Troilus and Cressida | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Troilus and Cressida | Act 2, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Thersites, Ajax's fool, insults his master and ridicules him for his jealousy of Achilles. In retaliation Ajax beats him, because he cannot win against Thersites's verbal taunts and insults. Achilles and Patroclus arrive, and Achilles intervenes before Ajax can beat Thersites further. Thersites insults Achilles as well, and then leaves. Achilles tells Ajax of the challenge. When Ajax asks him how the challenger will be chosen, Achilles tells him a lottery will decide, and he and Patroclus depart.

Analysis

Thersites functions as a kind of Greek chorus for much of the play, commenting on the action and choices of both the Greeks and the Trojans. His crude behavior and word choices would appeal to much of the audience as he provides his harsh commentary on human nature. Though unlikeable, he still speaks unvarnished truth, especially about the war and the nature of those fighting it. He says things many members of the audience doubtless wish they could say. Usually in scenes with Ajax and then Achilles, he is the supposed coward to their heroes, but by speaking the truth, he makes them look small and ridiculous. Ajax cannot even counter him verbally and so resorts to beating him into submission, which serves only to make Ajax look even more brutish.

In the source material of The Iliad, Ajax and Achilles are often at odds—Ajax stays in contention with Achilles for who is the greatest of the Greek warriors. Again, the audience would likely have known of their history, which Shakespeare uses to set up the conflict between the two Greeks that Ulysses later exploits.

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