CliffsNotes on Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida

CliffsNotes on Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida

CliffsNotes on Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida

CliffsNotes on Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida


This tragedy is about a prince and a woman who is playing hard to get. After finally winning her love, he discovers that she is not who he thought she was (and she's unfaithful). Love and war and the losses involved with a frustrated heart are the play's main themes.


Although some dissenting opinions place Troilus and Cressida much earlier, the year 1602 is generally held to be the date of composition. On February 17, 1602/3 the play was entered in the Stationers’ Register in the name of James Roberts. Moreover, the Prologue provides additional reason for assigning this play to the year 1602:

and hither am I come
A prologue arm’d, but not in confidence
Of author’s pen or actor’s voice, but suited
In like condition as our argument….


The “prologue arm’d” is surely a reference to the armed Prologue in Ben Jonson’s Poetaster (1601). Roberts’ entry in the Stationers’ Register was apparently a “holding” one, that is, an entry made to prevent pirating of the play. Troilus and Cressida was not printed until 1609, when Richard Bonian and Henry Walley, to whom Roberts had assigned the rights, brought out two Quarto editions, the title pages of which differ, although the texts are identical. The play was included in the First Folio (1623) under rather curious conditions which will be discussed below. This text differs in several ways from that of the Quarto, but Sir Edmund K. Chambers who argues that Quarto and Folio represent substantially the same text, is correct in concluding that the verbal differences here and there are relatively unimportant. (William Shakespeare, I [1930], 439.)

Whether or not Troilus and Cressida was produced on the stage prior to publication has been a matter of dispute. The title page of the first issue of the Quarto reads: “The Historie of Troylus and Cresseida. As it was acted by the Kings Maiesties seruants at the Globe.” But the second issue not only omits any reference to a stage performance but includes a most interesting Epistle to the Reader, in which it is stated that “you have here a new play, never staled with the stage, never clapper-clawed with the palms of the vulgar….” It has been argued that a production of the play had failed to win popularity and had been withdrawn, and that Bonian and Walley, seeking to win approval for the published editions, did so by boasting that Troilus and Cressida was caviar to the general—an intellectual treat which only the cultured, sophisticated reader could appreciate. Connection has not stopped . . .

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