David Bruce: “William Shakespeare’s TROILUS AND CRESSIDA: A Retelling in Prose” — Cast of Characters, Prologue, and Act 1, Scene 1

Cressida has a problem. During the Trojan War, she falls in love with the young Trojan warrior Troilus and eventually sleeps with him. Almost immediately, she is sent to the Greek camp in exchange for an important Trojan prisoner because her father, a Trojan seer who has turned traitor and joined the Greeks, wants her with him. In the Greek camp, one Greek leader kisses her, and then another, and then another. The kisses are supposed to be in greeting, but this is a dangerous situation for a young woman to be in. Will Cressida be true to her vow to be faithful to Troilus? Will Cressida find a male Greek protector? Will Cressida fall in love with a Greek warrior? And is Thersites, a Greek who is deformed in body, also deformed in mind? Or is his cynicism fully and completely justified? Is Cressida the slut Thersites thinks she is?



Male Characters: Trojan

PRIAM, King of Troy.

HECTOR, Priam’s oldest Son. Crown Prince of Troy.

TROILUS, Priam’s youngest Son. In love with Cressida. “Troilus” has two syllables. In other works of literature, Polydorus is Priam’s youngest son.

PARIS, Priam’s Son. Kidnapped Helen, wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta, thereby causing the Trojan War.

DEIPHOBUS, Priam’s Son.

HELENUS, Priam’s Son. A priest.

MARGARELON, a Bastard Son of Priam.

AENEAS & ANTENOR, Trojan Warriors.

CALCHAS, a Trojan Priest, taking part with the Greeks.

PANDARUS, Uncle to Cressida.

Male Characters: Greek

AGAMEMNON, the Greek General.

MENELAUS, his Brother. Menelaus is the lawful husband of Helen, whom Paris, Prince of Troy, ran away with.

ACHILLES, Greek Warrior.

AJAX, Greek Warrior. In this play, Ajax’ mother is Hesione, sister to Priam, King of Troy. This makes him the first cousin of Hector, whose father is Priam. In other works of literature, it is Teucer, Ajax’ half-brother (they share the same father), whose mother is Hesione.

ULYSSES, Greek Warrior. Ulysses is his Roman name; his Greek name is Odysseus.

NESTOR, Greek Advisor. Nestor is aged.

DIOMEDES, Greek Warrior.

PATROCLUS, Greek Warrior. Friend to Achilles.

THERSITES, a deformed and scurrilous Greek.

ALEXANDER, Servant to Cressida.

Servant to Troilus.

Servant to Paris.

Servant to Diomedes.

Female Characters

HELEN, Legal Wife to Menelaus. Kidnapped by Paris. In many works of literature, it is ambiguous whether Helen went willingly with Paris.

ANDROMACHE, Wife to Hector.

CASSANDRA, Daughter to Priam. She is a prophetess.

CRESSIDA, Daughter to Calchas.

Minor Characters

Trojan and Greek Soldiers, and Attendants.


Ilium, Ilion: These are other names for Troy.


“Our scene lies in Troy. From the isles of Greece, proud Princes, their noble blood enraged, to the port of Athens have sent their ships, fraught with the soldiers and weapons of cruel war. Sixty-nine Princes, who wore their regal coronets, from the Athenian bay put forth toward Phrygia, site of Troy, and their vow is made to ransack Troy, within whose strong walls the kidnapped Helen, Menelaus’ Queen, sleeps with wanton, lecherous Paris, and that is the reason for the Trojan War.

“To Tenedos, an island near Troy, they come, and the large ships that displace much water disgorge there their warlike fraughtage — their cargo fraught with danger to Trojans. Now on the Dardan — Trojan — plains the fresh and still unbruised Greeks pitch their splendid pavilions. Priam’s city has six gates named Dardan, Tymbria, Helias, Chetas, Troien, and Antenorides; they have massive metal brackets and corresponding bolts that fit in the brackets to lock the gates. This city stirs up the sons of Troy. Now expectation that tickles lively spirits on one and the other side, Trojan and Greek, leads them to risk everything — winner take all.

“And hither I have come. I am an armed Prologue telling you all this, but I am not armed with an author’s pen or actor’s voice, but instead I am suited with armor and am carrying weapons as is relevant to our theme and story. I am here to tell you, fair beholders, that our book leaps over the first battles and their results; instead, our book starts and then ends with what may be recounted as relevant to the theme of this book. This book will not tell you how the war started but will instead begin in medias res— in the middle of the war.

 “Like this book or find fault with it; do what you please. Whether good or bad, it is but the chance of war.”

— 1.1 —

Troilus and Pandarus stood before Priam’s palace. Troilus was the youngest son of Priam, King of Troy, and he was in love with Cressida, the niece of Pandarus. The time was morning, and Troilus had put on his armor in preparation to fight the Greeks outside the city of Troy.

“Call here my servant; I’ll take off my armor,” Troilus said. “Why should I make war outside the walls of Troy, when I find such cruel battle here within myself? Let each Trojan who is master of his heart go to the battlefield. I, Troilus, unfortunately have no heart because I have given it to Cressida.”

“Will this problem never be solved?” Pandarus asked.

Troilus said, “The Greeks are strong and skillful in proportion to their strength, they are fierce in proportion to their skill, and they are valiant in proportion to their fierceness, but I am weaker than a woman’s tear, tamer than sleep, more foolish than ignorance, less valiant than the virgin in the night, and as without skills as unpracticed and inexperienced infancy.”

“Well, I have told you enough of this,” Pandarus said. “As for my part, I’ll not concern myself any further. He who will have a cake made out of wheat must wait for the wheat to be ground into flour.”

“Haven’t I waited?”

“Yes, you have waited for the grinding, but you must also wait for the bolting — the sifting — of the flour,” Pandarus said.

“Haven’t I waited?”

“Yes, you have waited for the bolting, but you must also wait for the leavening. You must wait for the dough to rise.”

“I have also waited for that,” Troilus said.

“Yes, you have waited for the leavening; but the waiting also includes the kneading, the making of the cake, the heating of the oven and the baking. Indeed, you must wait for the cake to cool, too, or you may chance to burn your lips.”

Pandarus was making a series of bawdy puns. “Grinding” referred to the act of sex — grinding crotch against crotch. “Bolt” referred to penis. “Leavening” referred to a developing pregnancy. “Oven” was a slang word for vagina or womb.

“Patience herself, whatever goddess she is, flinches less at suffering than I do,” Troilus said. “I suffer greatly from unrequited love. I sit at Priam’s royal table, and when beautiful Cressida comes into my thoughts — I am a traitor when I say that because for her to come into my thoughts she would have to be absent from my thoughts, and she is never absent from my thoughts!”

“Last night she looked more beautiful than I have ever seen her — or any other woman — look,” Pandarus said.

“I was about to tell you — when my heart, as if a sigh had been wedged into it, would split in two, then lest Hector or my father should perceive that I am in love, I have, as when the Sun comes out and lights up a storm, buried this sigh in the wrinkle of a smile. However, a sorrow that is concealed by the appearance and not the reality of gladness is like a laugh that fate turns to sudden sadness.”

“If Cressida’s hair were not somewhat darker than Helen’s — well, forget I said that — there would be no comparison between the women: Cressida would be regarded as the greater beauty. But, of course, she is my relative, my niece, and so I don’t want to praise her because I would be called biased, but I wish that somebody — such as you — had heard her talk yesterday, as I did. I will not dispraise your sister Cassandra’s wit, but —”

“Oh, Pandarus!” Troilus said. “I tell you, Pandarus — when I tell you that there my hopes lie drowned, don’t tell me how many fathoms deep my hopes are submerged. I tell you that I am mad — insane — because of my love for Cressida, and you tell me that she is beautiful. In doing that, you pour in the open ulcer of my heart her eyes, her hair, her cheek, her gait, and her voice. You handle in your discourse — you talk about her — oh, her hand, in whose comparison all other white hands are as black as ink, writing their own reproach, and compared to the softness of her hand the young swan’s down is harsh and the gentlest touch is as hard as the palm of a plowman. When I say I love her, you tell me these things, and these things are true. But by saying such things, you put, instead of medicinal oil and balm, in every gash that unrequited love has given me the knife that made those gashes.”

“I speak no more than truth,” Pandarus said.

“You do not speak the full truth,” Troilus replied. “She is more beautiful than you say she is.”

“Indeed, I’ll not meddle in this love you have for her. Let her be as she is. If she is fair, it is the better for her; and if she is not fair, she has the remedy in her own hands. She can wear cosmetics.”

“Good Pandarus, what are you saying, Pandarus!”

“I have had my labor for my trouble,” Pandarus said. “I am ill thought of by her and ill thought of by you. I have gone between you and her, but I have received small thanks for my labor.”

“What, are you angry, Pandarus? Are you angry with me?”

“Because Cressida is related to me, I say that she’s not as beautiful as Helen, lest I be thought biased in the favor of my niece. But if Cressida were not related to me, I would say that she is as beautiful in her everyday clothing as Helen is in her Sunday best. But what do I care? I don’t care if Cressida is black and ugly; it is all one and the same to me whether she is ugly or beautiful.”

“Did I say that she is not beautiful?”

“I do not care whether you do or not,” Pandarus said. “She’s a fool to stay in Troy after her father, Calchas, deserted the Trojans and joined the Greeks. Let her go to the Greeks and join her father; that is what I’ll tell her the next time I see her. As for me, I’ll meddle no more and do no more in this matter.”

“Pandarus —”

“I said I won’t, and I won’t.”

“Sweet Pandarus —”

“Please, speak no more to me. I will leave everything the way I found it, and that’s the end to my participation.”

As Pandarus exited, military trumpets sounded.

Troilus said to himself, “Be quiet, you ungracious clamors! Be quiet, you rude, cacophonous sounds! Fools on both sides! Helen must necessarily be beautiful, when with your blood you daily paint her thus — your blood is the stuff of her cosmetics. I cannot fight upon this point of contention; why should I fight because of Helen? She is too starved and meager a subject for my sword. She is not a good reason for me to risk my life in battle.

“But Pandarus — gods, how you plague me! I cannot come to Cressida except by Pandarus, and he’s as peevish and fretful to be wooed to woo as she is stubbornly chaste against all wooing.

“Tell me, Apollo, you loved Daphne, who fled from you and was metamorphosed into a laurel tree. Tell me, for your love of Daphne, what Cressida is, what Pandarus is, and what I am. Cressida’s bed is analogous to wealthy India; there she lies, a pearl. Let the area between Priam’s palace and where she resides be called the wild and wandering ocean. I will be the merchant, and this sailing Pandarus will be my uncertain hope, my convoy, and my ship. I hope to use Pandarus to take me to Cressida, and I hope that I will take possession of her.”

Military trumpets sounded once more as Aeneas walked over to Troilus.

“How are you, Prince Troilus? Why aren’t you on the battlefield?”

“Because I am not there. This woman’s answer — ‘because’ — is fitting because it is womanish for a man to stay away from the battlefield. Aeneas, what is the news from the battlefield today?”

“Paris is wounded and has returned home.”

“Aeneas, who wounded him?”

“Troilus, he was wounded by Menelaus.”

“Let Paris bleed; it is but a scar to scorn; Paris is gored with Menelaus’ horn.”

The wound was a scar to scorn because Paris had scorned Menelaus by running away with Helen, Menelaus’ wife, and Paris would bear a scar from the wound that he would not have received had he respected Menelaus. Menelaus had horns to use to wound Paris because Paris had cuckolded him. A cuckold is a man whose wife is unfaithful; in this culture, people joked that cuckolds had horns on their head. The scar could be scorned also because a cuckold gave the wound — and resulting scar — to a cuckold-maker instead of the wound’s being received for a worthier reason.

Again, military trumpets sounded.

Aeneas said, “Listen! What good sport is out of the city and on the battlefield today!”

“The sport would be better at home, if ‘I wish I might’ were ‘yes, I may,’” Troilus replied.

“Sport” means entertainment. Aeneas used it to refer to the excitement of fighting in a battle; Troilus used it to refer to the excitement of ‘fighting’ in a bed in which there was a woman.

Troilus added, “But about the sport on the battleground. Are you going there?”

“Yes, and quickly.”

“Come, let us go together.”

They exited.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved




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