By William Shakespeare
Written about 1602

Comments by Bob Corbett
January 2012

General Note: In January 2009 I decided that I’d like to go back and read all the plays of William Shakespeare, perhaps one a month if that works out. I hadn’t read a Shakespeare play since 1959, 50 years ago! But I had read nearly all of them in college. I wanted to go back, start with something not too serious or challenging, and work my way through the whole corpus. Thus I began with The Two Gentlemen of Verona. At this time I have no idea how the project will go, nor if it will actually lead me through the entire corpus of Shakespeare’s plays. However, I will keep a separate page listing each play I’ve read with links to any comments I would make of that particular play. See: List of Shakespeare’s play’s I’ve read and commented on


The play is somewhat misnamed. While the story of Troilus and Cressida is central to much of the plot, the last days of the Grecian attack on Troy is also central. Naming this play as the problems of the lovers is a good deal misleading. It's sort of like two separate plots intermixed uncomfortably. The love story is a sad one. Troilus and Cressida, Troyans, love each other and her uncle aids them in consummating their love, even though they are unable to wed. In the meantime Diomedes, a Greek, has fallen in love with the beautiful Cressida and a trade is arranged to return a captured Troyan to Troy in exchange for Cressida marrying the Greek. Troilus is led to where he can listen in where Cressida finally agrees to become the lover of Diomedes. However, at the same time there is a battle brewing in this 7 year siege by the Greeks, and in the latter part of the play the boasting and plotting of the warriors takes center place. The curious inter-mix of these two central plots seemed to me to give the play a serious lack of focus and centrality. It was interesting to read, but not one of the better written plays. I did especially enjoy Hector's lines to Paris and Troilus and their boasting war-like talk

"Paris and Troilus, you have both said well;
And on the cause and question now in hand
Have glozed, but superficially; not much
Unlike the young men, whom Aristotle thought
Unfit to hear moral philosophy.”

Another passage that pleased me greatly was between Troilus and Cressida on the difference between loved professed and felt and the limit of love acted. This scene is a sort of preview of what does in fact happen later in the play.

“Troilus. Nothing but our undertakings when we vow to weep seas, live in fire, eat rocks, tame tigers, thinking it harder for our mistress to devise imposition enough than for us to undergo any difficulty imposed. This is the monstruosity in love, lady, that the will is infinite and the execution confined; that the desire is boundless and the act a slave to limit.

Cressida. They say all lovers swear more performance than they are able, and yet reserve an ability that they never perform, vowing more than the perfection of ten and discharging less than the tenth part of one. They that have the voice of lions and the act of hares, are they not monsters?

Troilus. Are there such? Such are not we. Praise us as we are tasted, allow us as we prove; our head shall go bare till merit crown it. No perfection in reversion shall have a praise in present; we will not name desert before his birth, and, being born, his addition shall be humble. Few words to fair faith. Troilus shall be such to Cressid, as what envy can say worst shall be a mock for his truth, and what truth can speak truest not truer than Troilus.”

I was also touched by Patroclus's description of the special dangers of Achilles' self-inflicted mess for himself:

"Those wounds heal ill that men do give themselves."

Helen does not come off well in this play and Menelaus says of her:

"For every false drop in her baudy veins
A Grecian's life hath sunk, for every scruple
Of her contaminated carrion weight
A Troyan hath been slain. Since she could speak,
She hath not given so many good words breath
As for her Greeks and Troyans suffered death."

Shakespeare’s Helen does live up to her age-old image of the wanton one for whom men die.

Bob Corbett



Becoming Reading Thinking Journals


Bob Corbett