Scene by Scene Synopsis
Prologue: A Prologue, dressed in amour, states that the scene of the play is Troy. The Greeks have invaded by sea and pitched camp outside the city. The play omits the first battles, he adds, and begins in the middle of the Trojan War
Act I, Scene 1: Troilus, a Trojan prince, is sick with love for Cressida and declares he cannot join the fighting against the Greeks. He rebukes Cressida's relative, Pandarus, who speaks other beauty and thus aggravates his pain. Pandarus replies that he will no longer carry messages for Troilus if he is to be reprimanded, but he continues to remark on Cressida's virtues. He observes that Cressida's father has deserted to the Greeks. Troilus regrets that he must depend on Pandarus to approach Cressida. A Trojan general, Aeneas, reports that Troilus' brother Paris has been wounded by the Greek Menelaus. This shames Troilus into returning to the battlefield.
Act I, Scene 2: Cressida's servant, Alexander, tells her that the Trojan crown prince, Hector, wounded by Ajax the previous day, is raging for a fight on the battlefield. Alexander comically describes Ajax as a brute though a valiant warrior. Pandarus arrives; he and Cressida watch the Trojan warriors returning from the field while Pandarus praises Troilus. Cressida denounces Pandarus as a procurer after he leaves, but confesses that she is attracted to Troilus. She decides not to reveal her feelings, however, declaring that a man will cease desiring a woman once he knows she loves him.
Act I, Scene 3: Agamemnon, the Greek commander-in-chief, counsels the other Greek leaders not to be discouraged by Troy's survival after seven years of warfare. The Greeks' failure to conquer, he insists, is a test imposed by Jove, who supports them. ULYSSES asserts that Troy stands only because the Greeks are weakened by disorder and faction. He sees this as a consequence of a lack of respect for rank. This is what preserves a society, he says, just as the cosmos would be weakened by insubordination of one of the planets. As an example, he points out the disrespectful behavior of the warriors Achilles and Patroclus, who amuse themselves with insulting imitations of their superiors. Nestor adds that Ajax and Thereites, his jester, do the same. Aeneas arrives from Troy bearing a challenge from Hector daring any Greek to fight him in hand-to-hand combat the next day. Ulysses proposes a plot: although Hector's challenge is clearly directed at Achilles, the most renowned Greek warrior, the leaders should instead select another combatant, Ajax, through a fixed lottery. This might teach Achilles a lesson.
Act II, Scene 1: Thersites subjects Ajax to witty but crude insults. He mocks him for envying Achilles' reputation. Too slow-witted to retort, Ajax beats the jester, who taunts him for it. Achilles and Patroclus appear and intervene, and Thersites insults them too, to their amusement. Achilles tells Ajax that Hector's challenge is to be met by a warrior selected by lottery.
Act II, Scene 2: Hector recommends to the Trojan leaders that Helenówhose abduction by Paris from her husband Menelaus was the cause of the waróbe released and the war ended. He says she is not worth further loss of life. Troilus counters that this would sully the Trojan honor. The princess Cassandra appears, hysterically predicts disaster for Troy unless Helen is released, and leaves. Troilus states that Cassandra should not influence them because she is insane. Paris argues for keeping Helen in the name of his honor. Hector criticizes Troilus and Paris for their immaturity. He then goes on to observe that while absolute right demands that they return Menelaus' wife, he will concede that their honor is a proper issue, and concludes that they must continue fighting. He tells of the challenge he has issued to the Greeks.
Act II, Scene 3: Thersites, alone, rails against Ajax and Achilles and then insults Achilles and Patroclus when they arrive When the Greek leaders and Ajax appear, Achilles enters his tent and refuses to see them. After rejecting several messages, he sends word that he refuses to fight the next day. Ajax criticizes Achilles for his pride, while, in humorous asides, the other Greeks remark on Ajax' own. They then flatter him extravagantly to his face.
Act III, Scene 1: Pandarus calls on Paris and Helen and gives Paris a message from Troilus requesting that he make an excuse for him to King Priam for missing dinner that night. Pans assumes that Troilus intends to visit Cressida, but Pandarus denies it. This conversation is held in asides so that Helen does not hear it. Helen prevails on Pandarus to sing, and he delivers a song about love.
Act III, Scene 2: Pandarus brings Cressida to Troilus and they kiss passionately. Troilus swears undying love, and Pandarus promises the same on his niece's behalf. Cressida confesses that she has loved Troilus for a long time. He observes that although he distrusts the fidelity of women, he is himself by nature faithful; she insists that she will be also. Pandarus declares himself the formal witness to their vows and takes them to a bedroom.
Act III, Scene 3: Cressida's father, Calchas, asks the Greek leaders to reward him for having deserted to their side by exchanging Trojan prisoners for his daughter. Agamemnon agrees, and Diomedes is told to conduct the exchange. Ulysses suggests that the Greek leaders pointedly ignore the arrogant Achilles to create an occasion for Ulysses to deliver a lecture he has prepared. They agree, and Achilles receives a lengthy talk on honor and reputation from Ulysses. A person's value can only be defined in terms of other people's applause, Ulysses says, adding that Achilles is becoming less valuable since the applause is going to Ajax Although still relatively unknown, Ajax will now become famous through fighting Hector. Patroclus seconds the lesson, observing that Achilles' refusal to fight has diminished his reputation. Thersites arrives and comically describes Ajax' strutting pride. Achilles wishes to meet Hector and tells Patroclus to ask Ajax to arrange a meeting. Patroclus rehearses this message with Thersites playing a ludicrously inarticulate Ajax. Achilles decides to write Ajax a letter instead.
Act IV, Scene 1: Paris escorts Diomedes and Antenor, the captured Trojan who is to be exchanged for Cressida, and they encounter Aeneas. Aeneas and Diomedes exchange chivalrous challenges. In asides, Paris tells Aeneas to go ahead of them and get Troilus away from Cressida's house. Talking with Paris, Diomedes denounces Helen as the cause of a pointless war.
Act IV, Scene 2: Troilus bids farewell to Cressida at dawn; she unhappily begs him to stay. Pandarus appears and teases his niece about having lost her virginity. Aeneas arrives and tells Troilus that Cressida is to be exchanged for a prisoner and will depart immediately. Shocked and aggrieved, Troilus goes with Aeneas to meet the deputation as if by chance. The horrified Pandarus breaks the news to Cressida, who vows never to leave.
Act IV Scene 3: Paris sends the heartsick Troilus ahead of the deputation to bring Cressida out to be delivered to Diomedes.
Act IV, Scene 4: Troilus assures Cressida that he will try to visit her secretly in the Greek camp. They exchange tokens of love: he gives her a sleeve, and she gives him a glove. He asks her to be faithful, and she assures him she will be, but he cautions her that the Greeks are seductive men. Diomedes arrives to accompany Cressida to the Greek camp. Troilus and Diomedes exchange rather sharp courtesies as the group leaves for the city gates. Pans and Aeneas hurry to accompany Hector to the battlefield.
Act IV, Scene 5: Diomedes arrives with Cressida as the Greeks assemble to view the combat of Ajax and Hector. They greet her merrily, kissing her and engaging in witty repartee and sexual innuendo. After Diomedes takes her to her father, Nestor praises her wit, but Ulysses calls her sexually provocative. The Trojans arrive. Hector says he does not wish to fight to the death because Ajax part Trojan and part Greek, is his cousin. After a brief fight he chivalrously declines to continue. Ajax introduces Hector to the Greek leaders. Achilles insults him, and the two exchange challenges and agree to a hand-to-hand combat the next day. Troilus asks Ulysses to guide him to the tent of Cressida's father.
Act V, Scene 1: Achilles tells Patroclus that he intends to get Hector drunk so he can defeat him more easily the next day Thersites arrives with a letter for Achilles and engages Patroclus m an exchange of insults. Achilles announces that the letter, from his lover in Troy, has reminded him of an oath he made to her that he will not fight. He and Patroclus leave to prepare for the banquet. A number of the Greeks arrive for the banquet with Hector and Troilus. Diomedes excuses himself, and Troilus follows him accompanied by Ulysses with Thersites following them.
Act V, Scene 2: Diomedes meets Cressida, spied upon by Troilus and Ulysses from one direction and Thersites from an-other. Diomedes reminds Cressida of a promise she has made, but she tries to revoke it and beseeches him not to tempt her further. He insists on taking from her the sleeve she had been given by Troilus. She refuses to tell him who it was from, but she finally gives it to him and agrees to a later rendezvous. Thersites comments keenly on these developments; Ulysses quiets Troilus' growing anger. Diomedes leaves, and Cressida, thinking herself alone, laments her unfaithfulness to Troilus and her susceptibility to romance. After she leaves Troilus mourns the collapse of his world and swears he will kill Diomedes in the next day's fighting.
Act V, Scene 3: Hector's wife, Andromache, King Priam, and Cassandra attempt to persuade him not to fight on a day of terrible omens, but he insists he will. Troilus vows he will kill mercilessly. Pandarus brings Troilus a letter from Cressida, but he tears it up.
Act V, Scene 4: Thersites watches the fighting and describes it in disrespectful terms. Diomedes and Troilus appear, fighting, and continue off-stage. Hector challenges Thersites, but he claims he is a coward and is left alone.
Act V, Scene 5: Diomedes tells his Servant to take Troilus' captured horse to Cressida. Agamemnon arrives with news of Trojan triumphs on the battlefield. Nestor appears with the corpse of Patroclus, which he sends to Achilles. Ulysses reports that Achilles, inflamed by the death of Patroclus, is arming for battle. Ajax, Diomedes, and Achilles arrive and immediately go to join the fighting.
Act V, Scene 6: Troilus fights Ajax and Diomedes simultaneously, as they disappear off-stage. Achilles and Hector fight; Achilles is winded, and Hector chivalrously offers him a respite, but Achilles insults him and leaves, vowing to return. Hector fights an anonymous Greek in splendid amour. He swears to capture his fine equipment.
Act V, Scene 7: Achilles instructs the MYRMIDONS to accompany him but to fight as little as possible. They are to save their strength for an encounter with Hector where they are to surround him and kill him. Thersites watches a running skirmish between Menelaus and Paris, cheering them on with vulgar remarks. The Trojan Margarelon identifies himself as a bastard son of Priam and challenges Thersites to fight, but the jester flees, saying that he, too, is a bastard and a coward to boot.
Act V, Scene 8: Hector, having killed the Greek warrior, starts to exchange sets of armor and is thus unprotected when the Myrmidons appear. They kill Hector as Achilles looks on. As night falls, the armies separate, and Achilles announces that he will drag Hector's body behind his horse as he returns to camp.
Act V, Scene 9: The Greek leaders reflect that if Achilles has truly defeated Hector, then they have finally won the war.
Act V, Scene 10: Troilus announces Hector's death to Aeneas and other Trojans, but he insists they continue to fight the next morning. Pandarus arrives, but Troilus spurns him and leaves with the other soldiers. Pandarus delivers an EPILOGUE in which he bemoans that the fate of the procurer is to be despised. He declares that the audience are pimps too and asks their sympathy for his venereal diseases. He says that in two months he intends to draw up his will and bequeath them his ailments.
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