Troilus and Cressida | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Troilus and Cressida | Act 4, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Paris and Aeneas meet with Diomedes and Antenor, the Trojan prisoner. Aeneas and Diomedes exchange what amount to friendly combat challenges. Paris pulls Aeneas aside and tells him to go to Cressida's house and let Troilus know what's happening with the prisoner exchange. Diomedes then has harsh words for Paris regarding Helen and her part as the cause of the Trojan War.

Analysis

Diomedes raises surprising points—for a warrior—about Helen's role in the Trojan War, functioning as yet another voice of reason. Helen's beauty and subsequent abduction by Paris brought about the war. Diomedes's opinion of her is not as a great beauty but as a whore, and he characterizes Menelaus as a "puling cuckold" and Paris as a "lecher." Menelaus wants to retrieve his wife who has turned out to be a faithless, fickle woman, and Paris is content to beget heirs to the throne of Troy with a woman who isn't faithful to her husband. Neither of these men is admirable or heroic. If Ulysses's speech to Achilles is to be followed, then both of these men have squandered their reputations. Menelaus was unable to hang onto his wife, and Paris is content to steal the wife of another man. This sentiment is a far cry from the narrative of the "face that launched a thousand ships" and the epic heroes that fought to get her back.

Shakespeare turns the epic framework on its head. He's already showing the typical heroes of the Trojan War are anything but heroic; with Diomedes's speech to Paris, he's puncturing the idea of honorable reasons to wage war. In this light the reasoning behind the Trojan War makes little sense, especially if the Greek soldiers value Helen so little. There is nothing heroic or valiant in this enterprise despite how Troilus tries to paint it for Hector in Act 2, Scene 2. The appearance of the war is not at all what it is about, just as the appearance of the great romance of Troilus and Cressida is shallow at best.

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