Troilus and Cressida | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Troilus and Cressida | Act 2, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Hector meets with his father and brothers to discuss the Greek demands. They have once again demanded Helen's return to her husband, Menelaus. Hector advises them to return Helen to her rightful husband to avoid further loss of life in the war. She is not worth the cost of the war, he argues. Troilus disagrees—he thinks returning Helen would dishonor Troy and their family.

Cassandra enters and predicts disaster for Troy unless Helen is returned to the Greeks. Everyone thinks Cassandra is mad, although Hector treats her kindly. Like Troilus, Paris thinks returning Helen is a blow to his honor, and he argues strenuously against it. Hector still disagrees and thinks both Paris and Troilus are being immature.

In the end Hector rethinks his stance. While he believes it is only right they return Menelaus's wife to him, he also realizes the honor of his father and Troy are at stake. He concedes the issue and tells his brothers of the challenge he issued to the Greeks earlier.

Analysis

This scene provides insight into how the Trojans view the ongoing war with the Greeks, and further cements Hector as one of the more honorable heroes in the play. Hector is against continuing the war, preferring to prevent further loss of life over a woman they technically have no right to keep. To him the lives of his soldiers, of the people he will one day rule, mean more than Helen's continued presence in his city. He argues her value is not worth enough when weighed against the cost of human life. Troilus counters by arguing for her symbolic value—Helen has been stolen from the Greeks, so it will look weak if they return her. If Troy were to return Helen now, all the lives already lost to the war will have been for nothing. While Hector looks at the real-world truths of value, Troilus focuses on symbolic value, the value of reputation. Troilus's argument that Helen is worth fighting for because of the glory they will receive when they win seems to be the idea that eventually wins over Hector. This value of reputation will be leveraged again with Ulysses and Achilles later in the play.

In the source material Shakespeare drew from, Hector was one of the main heroes of The Iliad, certainly the tragic hero of the epic poem. Shakespeare's audience knew this text, so he made Hector the most honorable character in the play, and in this scene, the lone voice of reason. Still, for the play to continue, Hector must change his mind. He has to be convinced by vainglorious weak arguments because Shakespeare has written himself into a corner. Hector and Achilles have to fight—the outcome of the play demands it, and so he has his most heroic character accept Troilus's weaker arguments to continue fighting the Greeks. Part of the problem with the play is Shakespeare must work within a preexisting narrative framework, and sometimes that work is clumsy.

Cassandra, though a minor character in Troilus and Cressida, is a tragic one. In the myths Cassandra was loved by Apollo, but when she did not return his love, he cursed her so she would speak the truth but never be believed. All of her warnings about the fate of Hector and Troy are doomed to fall on deaf ears, and she is often characterized as crazy. By including her, even briefly, she foreshadows the doom of Troy and the folly of those who will not listen to one who speaks the truth. Where Thersites is dismissed because of his station, Cassandra's warnings are similarly dismissed because of her perceived madness.

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