Troilus and Cressida

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Henry Chettle and Thomas Dekker (1599)


Historical Records

Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe's Diary)

F. 54v (Greg I.104)

Lent vnto Thomas downton to lende
aprell 7 vnto mr dickers & harey cheattell in
daye 1599 earneste of ther boocke called Troyeles &
creasse daye the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . iijli
Lent vnto harey cheattell & mr dickers in pte
of payment of ther boocke called Troyelles &
cresseda the 16 of Aprell 1599 . . . . . . . . xxs

F. 61v (Greg I.106)

The title also appears as "Troyeles & creasseday" scribbled at the top of another page, not apparently in Henslowe's hand (Greg I.xxxiv).

F. 63 (Greg I.109)

Henslowe also appears to have confused the play with another on a Greek subject also co-authored by Chettle and Dekker (see Critical Commentary below):

Lent vnto mr dickers & mr chettell the 26 of
maye 1599 in earneste of a Boocke called troylles
& creseda the tragede of Agamemnon the some of . . . . . xxxs

MS VII f63r detail sml.jpg
© David Cooper and reproduced with kind permission of the Governors of Dulwich College. No further reproduction permitted.

Plot (British Library, Add. MS 10449, f. 5)

One of the seven extant backstage-plots is generally assumed to belong to Dekker and Chettle's "Troilus and Cressida." (See Critical Commentary below.) It was evidently prepared by the same "experienced" plotter "who made up the more fully preserved Battle of Alcazar (c. 1598–1601) and probably also 1 Tamar Cam (c. 1602)" (Bradley 78, 76).

Troilus and Cressida, BL MS Add 10449 fol5 thumb.jpg

(British Library, Add. MS 10449, f. 5, reproduced with permission)


The plot was transcribed by Greg in 1904 (Henslowe Papers, App. II.5, 142).

Greg made several revisions to the transcription reproduced above in the corrected version that appeared in Dramatic Documents. The most substantial variants from his earlier transcription are recorded below:

  • • line 14: "exeunt" emended to "exc<.... >"
  • • line 18: The missing direction in the leftmost column revised to "<......etr..t>
  • • line 33: "Antenor" corrects the struck-through "Priam mr Jones" in the line below
  • • line 36: "Achillis" emended to "Achil<lis Tent>"
  • • line 50: A direction is supplied to the left of "Hellen" reading "a re<tr....t>"

Bullough proposed a different reading than Greg's in his transcription of line 51, "ulisses Aiax Menalay & A(g)a" ("Lost Troilus," 36), thereby giving the sole appearance of Agamemnon in the plot.

Theatrical Provenance

"Troilus and Cressida" was to be performed by the Admiral's Men at the Rose. Payments made "in earnest" to Dekker and Chettle are recorded in April 1599. Although Henslowe did not record the completed payment, this can be accounted for by a gap in the Diary between April 17 and May 26 (Greg, Dramatic Documents, 138; Gurr 29, 243n). The existence of a backstage-plot suggests that a staging of the play was being prepared and that a performance was anticipated.

Probable Genre(s)

Classical Legend (Harbage). (See Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues below.)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Possible sources and analogues include classical accounts of the Trojan war (the first installments of Chapman's Homer had just been published in 1598), Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde (Speght's edition of Chaucer also appeared in 1598), Henryson's Testament of Cressid, Lydgate's Troy-Book, Caxton's Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, and early modern works on Troy. (For conjectural reconstructions of these scenes, see "The Plot as Evidence" in Critical Commentary below.)

References to the Play

(Content welcome.) (See "Possible References" in Critical Commentary below.)

Critical Commentary

[N.B. This section is still under construction.]

The Admiral's Men's Trojan Plays

Five titles, all lost plays, apparently depicting the subject of the Trojan War and its aftermath appear in Henslowe's Diary between 1596 and 1599. In addition to the "Troilus" play of 1599, performances of a play called "troye" are recorded in June and July 1596 (fol. 21v); Chettle was paid for a play called "Troyes Revenge wth the tragedy of polyfeme" (elsewhere, "polofemos" or "polefeme") in February 1599 (fol. 53v); payments to Dekker are recorded in May 1599 (fol. 62r) for a play called "orestes fvres"—a title which critics have interpreted differently (Hazlitt, Fleay, Haliwell, Greg and Gurr have suggested "Orestes Furiens," "Orestes Furious," "Orestes Furies," "Orestes' Furies" and "Orestes Furens" respectively: see Greg II.202 and Gurr 244); and payments to Dekker and Chettle for a play called "the tragede of Agamemnon" appear on May 26 and 30 (fol. 63r). (See Troy, Troy’s Revenge, with the Tragedy of Polyphemus, Agamemnon, and Orestes' Furies.)

There is disagreement as to whether these five titles refer to five distinct plays. Some confusion is caused by Henslowe's entry for May 26 in which the title "troylles & creseda" is struck through and the title "the tragede of Agamemnon" is interlined (see Historical Records above). Fleay considered these two titles to refer to the same play (I.124). Greg countered that the two plays were distinct and that the mistake was Henslowe's, who "had got into the habit of writing the former title in connection with the names of Chettle and Dekker, and did so once too often" (II.202). Rather, Greg speculated that the titles "Orestes" and "Agamemnon" may have referred to the same play (II.202; see also Gurr 244).

In any case, this apparently intense attention to the same theme has been recognized to be important. As Greg observes of 1599, the "popularity of Greek subjects at this date is striking" (II.202). Bullough, considering the wider chronological frame, summarizes: "the Admiral's Men had three plays [...] which together may have covered the Troy story from the start of the siege to Agamemnon's murder, and a fourth play on the misadventures of Ulysses on his way home" ("Lost 'Troilus'," 25). Teramura suggests a wider narrative context in the Admiral's repertory including plays about the early legendary history of Britain's Trojan kings (e.g. The Conquest of Brute and Brute Greenshield); in particular, "Troilus and Cressida" may have resonated with the political catastrophe of Haughton's Ferrex and Porrex (1600).

The Plot as Evidence

Evidence of the 1599 "Troilus"

The Trojan plot in British Library MS. Add 10449 is generally assumed to belong to Dekker and Chettle's play. Greg noted that the actors' names that appear in the plot connect it to the Admiral's Men and date it between March 1598 and July 1600, making the 1599 "Troilus" the most likely of several possible candidates (Dramatic Documents, II.138). Hillebrand, however, dissented, proposing the "troye" play of 1596 as a more likely candidate (461: see "The Admiral's Men's Trojan Plays" above).

Evidence about Casting

Critics have interpreted the plot to make conjectures about the play in performance. The details that identify it with Dekker and Chettle's play provide us with potential evidence about its casting. In the plot, Richard Jones is cast as Priam. Jones's boy is cast as a waiting maid. John Pigge, Alleyn's boy, is probably cast as a beggar (Greg, Dramatic Documents, II.142). Thomas Hunt is mentioned without a character name; Bullough wondered whether he may have played Helenus ("Lost 'Troilus'," 30). "Proctor" may refer to an actor of whom this is the only mention (Chambers II.335; Gurr 285) or to a character, "perhaps a steward [or] factor of a spital-house," perhaps performed by Hunt (Greg, Dramatic Documents, II.141-42). "Stephen," cast as a beggar, may have been Stephen Maget, the tire-man mentioned by Henslowe in 1596 (Greg, Dramatic Documents, II.65). Like other Admiral’s offerings, the play's cast may have totaled sixteen adult actors (Bradley 50): if Agamemnon appeared (as in Bullough's transcription), this would have brought the total number of adult actors to seventeen, "unless Patroclus was played by a boy" (113).

Evidence about Narrative and Dramatic Structure

The existence of a backstage-plot gives us rare insight into not only the narrative content of this lost play, but also its dramatic structure. Conjectural reconstructions of these scenes, contextualized within the literary tradition of Troy, have been attempted in Tatlock 697-703 and Bullough, "Lost 'Troilus'." A summary of their speculations is provided below.

Scene A (lines 1-10) As Tatlock suggested, this is "clearly the council-scene [...] in which Priam consults with his sons and chief counsellors as to whether they are to return Helen," for whom Ulysses and Diomed have come; "the entrance of Cassandra at the end can only be to lament their fatal decision" (698-99). In Lydgate's version of this scene, Bullough notes, the Greek embassy rudely demands retribution; Priam is accordingly offended and a fight almost ensues in the court (27-28). Bullough found the stage movement of Deiphobus difficult to account for, and suggested that he exits quarreling with Diomed and reenters with Hector "to challenge the Greek champions" (28).
Scene B (lines 11-12) The directions indicate a martial background to the scene. Tatlock found "the presence of Hector and Priam alone [...] hard to account for. Priam may be warning Hector against the battle [...] or this parallels a scene in Caxton [...] where Hector leaves Priam with reënforcements outside the walls, and fights gallantly" (699). Bullough suggested that Priam may be "bringing reinforcements to Hector's aid when the latter is hard-pressed [...] In that case Hector would tell how Troilus and Ulysses wounded each other and he himself was wounded" (29).
Scene C (line 13) This cryptic line, as Bullough speculated, may have been a "combat between Ajax and Hector" or "the appearance of Achilles refusing to flight" (29).
Scene D (lines 14-17) According to Tatlock, "Antenor is evidently captured," before he is exchanged for Cressida (699). As Bullough noted, the presence of Trojan princes on the walls underscores the future importance of the event (30).
Scene E (lines 18-24) Bullough noted that this scene appears to have been based on the first meetings of Troilus and Cressida as described in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, Book II.1394ff. and Book III (30). Tatlock suggested that the scene, which apparently takes place at night, may have been set in Deiphobus's house (700). Bullough offered a developed conjecture for the business of the scene: "In the play apparently Troilus is brought by Pandarus at night to meet Criseyde. She enters as if from her room with her waiting maid and page (Mr. Jones his boy). [...] The lovers converse with Pandarus and then go off, presumably to bed. Pandarus soliloquizes. Deiphobus enters (perhaps because it is his house), then goes out and returns with Helen and Paris. There are thus two pairs of lovers in the house, and no doubt Helen and Paris discuss their own affairs and the love of Troilus and Cressida. This scene is undoubtedly a climax of the play" (31).
Scene F (lines 25-27) Tatlock supposed that this was "probably a council scene," in which the entrance of Ulysses (and perhaps Diomed) "may be in order to ask a truce [...] or to effect the exchange of Cressida and Antenor" (700). "Hel" may be either Helen or Helenus. If Helen, Bullough suggested that the scene may have involved discussion of the possibility of returning her to the Greeks ("In Lydgate and Caxton Paris several times refused to let her go": 31). If the scene followed Chaucer, Hector may have spoken against the exchange of Cressida and Cassandra may have foretold the treachery of Antenor (32).
Between Scenes F & G There are presumably several scenes missing in the extant plot fragment between the last entry in the left column and the first in the right (Greg, Dramatic Documents, II.138). This may amount to roughly a quarter of the whole play (Hillebrand 460). These absent scenes, Tatlock suggested, "probably related chiefly to Cressida, her departure, affair with Diomed, and abandonment by him" (702). Bullough speculated that they must have contained the fight between Ajax and Hector, as well as the refusal of Achilles to fight. Given the presence of Polyxena later in the plot, "it is possible that his withdrawal was caused, as in the medieval sources, by love for her and consequent desire for peace, and not, as in Homer, by his quarrel with Agamemnon [...] over Briseis" (32).
Scene G (lines 28-29) Tatlock and Bullough both suggested that this entry in the plot may have been a fighting scene, perhaps including an "Alarum." "De" may be either Deiphobus (perhaps with Troilus or Hector), or Diomed (Bullough 33).
Scene H (lines 30-32) Tatlock speculated that this scene contained Hector and other Trojans "driven to the walls, [...] ashamed because the women are watching thence" (700). In Caxton, Bullough notes, this event is followed by a confrontation between Hector and Achilles, who are separated by Troilus; because, in the plot, the fighting apparently does not continue after Hector is beat into the town, Bullough found it unlikely that Achilles took part in the battle here (33).
Scene I (lines 33-34) The Alarum direction suggests that this was another martial scene (Tatlock 700). Bullough suggested that this scene may involved a conversation between Hector and Antenor about "the present battle, Diomed's treatment of Cressida and Achilles' reluctance to accept Hector's challenge" (34).
Scene J (lines 35-39) Diomed, Menaleus and Ulysses petition the stubborn Achilles in his tent, until Ajax enters with the body of Patroclus (Tatlock 700-1). As Tatlock and Bullough note, this sequence departs from both Homer and Caxton. Bullough speculated that Chettle and Dekker's Ajax may have been quite different from Shakespeare's, rather "the gallant saviour of Patroclus' body" whose "account of the mêlée makes Achilles return to war" (34). From the point of view of staging, Greg proposed that the wording of the scene's directions suggest that "the tent must be open and Achilles 'discovered' [...] Then the tent must close again before the entry of Ulysses" (Dramatic Documents, II.142).
Scene K (lines 40-43) As Bullough noted, the "heroic climax" of Scene J "is followed by a pathetic and moral climax" in this scene (35). Tatlock suggested that this scene was directly taken from Henryson's account of Cressida among the beggars, passed by the unrecognizing Troilus (701). Spurgeon agreed that the plot "shows clearly enough that the Testament of Cresseid was used" (53). Greg countered that the scene may have rather shown Cressida "playing the lady bountiful to the beggars who are later to be her f[e]llows in misfortune" (Dramatic Documents, II.143n). Ramsay agreed with Greg, arguing that Cressida could not appear as a leper here, since "the scene is followed by one in which Troilus and Diomedes seem to fight over Cressida" (235). Bullough sided with Tatlock, speculating that the ironic scene Greg proposed would have been less dramatically effective: "What could be more fitting at this stage in the drama when Achilles is returning to battle than Henryson's conclusion to the Troilus-Cressida relationship?" (36). Bullough suggested that if the "proctor" of the plot represents a character and not an actor, he may have been suggested by Henryson's description of the equal distribution of alms among the beggars.
Scene L (lines 44-45) This scene may have presented further discussion about the possibility of peace, and perhaps on the desire of Achilles for Polyxena, who is present here (Bullough 36). "Antenor is perhaps chosen to treat with the Greeks for peace," as Tatlock suggested (701); alternatively, he may "enter to announce that Achilles is determined to avenge Patroclus [leading] to discussion of Hector's challenge and his family's fears on his behalf," as Bullough suggested (36).
Scene M (lines 46-51) This martial scene perhaps depicted the battle between Troilus and Diomed, and the fatal encounter between Achilles and Hector "in sight of the Trojans on the walls" (Tatlock 701). Tatlock speculated that Deiphobus' presence in the scene "seems to be a reminiscence from the Iliad [...] where just before Hector's death Athene stands by him in the form of Deiphobus" (701). (Bullough, however, observed that there are no other deities in the plot and countered that Deiphobus "must appear in his own person": 37.) The descent from the wall by the Trojans may have included Priam begging for Hector's body (Tatlock 701). Tatlock considered this the final scene of the play (702). Greg proposed that not only is this not the conclusion of the play, but the scene itself may not be over, if "to them" began another direction (Dramatic Documents, II.142-43). Bullough speculated that the play may have gone on to depict the death of Troilus and the mourning of Hector, but preferred the idea of Scene M as the play's end, which would have cast the whole in a more tragic mode than Shakespeare's (37, 40).

Possible References

Twelfth Night (1601)

In a scene from Twelfth Night, when Feste is trying to jest a second coin from the disguised Viola, he refers to the Troilus story:

Feste: I would play Lord Pandarus of Phrygia, sir, to bring a Cressida to this Troilus.
Viola: I understand you, sir, 'tis well begged. [Gives another coin.]
Feste: The matter, I hope, is not great, sir, begging but a beggar: Cressida was a beggar. (ed. Elam, 3.1.50-54)

The association of Cressida with begging comes ultimately from Henryson, not from Chaucer; yet it may have referred, more topically, to the recent Dekker and Chettle play, the plot of which contains a scene with Cressida among beggars. As Lois Potter speculates: "Feste's line probably assumes audience knowledge of [the] Admiral's Men play" (292).


Critics have suggested that the feeble and derided performance of a Troilus and Cressida dialogue by Sir Oliver Owlet's Men in Histrio-mastix (S.R. October 31, 1610; publ. 1610) may allude to Dekker and Chettle's play:

Troy: Come Cressida my Cresset light,
Thy face doth shine both day and night,
Behold, behold, thy garter blue,
Thy knight his valiant elboe weares,
That When he shakes his furious Speare,
The foe in shivering fearefull sort,
May lay him downe in death to snort.
Cres: O knight with vallour in thy face,
Here take my skreene, wear it for grace,
Within thy Helmet put the same,
Therewith to make thine enemies lame. (ed. Wood, 265; qtd. in Thompson 32)

Thompson claimed that the episode seems "to be an attack on the [earlier] play, in all probability a sentimental piece" (32). (Sharpe thought that the "Cresset light" may even have been a specific reference to Scene E, in which Cressida enters with a waiting maid and a light [200].) Jenkins, however, speculated that the satire did not necessarily require a specific object; the author of Histrio-mastix "may have chosen Troilus and Cressida as his characters on account of their familiarity to the spectators" (225). Of course, these speculations are predicated on the assumption that Histrio-mastix was written after the Admiral's play, an idea that has been contested (e.g. Knutson 93, 96).

Relationship to Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida

Chettle and Dekker's "Troilus and Cressida" is often invoked in scholarship as a precedent to Shakespeare's play of the same name, and critics have occasionally speculated about the possible relationship between the two. One common view is that "it seems likely that [Shakespeare] and his company were aware of [the earlier play] and perhaps produced Troilus and Cressida as a kind of riposte" (Dawson, 260). David Bevington suggests that Shakespeare's response may have been in the same "spirit of rivalry between the Admiral's men and the Lord Chamberlain's men that had encouraged Shakespeare to write The Merchant of Venice, 1 and 2 Henry IV and still more" (394). Bullough speculated (somewhat uncharitably) that Shakespeare's Troilus was conceived "as a 'realistic' answer to the unsophisticated mixture of epic and didactic sentiment likely to have characterized the piece by Dekker and Chettle" (Narrative and Dramatic Sources, VI.100). Thompson reiterated Bullough's conjecture (32, cf. 30). Dawson offers the more generous hypothesis that we "might also speculate that the Dekker-Chettle play, like some of the other (non-dramatic texts) of the period on the same subject (such as Peele's 'The Tale of Troy'), might have introduced critical or satirical elements that Shakespeare then exploited in his more scathing exposé" (260).

Whatever the nature of Shakespeare's response to the Admiral's Men's play, certain likenesses may be observed based on the extant plot. As Bullough noted, both plays make use of a variety of Trojan narratives, including Homer, Caxton, and Chaucer ("Lost 'Troilus'," 39). In both, Bullough observed, the "story interweaves love and war, and the bedding of Troilus and Cressida occurs at the middle of the play"; both contain council scenes and scenes in which Achilles is entreated by the Greeks to join the battle; both seem to have balanced Troilus and Cressida against Paris and Helen, and to have had a confrontation between Troilus and Diomed precede the battle between Achilles and Hector (39-40). Shakespeare, according to Bullough, took "not only the general lay-out" of the Dekker-Chettle play "but also several of his most important scenes" (40).

For What It's Worth

(Content welcome.)

Works Cited

Bevington, David, ed. Troilus and Cressida. Arden Shakespeare, 3rd series. London: Cengage Learning, 1998.
Boswell, Jackson Campbell, and Sylvia Wallace Holton. Chaucer's Fame in England: STC Chauceriana, 1475-1640. New York: Modern Language Association, 2004.
Bradley, David. From Text to Performance in the Elizabethan Theatre: Preparing the Play for the Stage. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992.
Bullough, Geoffrey. "The Lost 'Troilus and Cressida'." Essays and Studies n.s. 17 (1964): 24-40.
Bullough, Geoffrey. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. 8 vols. London: Routledge, 1957-75.
Collier, J. Payne, ed. The Diary of Philip Henslowe. London, 1845.
Dawson, Anthony B., ed. Troilus and Cressida. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003.
Greg, Walter W., ed. Henslowe Papers, Being Documents Supplementary to Henslowe's Diary. London: A.H. Bullen, 1907.
Greg, W.W. Dramatic Documents from the Elizabethan Playhouses. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1931.
Gurr, Andrew. Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company 1594–1625. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009.
Hillebrand, Harold N., ed. The New Variorum Shakespeare: Troilus and Cressida. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1953.
Jenkins, Harold. The Life and Work of Henry Chettle. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1934.
Knutson, Roslyn Lander. Playing Companies and Commerce in Shakespeare's Time. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001.
Potter, Lois. The Life of William Shakespeare: A Critical Biography. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
Ramsey, Jarold W. "The Provenance of Troilus and Cressida." Shakespeare Quarterly 21 (1970): 223–40.
Sharpe, Robert Boies. The Real War of the Theaters: Shakespeare's Fellows in Rivalry with the Admiral's Men, 1594–1603. Boston: D.C. Heath, 1935.
Spurgeon, Caroline F.E. Five Hundred Years of Chaucer Criticism and Allusion (1357–1900). Part IV: Appendix A. London: Oxford UP, 1922 (for 1914).
Stern, Tiffany. Documents of Performance in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009.
Tatlock, John S. P. "The Siege of Troy in Elizabethan Literature, Especially in Shakespeare and Heywood." PMLA 30 (1915): 673-770.
Teramura, Misha. "Brute Parts: From Troy to Britain at the Rose, 1595-1600." Lost Plays in Shakespeare's England. Ed. David McInnis and Matthew Steggle. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 127–47.
Thompson, Ann. Shakespeare’s Chaucer: A Study in Literary Origins. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 1978.

Site created and maintained by Misha Teramura, Reed College; updated 23 September 2015.

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