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Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida

graphic of a queen Cressida already had a bad reputation by the time Shakespeare retold her story in his very bitter play about war, politics, lust and the destruction of rightful order. In Shakespeare's version of Troilus and Cressida, Cressida is a whore, her uncle Pandarus is a bawd, Troilus is a fool and General Ulysses (Odysseus) cruelly manipulates Achilles in an attempt to control him, because Achilles, full of his ancient heroic arrogance, refuses to recognize his proper place in the hierarchy of the army.

Ulysses is in many ways the most interesting character in the play, and his speech on Degree is at the center of it. He argues that when people do not behave according to their proper ranks in society, the order of society falls apart and people are only ruled by their animal appetites. Chaos is the inevitable consequence of the breakdown of social order. Unfortunately, Ulysses does not seem to persuade anyone with his theory of social order, and the war goes on, and Troy must fall, as it always has.

Shakespeare Activities Shakespeare Bibliography
Explore the links below



  • Amores [Ovid]: Translated by Christopher Marlowe; a major text in the ancient tradition of the passion of love.
  • Dido, Queen of Carthage: by Christopher Marlowe; another thread of the Troy story in the Renaissance.
  • The Greek Gods Become Human: Raoul Lefevre’s The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye. This essay is from my Dissertation (CUNY, 1981). The first book printed in English was William Caxton's translation of Lefevre's version of the Troy story. My essay deals with the loss of motives for behavior once the Greek gods are all represented as human beings (e.g. euhemerized). This euhemerism has an impact on how Shakespeare represents human action in Troilus and Cressida.
  • THE LASTE EPISTLE OF CRESEYD TO TROYALUS: this interesting short poem from the late 16th or early 17th c. "was inspired by both Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and Henryson's Testament of Cresseid." This site includes a long, interesting introduction and the text of the poem itself is well annotated, which is very helpful to modern readers.
  • Lydgate's Troy Book: Lydgate composed a full and fully moralized version of the Troy Story in the 15th century. The Troy Book offers the Troy story background familiar to Chaucer as well as a intermediary stage between Chaucer's Troy and Shakespeare's. This etext is fully annotated and worthy of serious scholars.
  • Lydgate's Troy Book--Introduction: This excellent essay explains how stories about Troy, understood as real history, were transmitted from Dictys and Dares on through the Middle Ages into the Renaissance. Worth reading even if you don't want to wade through the entire Troy Book.
  • The MIT Shakespeare Page: It links to etexts of all of Shakespeare's plays. Each text is fully glossed with links, so the page is not cluttered with notes, but the definitions are easily available.
  • Shakespeare's Deconstruction of Exempla in Troilus and Cressida: an M.A. thesis by Elizabeth Laura Wightman
  • Significant Scots: a biography of Robert Henryson.
  • The Testament of Cresseid: TEAMS text of the poem in Middle English with copious footnotes. This poem offers an important link from Chaucer's loveable Criseyde to Shakespeare's more shameless harlot Cressida.
  • The Testament of Cresseid: Introduction. This essay by Robert L. Kindrick  provides a substantial introduction to Henryson's poem, with a link at the end to the excellent, annotated TEAMS' text of the poem.
  • Troilus and Cressida: Shakespeare's text from the Perseus Renaissance collection.
  • Ulysses and the Siren: By Samuel Daniel (1562-1619). Another Renaissance view of Ulysses: male striving for honor versus love.
  • Your Comprehensive Guide to Everything Shakespeare: a resource for online schools.


  • Shakespeare Illustrated: This site looks at nineteenth-century paintings, criticism and productions of Shakespeare's plays. Shakespeare's plays are listed alphabetically. Under each play is a list of paintings based on that particular work, including two for Troilus and Cressida. 


  • Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies: Electronic Resources for Research. International databases, text libraries, etc. For the serious scholar.
  • Early Modern Literary Studies: Everything you could want to know about European culture in the 16th and 17th centuries seems to be linked to this page. Great links to scholarly sources on Shakespeare and all other facets of the European Renaissance. Definitely worth visiting if you have scholarly interests in the period.
  • Ovid's Metamorphosis Englished: The images from the 1640 edition translated by George Sandys. Quite interesting to see Renaissance ideas of Roman mythology.
  • Perseus Renaissance Materials: a growing, searchable  data base of primary texts and background materials.


  • Renaissance Faires: All about Medieval and Renaissance Faires and Festivals Online, including at least one Shakespeare Festival in Alabama.


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© Diane Thompson: 8/25/1998; updated: 8/6/2018