In Troilus and Cressida I keep seeing the image of the wheel when it comes to the main conflict. Each character is a rung in the wheel and is responsible for some action or another that plays a role in the larger battle. The seven rungs each represent a character who played a part in what lead up to the destruction of Troy. It isn’t a single event that brought on Troy’s destruction, but rather a series of events starting with Paris stealing Helen and ending with Hector killing Patroclus.
Paris has allowed his lust and desire for a woman to cloud his judgement. All he wanted was to possess Helen and he never thought about the consequences. Paris is the horney Trojan prince who started the Trojan War when he stole Helen from the Greek
King Menelaus (Prologue, 8-10). In the play, Shakespeare
doesn’t have a lot of patience for this guy—he portrays him
as a selfish brat who cares more about getting laid than the
people who are killed fighting in the Trojan War. As his dad
points out, Paris acts “Like one besotted on [his] own sweet
The wife of Menelaus and cause of the Trojan war. If People magazine had been around in ancient Troy, Helen would have been the tabloid mag’s “Sexiest Woman Alive” 10 years in a row. (You know, because that’s how long the Trojan War lasted.) Her
beauty is so legendary it “hath launch’d above a thousand ships”
(2.2.82), and she’s always being described as “the mortal Venus, the
heart-blood of beauty, / love’s invisible soul” (3.1.32-33). But don’t
hate her because she’s beautiful—it’s a hard life. Her relationship with Paris is the whole cause of the Trojan War.
Troilus is a young Trojan prince who falls for the wrong girl
(that would be Cressida). If he were a real person living in the 21st
century, he’d be starring in an episode of Cheaters or telling Jerry
Springer all about the time he hid in the bushes outside his
girlfriend’s house and watched her agree to a steamy hook-up with
another guy (5.2).
Cressida, daughter to Calchas and at one time in a relationship with Troilus. She’s Troilus’ girlfriend and the daughter of Calchas, a.k.a. the slime-ball who betrays Troy and joins the Greeks. (Hmm. Looks like the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.) She’s also one of the most famous she-cheaters of all time. In the play, she falls in love with Troilus and promises to be faithful to him forever. Until she’s traded to the Greek army for a Trojan soldier and agrees to become Diomedes’ lover. Oops!
Priam, King of Troy, Priam is the King of Troy and the father of Paris, Troilus, Hector, and Helenus. In the play, he’s portrayed as a loving but overindulgent dad who lets his sons have the final say in everything. It turns out that being a wimpy dad / king has some pretty tragic consequences. Like total ruin.
Hector is definitely the most crush-worthy of the Trojans, at least by reputation. Most stories show him as the biggest,
baddest, most honorable Trojan soldier around. In classic literature like The Iliad, Hector is the poster boy of “virtue” because he’s the ultimate family man and honorable warrior. His killing of Patroclus is what ultimately brings Achilles into the battle and causes Hector his life.
Achilles has a reputation for being the Greek army’s toughest and most important warrior. There’s just one problem: he doesn’t quite live up to his reputation in this play. How can he when he refuses to come out of his tent and fight?
One thing’s for sure. When Patroclus dies in battle, Achilles is back in action in about 2.5 seconds. So, what does our “mighty” warrior do when he returns to the battlefield? Does he perform a bunch of heroic and noble deeds that we can all admire? Not so much. He gathers up his hired goons (the Myrmidons) and proceeds to slaughter an unarmed man. Then he has the guy’s corpse dragged around the battlefield (5.8).
Yeah, so much for “great warrior.” More like big, whiny bully.