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This was one play of which I knew almost nothing except that it is a love story set during the siege of Troy between Troilus, the son of King Priam, and a woman called Cressida. Actually I found it one of the most interesting plays from the point of view of sex and gender, disappointingly weakened in the final scenes (though probably a skilled director could rescue it).

The most striking thing is that the Greeks are all men, and their camp is a boys' club (Achilles sulking in his tent because they won't play with him on his terms, laddish carousing with Hector the night before he is killed). The city of Troy on the other hand is more gender-balanced: Cressida, of course, but also Helen, Andromache and especially Cassandra play important roles in the scenes set there.

Cressida is one of the great Shakespeare women characters. She is much more reflective about her situation than similarly placed Juliet and Rosalind; she bonks Troilus senseless (no qualms about marriage vows, we note); she is clearly deeply upset at being sent to join her father in the Greek camp, but banters successfully with the Greeks once she arrives.

And then there's Act 5 Scene 2, where Troilus, Ulysses and Thersites witness Cressida apparently cheating on Troilus with the Greek soldier Diomede. The play fails in that we don't really get Cressida's side of the story. She gets a valedictory monologue of just six lines, and then vanishes from the script - she does send Troilus a letter but he tears it up without reading it. It's a poor sendoff to an interesting character; her attraction for Diomedes seems to come out of nowhere. Probably an imaginative director and a good actress could put some credibility into her situation, but it is uphill work for that last scene or two.

The other love affair is that of Achilles with himself, a love shared by his Myrmidons who cut Hector down in the final scene. There is a lot of homoerotic subtext on the Greek side, and Thersites must be the campest character in the whole of Shakespeare.

I abandoned Arkangel's audio production of this play at quite an early stage, as I was having difficulty telling the Greeks apart, and watched instead the 1981 BBC production. Jonathan Miller as director and Suzanne Burden as Cressida don't really resolve her part of the story satisfactorily. There are some good performances: The Incredible Orlando (real name Jack Birkitt) as Thersites, Benjamin Whitrow as Ulysses, and most impressively Charles Gray as Pandarus (that's Charles Gray with an a, the actor, not Charles Grey with an e, the 18th-century lover of the Duchess of Devonshire after whom Earl Grey tea is named). But Miller for some reason trims a lot of Thersites and most of Achilles' Myrmidons, and there are a lot of moments when the actors' beards seem to be performing better than their owners.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love's Labour's Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night's Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All's Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter's Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
communicator
Jan. 28th, 2009 09:52 am (UTC)
That is the only version of T&C I have seen, and I still remember Charles Gray's performance as Pandarus (he's the narrator from the Rocky Horror Show yes?) But just like you, I was completely flummoxed by Cressida's sudden enthusiasm for Diomedes.

My take on the story would be that Cressida does what a woman has to do - taken into the Greek camp, hostile and male-only as it is, her only choice is to find a protector there, much as any of us may have to do in a PoW camp or a prison. Then this survival strategy is judged by the male gaze as female treachery and fickleness.

However, it seems to me that Shakespeare himself exemplifies this judgemental male attitude. That is, compared to his better plays, Cressida's actions are firmly 'wrong' and Troilus judgement is 'right'.

However, that might be Jonathan Miller's doing, and as you say a different director might be able to preserve the moral tension instead of taking the male side. Because I didn't like his approach it has put me off the play and I've never seen it since, or even bothered to read it. Funny how something like that can still put me off after 25 years.
nwhyte
Jan. 28th, 2009 12:36 pm (UTC)
Yes, it is that Charles Gray! (Also Blofeld in one of the Bond movies.)

I've been pondering Cressida a bit further. The problem with the Miller production is that she didn't even seem particularly upset about her situation. I can think of at least two ways of making the psychology work better - either 1) she never really was all that keen on Troilus, and to an extent he has been living an illusion which is shattered; or 2) she is the sort of vulnerable person who gets passionately carried away by the latest good thing to come along (or I suppose a third possibility would combine elements of both) but in either case I would want to see that flagged up by Troilus and Cressida's behaviour earlier in the play. As it is, Miller gives us a conventional love affair from which she inexplicably walks away in her last scene, which just isn't satisfactory.
wwhyte
Jan. 28th, 2009 08:33 pm (UTC)
Charles Gray was also Caesar in the BBC production.

Yes, this is a weird play -- I've seen it on stage and was baffled by the weakness of the ending. I think you have to play the decision the way communicator says, but even so, Shakespeare pays uncharacteristically little attention to the power dynamics in the situation and it all ends before the questions you care about have been resolved.
londonkds
Jan. 28th, 2009 12:45 pm (UTC)
My take on the story would be that Cressida does what a woman has to do - taken into the Greek camp, hostile and male-only as it is, her only choice is to find a protector there, much as any of us may have to do in a PoW camp or a prison. Then this survival strategy is judged by the male gaze as female treachery and fickleness.

That is the way it was done in both stage productions I have seen.
bellinghwoman
Jan. 28th, 2009 10:33 am (UTC)
Interesting. I should maybe go and read the Shakespeare version - I never bothered, after spending two year translating the (bowlderised) Chaucer version.
iainjcoleman
Jan. 28th, 2009 11:36 am (UTC)
There is a lot of homoerotic subtext

Subtext? I read it just a few weeks back, and I was astonished at how openly homosexual the Achilles/Patroclus relationship is.
redfiona99
Jan. 28th, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)
Well they are Achilles and Patroclus, I think when I got told Greek myths that was assumed to be 'I love you forever and ever'.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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