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CALCHAS, a Trojan priest, taking part with the Greeks PANDARUS, uncle to Cressida.
AGAMEMNON, the Grecian general.
MENELAUS, his brother.
THERSITES, a deformed and scurrilous Grecian.
ALEXANDER, servant to Cressida.
Servant to Troilus.
Servant to Paris.
Servant to Diomedes.
HELEN, wife to Menelaus.
ANDROMACHE, wife to Hector.
CASSANDRA, daughter to Priam, a prophetess.
Trojan and Greek Soldiers, and Attendants.
Dramatis Persona. The list was first added by Rowe.
THE fame of its story has contributed as much as its many enigmatic and its many splendid qualities, to give this drama a unique position among Shakespeare's works. Elsewhere, Shakespeare has commonly avoided the great master-themes of literature; here he became the rival of Chaucer, Boccaccio and Homer. It would not have surprised us if the man whose peculiar art lay in creating a soul within the ribs' of a dead or moribund tale should have failed to figure in the procession of the poets of the tale of Troy. But it is strange that, in that procession, having joined it, he should play the role of the ironic caricaturist, not only degrading a beautiful and noble tradition, which for the sake of dramatic truth he might, but degrading it without vindicating the added 'realism' by added reality. Troilus and Cressida is strangely mingled of splendour and foulness, of rhetorical strength and dramatic perversity. In its own day it had, as it always must have, admiring readers but its longueurs told on the stage, and its history there has been almost a blank. The most signal event in the history was without doubt the attempt of Dryden, in 1679, to 'correct' what he regarded as one of Shakespeare's first endeavours for the stage.' In the remarkable preliminary discourse on 'The grounds of Criticism in Tragedy'
he wrote thus of it: 'For the play itself, the Author seems to have begun it with some fire; the characters of Pandarus and Thersites are promising enough; but as if he grew weary of his task, after an Entrance or two, he lets 'em fall; and the later part of the Tragedy is nothing but a confusion of Drums and Trumpets, Excursions and Alarms. The chief persons, who give name to the Tragedy, are kept alive Cressida is false, and is not punish'd. Yet after all because the piece was Shakespeare's, and that there appear'd in some places of it the admirable genius of the author, I undertook to remove that heap of rubbish under which many excellent thoughts lay wholly bury'd, in particular, at the suggestion of Betherton, one between Hector and Troilus.'
Troilus and Cressida was first printed in two quarto editions of 1609. The text of the play is identical in both; but the title-pages differ, and are as follows:
(1) The Historie of Troylus | and Cresseida. | As it was acted by the Kings Maiesties | seruants at the Globe. Written by William Shakespeare. | LONDON | Imprinted by G. Eld for R. Bonian and H. Walley, and | are to be sold at the spred Eagle in Paules Churchyard, ouer against the great North doore, 1609. |
(2) The Famous Historie of Troylus and Cresseid. Excellently expressing the beginning of their loues, with the conceited wooing | of Pandarus Prince of Licia. | Written by William Shakespeare [the remainder as in (1)].
It will be seen that the second title differs from the first in omitting the mention of a performance. In a preface, peculiar to (2), the reader is further assured with great emphasis that he has here 'a new play, never staled with the stage, never clapper
clawed with the palms of the vulgar, and yet passing full of the palm comical.' The anonymous author of this preface, which is a vivacious and not ill-written document, goes on to deliver a glowing eulogy of Shakespeare's comedies, amongst all [which] there is none more witty than this'; and ends with a mocking defiance of his Company, -the 'grand possessors' of the MS. of the play, now piratically given to the world.
How were these two editions related? Two theories have been advanced. The earlier editors, taking the statements of the title-page of (1) and the preface of (2) literally, inferred that the performance by the King's Servants must have taken place in the interval between them, consequently that (1) was later than (2). But the Cambridge editors and Mr. Stokes, the editor of the Quarto facsimile, have shown, from a close examination of the two quartos, that the title (1) 'was the original one, and that in some copies this was cancelled, and the new title and preface inserted on a new half-sheet and with a new signature.' The title of (1) and the preface of (2) were thus brought into an apparent contradiction which the Cambridge editors, less happily, sought to solve by suggesting that Quarto (1) was issued for the theatre and Quarto (2) for general readers, the assertion that the play was 'new' and 'never stal'd with the stage' meaning only that it had never been printed before;-unless we suppose that the publisher was more careful to say what would recommend his book than what was literally true.'
More recent study of the play, particularly in the light of contemporary dramatic history, has supplied a more satisfactory solution. Shakespeare, as will be seen below, had undoubtedly been occupied at more than one period with the story of Troilus and
Cressida; an earlier version existed and had been performed, though never published; the publishers of the final version seem to have first tried to recommend it to those who remembered the old play by ignoring its differences, and then to those, perhaps more numerous, who 'praised new-born gauds, tho' they are made and moulded of things past,' by ignoring its partial identity.
More complex questions are raised by the version of the play subsequently included in the Folio. Minute examination of the original copies has disclosed that it was originally meant to follow Romeo and Juliet, that is, to stand fourth in the series of Tragedies. Finally, however, it was transferred to a neutral place between the Histories and Tragedies, -three pages (79, 80, and 82) retaining the original pagination, and the original heading The Tragedie of Troylus and Cressida,' while the remainder were left unpaged and headed with the bare title 'Troylus and Cressida. The pagination of the Tragedies begins with the next play, Coriolanus. These changes seem to show that the Editors hesitated, as well they might, to include it among the Tragedies. It is difficult to believe, however, that they ever thought of grouping it with the well-defined class of Shakespearean Histories. The place assigned to it at the last moment may express merely their inability to classify it at all.
The Folio text thus published differed widely from that of the two Quartos. And the advantage does not lie entirely with the authentic text. The base-born, it must be allowed, 'tops the legitimate.' In no instance was the claim of Heminge and Condell to present 'cured and perfect of their limbs,' the works that before were 'maimed and deformed,' more gratuitous than in this. But neither text is flawless.