Amazon seems to be including all the reviews of different editions and translations of Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde" on the same page. If you read the reviews here you will be very confused. Some refer to an original language edition (either the one made by R. A. Shoaf or Stephen Barney's Norton Critical edition), and some refer to a translation, at least one to the translation done by Nevill Coghill. The reader needs to pay careful attention to what edition is actually on the screen when making a selection.
If you want to read the original text, I would recommend Stephen Barney's edition. Barney is the editor who made the critical edition for the Riverside Chaucer, and his Norton Critical edition includes ten excellent critical essays in addition to Chaucer's poem, Giovanni Boccaccio's "Il Filostrato" (Chaucer's source), and Robert Henryson's "Testament of Crisseid." Shoaf's edition is also good, but twice as expensive, and it does not have as much contextual material. Coghill is a fine translator of Chaucer, and for the reader who does not want to tackle the Middle English he will provide an adequate experience. But beware: His smooth couplets sound more like Alexander Pope than the vigorous medieval writer he is translating.
on July 8, 2001
CHAUCER : TROILUS AND CRISEYDE. Translated into Modern English by Nevill Coghill. 332 pp. New York : Viking Press, 1995 (Reissue). ISBN: 0140442391 (pbk.)
Nevill Coghill's brilliant modern English translation of Chaucer's 'The Canterbury Tales' has always been a bestseller and it's easy to understand why. Chaucer was an intensely human writer and a great comic artist, but besides the ribaldry and sheer good fun of 'The Canterbury Tales,' we also know he was capable of other things. His range was wide, and the striking thing about Coghill's translations are how amazingly faithful they are to the spirit of the originals - at times bawdy and hilariously funny, at other times more serious and moving when Chaucer shifts to a more poignant mode as in 'Troilus and Criseyde.'
But despite the brilliance of Coghill's translations, and despite the fact that they remain the best possible introduction to Chaucer for those who don't know Middle English, those who restrict themselves to Coghill are going to miss a lot - such readers are certainly going to get the stories, but they're going to lose much of the beauty those stories have in the original language. The difference is as great as that between a black-and-white movie and technicolor.
Chaucer's Middle English _looks_ difficult to many, and I think I know why. It _looks_ difficult because that in fact is what people are doing, they are _looking_ at it, they are reading silently and trying to take it in through the eye. This is a recipe for instant frustration and failure. But fortunately there is a quick and easy remedy.
So much of Chaucer's power is in the sheer music of his lines, and in their energy and thrust. He was writing when English was at its most masculine and vigorous. And his writings were intended, as was the common practice in the Middle Ages when silent reading was considered a freakish phenomenon, to be read aloud. Those new to Chaucer would therefore be well advised, after reading and enjoying Nevill Coghill's renderings, to learn how to read Middle English _aloud_ as soon as possible by listening to one of the many excellent recordings.
Coghill certainly captures the spirit of Chaucer, but modern English cannot really convey the full flavor and intensity of the original. Learn how to roll a few of Chaucer's Middle English lines around on your tongue and you'll soon hear what I mean. You'll also find that it isn't nearly so difficult as it _looks_, and your pleasure in Chaucer will be magnified enormously.
on March 11, 2002
One of his lesser known works, Shakespeare's Trojan play is also one of his most intriguing. Not quite a burlesque, 'Troilus and Cressida''s lurches in tone, from farce to historical drama to romance to tragedy, and its blurring of these modes, explains why generations of critics and audiences have found it so unsatisfying, and why today it can seem so modern. Its disenchanted tone, its interest in the baser human instincts underlying (classical) heroism look forward to such 20th century works as Giraudoux's 'The Trojan War Will Not Take Place' or Terry Jones' 'Chaucer's Knight'; the aristocratic ideals of Love and War, inextricably linked in this play, are debased by the merchant-class language of exchange, trade, food, possesion - the passionate affair at its centre is organised by the man who gave his name to pimps, Pandarus, and is more concerned with immediate sexual gratification than anything transcendental. The Siege of Troy sequences are full of the elaborately formal rhetoric we expect from Shakespeare's history plays, but well-wrought diplomacy masks ignoble trickery; the great heroes Ajax and Achilles are petulant egotists, the latter preferring the company of his catamite to combat; the actual war sequences, when they finally come, are a breathless farce of exits and entrances. There are a lot of words in this play, but very few deeds.
Paris, Prince of Troy, has abducted Helen, wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta. Led by the latter's brother Agamemnon, and his Machiavellian advisors Ulysses and Nestor, the Greeks besiege Troy, demanding the return of Helen. However, Achilles' dissatisfaction at the generals' endless politicking has spread discontent in the ranks. Within Troy, war takes a distinct second place to matters of the heart. While Paris wallows in luxury with his prize, his youngest brother Troilus uses Pandarus as a go-between to arrange a night of love with his niece, Cressida. When one of the Trojan leaders is taken prisoner by the Greeks, the ransom price is Cressida.
There is only one character in 'Troilus' who can be said to be at all noble and not self-interested, the eldest Trojan prince Hector, who, despite his odd interpreation of the quality 'honour', detests a meaningless war, and tries to spare as many of his enemies' lives as he can. He is clearly an anachronism, however, and his ignoble slaughter at the hands of a brutal gang suggests what price chivalry. Perhaps the most recognisable character is Thirsitis, the most savagely cynical of his great Fools. Imagine Falstaff without the redeeming lovability - he divests heroes and events of their false values, satirises motivations, abuses his dim-witted 'betters' and tries to preserve his life at any cost. Written in between 'Hamlet' and 'All's Well That Ends Well', 'Troilus' bears all the marks of Shakespeare's mid-period: the contrapuntal structure, the dense figures, the audacious neologisms, and the intitially deferred, accelerated action. If some of the diplomacy scenes are too efective in their parodic pastiche of classical rhetoric, and slow things down, Act 5 is an amazing dramatic rush, crowning the play's disenchantment with love (with an extraordinarily creepy three-way spaying of an infidelity) and war.
The New Penguin Shakespeare is the most accessible and user-friendly edition for students and the general reader (although it does need updating). Unlike the Oxford or Arden series, which offer unwieldy introductions (yawning with irrelevant conjecture about dates and sources) and unusable notes (clotted with tedious pedantry more concerned with fighting previous commentators than elucidating Shakespeare), the Penguin's format offers a clear Introduction dealing with the play and its contexts, an appendix 'An Account of the Text', and functional endnotes that gloss unfamiliar words and difficult passages. The Introduction is untainted by fashions in Critical Theory, but is particularly good at explaining the role of Time ('When time is old and hath forgot itself...And blind oblivion swallowed cities up'), the shifting structure, the multiple viewpoints in presenting characters, and Shakespeare's use of different literary and linguistic registers.
I know readers who claim to prefer this play to Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde"--which tells you something either about their inability to read Chaucer or their jaded sense of humor. Shakespeare's version of the story is every bit as dark and sardonic as Chaucer's is light and satiric. In fact, this must be the Bard's blackest comedy, too strained, disconnected, and unfocused to pass muster as "tragedy." In fact, if we take seriously Ulysses' oft-quoted speech on "degree" (accepting one's limits as a requirement for cosmic order) and Troilus' confirmation of an up-ended moral universe ("the bonds of heaven have slipped!"), there's no longer room for the heroic or tragic in the modern world Shakespeare has created in this play.
Despite containing some of the playwright's most memorable and eloquent speeches, it's the cynical tone and absurdist context, not story or character, that we remember from the play. Somewhat like Hitchcock in "Rear Window," Shakespeare places the reader in the position of deviant-voyeur, subjecting him to both the testimony and proof of Thersites' recurring reminder that, where heroism and love are concerned, all is "war and lechery." If we decide to stay the course, we're rewarded at play's end with Pandarus's speech to the audience, promising to bequeath us with "his diseases." It's shocking that Shakespeare got away with such material in a pre-penicillin era, but no less noteworthy is the audience's masochistic compliance (in itself, a potential commentary on the degradation that Shakespeare forcefully exposes and criticizes in this play).
The play often scores with modern audiences because productions opportunistically go "over the top" with exaggerated visual and verbal bawdry. The textual version is necessarily five stars because nothing can touch Shakespeare (except perhaps in this case Chaucer). Still it's a good thing that the guardians of public morality aren't better readers or this one might not make the cut in some venues where Shakespeare is performed. In fact, that situation could soon change if acting companies continue to substitute for Shakespeare's language gross and attention-getting stage antics, using the master wordsmith as a license for selling sensation.
on September 4, 2015
The biggest reason to choose The Penguin Shakespeare edition of “Troilus and Cressida” is for the editor’s devastating and insightful commentary on the play. The editor is Jonathan Crewe, of Dartmouth College. The way Professor Crewe sees it, Shakespeare was unimpressed with the great events and personalities of Homer’s “Iliad,” on which “Troilus and Cressida” is based. To the Bard, the story of the Trojan War was more dubious than inspiring. Crewe writes: “‘Troilus and Cressida' questions the heroic legend of the Trojan War and strips its leading characters of their legendary charisma, revealing an often shameful although humanly recognizable underlying reality.” Shakespeare even questions whether or not the opposed parties of the war really do represent opposing civilizations on whose respective victory or defeat the future of the world depends. Tellingly, the English poet puts these words into the mouth of his character Thersites: “All the argument is a whore and a cuckold.” For Thersites (and by extension Shakespeare), the great events of the Trojan War boil down to little more than farce. In the First Folio, “Troilus” was labeled a tragedy. Performing arts critic Cynthia Greenwood perhaps put it best having referred to the play as a mixture of dark comedy and bitter tragedy. Also, as we shall see, the play is as relevant as today’s headlines.
Synopsis—After seven years, the Trojan War is at a stalemate. Inside the walled city of Troy, young Troilus loves Cressida, but she has defected to the Greeks. Troilus persuades her uncle Pandarus to intercede on his behalf. Meanwhile, Hector of Troy issues a challenge to the Greeks, daring any one of their champions to face him in single combat. The one he wants is their most fearsome fighter, Achilles, but he’s sulking in his tent. The Greek commander Ulysses offers up the “blockish” Ajax hoping it will inspire Achilles to action. It doesn’t. Once again the Greeks offer to abandon the siege if Helen is returned but, though a Trojan prophetess predicts disaster for Troy if the offer is refused, the Trojan leaders decide to continue the fight. In Act III, Pandarus is successful in returning Cressida to Troy, where Troilus and Cressida vow love to one another. Their union is only temporary, as Cressida’s father, who has “incurred a traitor’s name,” seeks to make amends by offering his daughter to the Greeks in exchange for a Trojan leader held captive. In Act IV, they consent so Cressida returns to the Greek side once more. Only this time she falls for one of their commanders, Diomedes, despite her vows of fidelity to Troilus. Hector and Ajax meet in battle in single combat, but after a few blows they stop on account of kinship. In Act V, Ulysses allows Troilus inside the Greek camp so he may see Cressida again. Once there, he sees how faithless Cressida has been, having taken up with Diomedes. The next day in battle, Troilus and Diomedes fight one another but without serious injury to either. At the same time, Hector slays Achilles’ intimate friend Patroclus. Achilles is enraged, but fearful of facing Hector alone. He orders his minions to surround the disarmed Hector and slaughter him. Achilles then takes full credit by instructing them to spread the word that he alone faced Hector and killed him in combat. What a guy. Seeing their best fighter has been slain, the Trojans retire from the field as the play ends. And that, Shakespeare seems to be suggesting, is how heroic legends like Achilles are born.
Which brings us back to the play’s introduction by Jonathan Crewe, where he writes: “We tend to think of the 20th century as a time of unprecedented historical disillusionment. Repeated, searing experience of military catastrophe, genocide, political corruption, abusive sexual and racial politics, and collapsing ideals have resulted in forms of disbelief that have often been regarded as belonging peculiarly to the 20th century. Yet Shakespeare’s play demystified the Trojan War with a critical energy that the 20th century barely equaled.” Is it any wonder then that “Troilus and Cressida” while neglected for nearly 300 years has in recent times come into its own? Written in 1603, it seems William Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” is as relevant as today’s headlines.
on May 31, 1999
As usual, Chaucer has come through as the greatest poet of Middle English. This is by far the best expansion on Homer's epic poetry to appear since Publius Vergilius Maro's Æneid, and I'm sure Augustus would have enjoyed it just as much! Shakespeare's adaptation, Troilus and Cressida, is an excellent play but does not give this poem justice. I would definitely recommend it to any serious fan of English literature!
on January 20, 2015
I am not rating the play, but rather this supposedly annotated edition. It ISN'T annotated - there are no notes whatsoever. The only added value this edition has over the free one is the Table of Contents - the fact that it has one, and also that it has links.
If I had wasted more than 99 cents on it, I would try to get my money back. Be warned by my experience: hold onto your pennies, unless you think a clickableTable of Contents is worth 99 cents.
on July 15, 2006
The first thing you will probably notice about this play is that it seems longer than his other plays. But if we are willing to look past this, it is a rather good play that explores the theme that personal dissension is the root of chaos and the unreliability of romantic love. This play deals with the last stage of the Trogan War. It begins with Trojan Troilus expressing his love for Cressida to her uncle Pandarus. Pandarus (who for now is Cressida's guardian) consents to Troilus's quest. In the next scene, Cressida will not admit to her uncle Pandarus that she likes Troilus, but she later reveals to us she does. (Some nice comedy.) 1.3 is a rather well drawn scene where the Greek King Agamemnon is frustrated because Greece has not been able to defeat Troy after all this time. Part of the reason may be civil dissension in Greece. The Greek warrior Achilles is more after his own glory than performing his duties. Because of this, when an invitation to fight Hector to decide the outcome comes, Agamemnon chooses the less able, but more modest Ajax. Onto Act 2. Act 2 Scene 2 emphasizes the theme of this play yet again. Priam and Hector honestly feel that the Trojans should just give back Helen to the Greeks and end all this. It makes sense does it not? But Troilus (like Romeo) is a romantic and not a rationalist, and he persuades Priam and Hector to hold onto Helen. (By the way, we can forget about any valuable input from Helen. She shows herself to be an airhead. Or as the great Isaac Asimov puts it: "She appears as a vain, silly woman with an empty head unaware (or uncaring about) what she has caused, and incapable, apparently, of making an intelligent remark." Onto Act 3. Troilus and Cressida confess their love for each other, and for now they are happy. (Along with Cressida's uncle Pandarus.) But this is not to last. Cressida's father (of Greece) wants his daughter Cressida back and Agamemnon is willing to give Troy back their Anteor in return. Agamemnon continues to show contempt for Achilles and his swollen ego, and there is a comical scene where everyone ignores Achilles. The less effective but more modest Ajax continues to win praise. Onto Act 4. 4.2 has the sad scene where Troilus and Cressida realize that they must part, but with a gleam of hope, Troilus plans to see Cressida behind enemy lines. The parting in 4.4 is well drawn. Onto the battle between Hector and Ajax. It takes place, and the battle ends with the 2 praising each other with respect. Perhaps things can even come to a peaceful conclusion, but Achilles and Hector express their contempt for each other, and peace looks less likely. Onto Act 5. Troilus sneaks behind enemy lines to see Cressida, but to make a long story short, he sees that she no longer feels anything for him. Troilus leaves in a bitter rage. (Such is a short romance.) Act 5.3 is a memorable scene where Hector's wife tries to convince Hector to stay home, but like Calpurnia, she can not convince Caesar to stay home. (Even when Hector's father and sister try to help.) And now, the fire flies. War breaks out. The balance of power swings back and forth. Hector kills Achilles's friend Patroclus and when Hector's vanity leaves him vulnerable, Achilles kills Hector in a less than honorable fashion. Troilus survives, but he fears with the loss of Hector, Troy will fall. If you like this story, you may wish to read Marlowe's "Dido Queen of Carthage." That play focuses on Aeneas and the surviving Trojans as they plot their next move.
on January 31, 2016
Have just received this, but like the Norton selection of Canterbury Tales that precedes it, it glosses difficult words of Chaucer's English directly opposite each line. Today's reader can thereby read this fine poem as a poem (if slowly), without the miserable distraction of looking up words in a glossary. As in other Norton critical editions, there's a sound introduction, selection of better critical essays, and helpful bibliography. BUY THIS BOOK! If enough of you do, Norton might be inspired to put out similar editions of Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and even (dream on!), The Owl and the Nightingale.
I am now halfway through reading the full Shakespeare oeuvre, but I’ll have to admit that, out of nineteen plays, Troilus and Cressida has been my least favorite.
The story takes place within the Trojan War. Troilus and Cressida have fallen in love in Troy, but when Cressida is sent in a hostage exchange back to the Greeks, their love turns tragic. Though the play is titled after Troilus and Cressida, though, their story is just a smallish part of the plot. Most of the play surrounds the attempts of the Greek leaders (Ulysses and Agamemnon) to convince Achilles to fight against the Trojan Hector in one-on-one battle.
My problems with the play were three-fold. First, their was a disjointure, to me, between the two plots of the play. I was more interested in the Troilus and Cressida story, and I had to wade through scene after scene of the Greek leaders debating amongst each other. Second, this play, more than any of the others I’ve read, relies on long, philosophical speeches rather than dialogue. It reads, at times, like a Platonic Dialogue. In other words, it’s not always the most engaging theater. Finally, Shakespeare’s plays can obviously be pretty tragic, but they’re typically pretty idealistic, and hopeful in a sense, too, even when the ending is catastrophic. Only Iago, to my recollection, is an unredeemably and senselessly evil being in the plays. Troilus and Cressida, however, felt to me like the most absurdly cynical of Shakespeare’s plays. That’s why a lot of people like it, I know. But I prefer the rest.
I’m glad I read it, and I only rate this play down comparing it to other Shakespearean plays. This isn’t one, though, that I’ll be longing to read over and over.