Troilus (Troilus and Cressida)

Troilus has a deeply hidden secret. He doesn't want to talk about it, so the audience, and the people in the play (with one exception) don't know what it is. I myself am not ready to talk about it yet.

Oh, all right! I'll explain.

When Troilus gets into bed with Cressida, the event he had so openly longed for, he is impotent. He can't perform.

Shakespeare has prepared us for this. When Troilus inagines what the experience with Cressida will be like, he says

I am giddy; expectation whirls me round.
Th' imaginary relish is so sweet
That it enchants my sense; what will it be
When that the wat'ry palate tastes indeed
Love's thrice-repured nectar? Death, I fear me;
Swooning destruction; or some joy too fine,
Too subtle-potent, tun'd too sharp in sweetness,
For the capacity of my ruder powers.
I fear it much; and I do fear besides
That I shall lose distinction in my joys;
As doth a battle, when they charge on heaps
The enemy flying.    (III.2.16-27)
Troilus says that the thought of his encounter with Cressida does not produce in him arousal: it produces fear, Specifically it produces a fear of death.

Troilus has other problems related to sex. He's afraid lest his father and older brother should even suspect that he's thinking about Cressida:
I was about to tell thee: when my heart,
As wedgèd with a sigh, would rive in twain,
Lest Hector or my father should perceive me,
I have, as when the sun doth light a storm,
Buried this sigh in wrinkle of a smile.
But sorrow that is couch'd in seeming gladness
Is like that mirth fate turns to sudden sadness.    (I.3.32-8)
Why on earth should Troilus, a grown man, be frightened at the possibility that his father and brother should learn he is in love? I answer is that Shakespeare has transferred to Troilus his own fear of sex. He had long outgrown it by the time he wrote Troilus and Cressida, but he remembered it.

It is generally agreed that Hamlet has an Oedipus complex, that is, Hamlet has the desire to have sex with his mother and kill dad--and the consequent fear that dad will find out, and castrate Hamlet. Hamlet, like some men, didn't outgrow his Oedipus complex as a child. He desires Ophelia violently, and he fears her violently, because buried in his subconscious somewhere is the fearful idea that any sexual encounter with her will somehow lead to his own death.

Shakespeare writes about the Oedipus complex and its symptoms so often, and not only in Hamlet, that I find it hard to avoid the idea that he himself was afflicted with it, and did not understand this until he was unusually old--maybe 25--maybe even 30. If--and this is an unproven if--the sonnets were written in the order they're numbered in (an assertion which nobody has proven), then he thought he was exclusively a gay man until whatever age he wrote sonnet 126. Scholars--I make no pretense to being one--postulate that the sonnets before 126 are written to "the boy." But in sonnet 126, which uses the female pronoun more often than the male, the sexual confusion probably reflects Shakespeare's own confusion when he discovered that he found women attractive.

While he considered himself a gay man, part of Shakespeare hated and feared women. Compare Rosaline's first conversation with Berowne in the early (maybe 1594) version of the play to her flirty convesation with him in the rewritten version (maybe 1599--see Journal of the Cerise Press).

Troilus seems to incorporate parts of the Oedipus complex: he is afraid of sex because he fears being punished for his interest in it (by his father and brother).

You should note that, despite medieval tradition (which held up Cressida as a model of faithlessness), in Shakespeare's play it is Troilus who betrays and abandons Cressida.

We men, if faced with an unpleasant incident of impotence,have different ways of dealing with it. Troilus' method is to blame Cressid, and to avoid her.

Consider the list:
  1. After their night together, Troilus tries to sneak away while Cressida is still asleep;
  2. He gives a long and metrically irregular speech about the sadness of their parting; under the circumstance the Greeks could simply knock the unaccompanied Diomedes on the head and keep Cressida as they have kept Helen; Troilus never suggests this;
  3. There's no room in the text for Troilus to kiss Cressida goodbye (although he talks about it);
  4. When Cressida meets Diomedes, Troilus is hidden where he can see and hear their conversation, and after Diomedes leaves, he could talk to Cressida, even take her back; he doesn't;
  5. In the battle, when he battles Diomedes for the sleeve he gave Cressida, Troilus loses (and Diomed takes his horse);
  6. But when his object is to get his horse back, Troilus apparently fights well, and he makes no mention of Cressida;
  7. When Cressida, who apparently still loves him, writes to him, he throws the letter away.
"Wouldn't Shakespeare have it made it obvious if Troilus was impotent? Wouldn't somebody mention it?"

No indeed. Only two people know about it: Troilus and Cressida. Cressida has no way of understanding it. She has no experience with men. She has no mother or sister to counsel her. Being a woman, she probably thinks that the unsatisfactory encounter was her fault. She even asks Troilus, "Are you aweary of me?" (IV.2.8)

Troilus certainly wouldn't tell anyone. Having his impotence known would be a terrible blow to his reputation as a manly man.

And that's not the way Shakespeare (or any good playwright) works. He sets up the circumstances and lets us see the results.

Troilus is not a very satisfactory romantic hero. He's a great fighter, but he's also a bully and a cad. But--as with ANY character--you have to play him without self-doubt. Troilus is firmly convinced that his shortcomings are Cressida's fault. He doesn't think he's a hypocrite, and he doesn't talk like a hypocrite.

© Deloss Brown 2020

Back to CHARACTERS.