Troilus and Cressida | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Troilus and Cressida | Prologue | Summary



In the prologue an actor dressed in armor appears and sets the scene for the audience. The Greeks have come to Troy to take back Menelaus's queen, Helen, who was taken by Paris. They have made camp outside the city. The Greeks and Trojans have been battling one another for seven years, and still there is no end in sight.


The prologue offers a very brief account of the Trojan War so far, which serves two purposes: It gives a nod to the classical mythology that informs it, and prepares the audience for its departure from a typical heroic epic like they might be expecting based on the material presented. The brevity of the prologue's summary of events thus far makes clear most audience members would be familiar with the characters, the mythology, and the history behind the play. It doesn't belabor the point; instead, offering the barest details of setting and past history, counting on people's knowledge of Helen of Troy and the Trojan War to fill in the rest.

However, Shakespeare takes liberty with the story of the Trojan War and twists the typical heroic story of the fall of Troy to comment on the darker side of war. Based on events drawn from The Iliad, an epic poem of ancient Greece by Homer, Troilus and Cressida is anything but heroic. The typical heroes are portrayed in a harsher light. The Greek hero Achilles alternates between a spoiled child and a thuggish brute. Ajax is a muscle-bound fool. Troilus is a lovesick, callow youth. Even Hector, who still functions as the play's most heroic character, is less heroic than in the source material. Shakespeare makes the argument the waging of war stands at odds against a heroic nature, turning most soldiers into brutish men. Troilus and Cressida is Shakespeare's antiheroic play, and the prologue serves to warn the audience of what to expect.

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