The first quarto of Troilus and Cressida appeared in two
different issues during 1609. The first of these stated on the titlepage
that the play ‘was acted by the Kings Maiesties seruants at
the Globe’. The second issue was given a new title-page, which
made no mention of any such performances. It also had an additional
leaf addressed ‘to an euer reader’ which stated that
the play was ‘neuer stal’d with the Stage’, that
is it had never been performed before its publication. It was once
thought that Troilus and Cressida might have been performed
at the Inns of Court, but this theory is contested. There are no
records of performances either at the Inns of Court, at court, or
in the public theatres before 1642. It has more recently been suggested
that the Lord
Chamberlain’s Men withdrew Troilus and Cressida
(perhaps after a few performances) because it proved politically
Publication in quarto and folio
Troilus and Cressida appeared in three editions (the first
of which survives in two states) before 1642.
- Quarto a, 1609. Apparently printed either from an authorial
manuscript or a transcript from such a manuscript. The title-page
names the play as ‘The historie of Troylus and Cresseida’
and states ‘As it was acted by the Kings Maiesties seruants
at the Globe’.
- Quarto b, 1609. Differs from quarto a only in the titlepage
and the addition of a single leaf. The title-page names the play
as ‘The famous historie of Troylus and Cresseid’ with
no mention of any performances. The additional leaf follows the
title-page and is headed ‘A neuer writer, to an euer reader.
Newes’. It offers ‘a new play, neuer stal’d
with the Stage’.
- First folio, 1623. Apparently printed from a quarto annotated with reference to a manuscript that had been used in the theatre. The folio text adds a prologue, and some extra lines. There are many small changes to words or phrases, and it has been suggested that these were revisions by Shakespeare. Troilus and Cressida was originally intended to follow Romeo and Juliet in the folio, but printing was delayed (perhaps because of copyright problems). It was the last play to be printed, and was inserted between Henry VIII and Coriolanus. A few copies of the first folio were issued without Troilus and Cressida.
- Second folio, 1632. Printed from the first folio.
Troilus and Cressida was entered by the printer James
Roberts on the Stationers’ Register on 7 February 1603. The
play was apparently not subsequently printed by Roberts. Another
entry, dated 28 January 1609, is by Richard Bonian and Henry Walley
who had presumably bought the play from him. The first quarto was
printed by George Eld for Bonian and Walley in 1609. This quarto
was reissued the same year with the same imprint on a new title-page,
and an additional leaf addressed to the reader of the play.
British Library copies of Troilus and Cressida contains detailed bibliographic descriptions of all the quarto copies of the play.
Shakespeare made particular use of several sources.
- Geoffrey Chaucer, ‘Troilus and Criseyde’, in The Workes of Geffrey Chaucer (1561). Shakespeare used Chaucer for the characters Pandarus, Troilus, and Cressida, and for many details of the action of his play.
'Troilus and Criseyde',
- Raoul Lefèvre, translated by William Caxton, The Auncient Historie of the Destruction of Troy (1596). Shakespeare made much use of Caxton’s translation for the military action in the latter scenes of the play.
- Robert Henryson, ‘The Testament of Cresseid’ included in the edition by Thomas Speght, The Workes of our Antient and Lerned English Poet, Geffrey Chaucer (1598). A continuation of Chaucer’s ‘Troilus and Criseyde’ dealing with Cressida’s illness and death. It may have contributed to the disillusionment evident in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida.
- Henry Chettle and Thomas Dekker, Troilus and Cressida, the text does not survive but the play was apparently performed at the Rose by the Admiral’s Men in 1599. It has been suggested that Shakespeare’s play was written as part of the rivalry between the Admiral’s Men and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.
Story of the play
Note: the links below will take you to the page in the quarto where
each act begins, according to standard modern editions. (The quartos
themselves have no act divisions.) The quarto shown for each play
is always the earliest in the Library's collection - unless it is
a 'bad' quarto in which case it is the earliest 'good' quarto.
Troilus and Cressida is set in the city of Troy and the
camp of the besieging Greek army, during the Trojan War.
(Prologue) A speaker, in armour, explains why the Greeks and Trojans
are at war.
(Act 1) Troilus, son of King Priam, tells Pandarus that he is
in love with Cressida. Pandarus visits Cressida and tells her of
Troilus’s love. They watch the Trojan leaders returning from
the day’s fighting, and Cressida criticises Troilus. Alone,
she admits she is in love with him. In the Greek camp, Agamemnon
debates with his commanders their lack of success, and the refusal
of Achilles to fight. From Troy, Aeneas brings Hector’s challenge
to single combat. Ulysses plots to prevent Achilles from fighting
(Act 2) Thersites taunts Ajax and Achilles in turn about their
jealousy of each other. Priam and his sons debate whether they should
return Helen to the Greeks. They decide she should stay in Troy.
Agamemnon visits Achilles’s tent, but Achilles refuses to
see him and sends instead his companion Patroclus. Achilles continues
his refusal to fight.
(Act 3) Pandarus brings Troilus and Cressida together. Cressida
confesses to Troilus that she loves him. They swear to be faithful
to each other. In the Greek camp Calchas, a Trojan priest who defected
to the Greeks, asks for his daughter Cressida to be exchanged for
a Trojan prisoner. Diomedes agrees to undertake the exchange. Agamemnon
and his commanders ignore Achilles as they pass his tent, but Ulysses
goads him by praising Ajax. Achilles invites Hector to visit his
tent after the next day’s fighting.
(Act 4) Troilus and Cressida have become lovers. Diomedes arrives
in Troy to fetch Cressida. Aeneas and Paris tell Troilus of the
exchange, while Pandarus tells Cressida. Before the lovers are parted,
they swear to be faithful to each other. Diomedes arrives in the
Greek camp with Cressida, who is kissed by each of the Greek commanders
in turn. Hector fights with Ajax, but refuses to harm him. When
Hector and Achilles meet, they swear to fight each other.
(Act 5) Achilles receives a letter from Queen Hecuba, reminding
him of his oath not to fight. Troilus, visiting the Greek camp,
sees Cressida with Diomedes. She gives Diomedes the pledge of love
Troilus had given her. Troilus, in despair over her faithlessness,
swears to fight Diomedes. Hector prepares to fight, despite warnings
from his wife Andromache, his sister Cassandra, and his father Priam.
Troilus prepares to fight. In the ensuing battle, Troilus fights
Diomedes and Hector kills Patroclus. Achilles enters the battle
and, with his followers, kills Hector. Troilus laments Hector’s
death. When Pandarus enters, Troilus spurns him. Pandarus makes
a plea for the audience’s sympathy.