his demands and her memories of Troilus. Troilus watches from hiding, wretched with jealousy, as she finally gives Diomedes the love-token Troilus had given her, and agrees to meet him. Troilus returns to Troy distraught at her infidelity.

This is, and is not, Cressid....
Cressid is mine, tied with the bonds of heaven....
The bonds of heaven are slipp'd, dissolved, and loosed...

O Cressid! O false Cressid! false, false, false!

The next day Hector's wife and sister urge him not to fight, but he ignores them. Troilus urges Hector to fight ruthlessly:

Brother, you have a vice of mercy in you....

Let's leave the hermit pity with our mothers,
And when we have our armours buckled on,
The venom'd vengeance ride upon our swords.

Pandarus brings a letter from Cressida to Troilus, who tears it up after reading it. In battle, Troilus fights ferociously against Diomedes, and Hector kills Patroclus, whom Achilles loved. Enraged, Achilles finds Hector when his armor is off, and with a gang of warriors slays him and drags his body in the dust. Troilus vows vengeance upon Achilles:

... Thou great-sized coward,
No space of earth shall sunder our two hates:
I'll haunt thee like a wicked conscience still....

Pandarus appears and Troilus curses him; Pandarus is left to end the play, lamenting

O traitors and bawds, how earnestly are you set
a-work, and how ill requited!

He reveals that he is sick and will soon make out his will:

Till then I'll sweat and seek about for eases,
And at that time bequeathe you my diseases.