1 March 2007 | sarastro7
'Tis passing strange
I am a seasoned Shakespeare appreciator, but I just have no idea what's going on in Troilus and Cressida. What is the point of the action? What does it all mean? What do the characters represent? What themes are being treated here? This seems to me the most impenetrable Shakespeare play of all.
The play is about two things, by and large: the relationship of Troilus and Cressida, and the war between Troy and the Greeks. The latter interferes with the former. Troilus is a courtly lover who woos his courtly mistress, Cressida, who relishes her role and plays appropriately hard to get. In time she acquiesces to him, and they become lovers, swearing over and over to be true to each other. Just then it happens that Cressida is demanded by the Greeks in a hostage exchange, and much against both her own and Troilus' will she is handed over to them, in exchange of one Antenor, an otherwise completely anonymous Trojan character. Once in the Greek camp, Cressida is apparently so taken with the Greek warriors that she begins to forget her vows, and starts up a relationship with Diomed. Troilus is, of course, distraught. Later on, Trojan warrior Hector, brother of Troilus, is killed by Achilles, and the war just goes on.
It's all quite mysterious. What does it mean? What does this action signify? Is it about the melancholy futility of extended warfare? Or is it, like Antony and Cleopatra, a statement about how courtly love cannot survive in an era of history where the defining feature of civilization is the ability and willingness to wage war? I think it must be something like the latter, but it isn't exactly clear!
This BBC production is well mounted, with good actors, good enunciation, as we expect from the BBC, but the production does not particularly aid us in understanding what the play is really about. There are some good actors here, esp. Charles Gray and the guy who plays Thersites, whereas one is disappointed by how small a role a character like Achilles plays in this story.
It is a hard play to gloss, but the BBC makes an honest and ambitious effort in staging it, and for this we should be grateful.
8 out of 10.