When Cressida reveals her love for Troilus, she frames her heart as her gift from boldness. Before meeting Cressida, a pining Troilus compares his heart to an open ulcer. Once confronted with the imminent loss of Cressida, Troilus imagines the act of handing her over to that of a priest sacrificing his own heart. In her final speech, Cressida reckons with what her heart now sees.
José Rivera in his “36 Assumptions about Playwriting” quotes William Faulkner as saying “the greatest drama is the heart in conflict with itself.” Shakespeare filled Troilus and Cressida with such conflicts. Troilus does not want to turn Cressida over. But he does. Cressida does not want to betray Troilus. But she does. The fact that neither of them has much choice in the matter does not make it any easier. Rather the antithesis of desire and limit drives the desperation of the play.
The limits in Cressida derive from a stagnant and apathetic political world. As one of my actors observed, the men in Cressida are incredibly high status characters (kings, princes, generals) who have very little power. The network of political and social alliances formed by the Trojan War overwhelms them. Greeks and Trojans, alike, seem to succumb to Gloucester’s vision of the universe in King Lear: “as flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods, they kill us for their sport” (4.1).
Cressida opens tonight at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, VA. Two Performances Only. 8 pm January 30th and 31st. Admission is Free.
Cressida is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. To read more about the adaptation, see my previous post To Cressida, With Love or Notes from the Breach: A Tale of Unmoderated Grief in the Shakespeare Standard.