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1-Page Summary of Cress
In the seventh year of the Trojan War, Prince Troilus falls in love with Cressida. He is assisted by Pandarus, who is her uncle. Meanwhile, Agamemnon wonders why his commanders seem so downcast and pessimistic. Ulysses informs him that it’s because Achilles refuses to fight and instead spends his time sitting in his tent with Patroclus mocking his superiors. Shortly thereafter, a challenge arrives from Hector for single combat against Ajax but Ulysses has Ajax fight Hector instead of Achilles hoping this snub will wound Achilles’s pride and bring him back into the war.
The Trojans debate whether to continue fighting or return Helen back to the Greeks. Hector argues for peace, but is swayed by Troilus who wants to keep fighting. The Greeks are also debating whether they should continue fighting, and Thersites’ abusive behavior is distracting them from that goal. Ajax’s slave has been honored over Achilles, which further frustrates him because he believes he deserves more honor than his master does.
Pandarus takes Troilus and Cressida to a bedroom, where they express their love for each other. Calchas (Cressida’s father) asks the Greeks to exchange a prisoner for his daughter so he can be with her again. The next morning, Diomedes arrives and takes Cressida away from Troy. That afternoon, Ajax and Hector fight until nightfall when both sides agree to stop fighting that day. They all feast together in peace under a white flag of truce as Achilles insults Hector by calling him “boy.” Ulysses leads Troilus into Calchas’ tent where the Trojan prince watches Cressida sleep with Diomedes after agreeing to become his lover.
The next day, Hector’s wife and sister try to convince him not to fight. However, he is determined to see the battle through. He then goes out into the field of battle with his father, Troilus. The Trojans are able to drive back the Greeks for a while but Patroclus dies in that skirmish. Achilles returns because of this death and kills Hector in single combat before dragging his body around Troy as revenge for having killed Patroclus earlier on in the play.
Act I, Scenes i-ii
The play begins with the entrance of a soldier dressed as the Prologue. He tells us that it takes place during the Trojan War, which is well-known from Greek mythology and Homer’s Iliad. During that war, Paris stole Helen away from Menelaus, king of Sparta. As a result, all of Greece decided to sail to Troy in order to take back Helen and capture Troy. The story starts after seven years have passed since they started fighting over Helen’s return; therefore we are at midpoint in this conflict between Trojans and Greeks.
Prince Troilus is upset that he’s unable to fight for his city of Troy because he is in love with Cressida. He praises her beauty and complains about how difficult it has been to pursue her, but says that she must be won through Pandarus’s help. Aeneas enters the scene and informs him that Paris was wounded in battle against Menelaus.
In Troy, Cressida is conversing with her servant. Her servant tells her about the previous day’s battle and Ajax’s victory over Hector. In addition to this, she learns that Hector has been fighting fiercely because of his defeat at Ajax’s hands. She also meets up with Pandarus who discusses Trojan princes with Cressida. He says that none can match Troilus in strength or bravery, but he doesn’t think any are as handsome as him either. Finally, Troilus comes by and they talk about how wonderful he is together before parting ways again.
Act I, Scene iii
Meanwhile, in the Greek camp, Agamemnon and his fellow kings are discussing their problems. The seven-year siege of Troy has not gone well for them so far. They should welcome this adversity because it is only in difficult times that greatness can emerge. A wise king named Nestor echoes these sentiments by citing examples of how heroism emerges from hardship. In response, Ulysses expresses his deep respect for what they have said but points out that the problem facing the Greeks is not due to the duration of war, but rather a breakdown in authority within the Greek camp. Instead of being united as one force working toward a common goal (as they were at first), factions have formed—and Achilles is to blame for all this discord and backbiting among leaders like Ajax and Thersites who follow Achilles’ example by mocking those around him instead of fighting with honor on behalf of Greece.