Article Title

"Monsters in Love's Train": Euripides and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The Trojan War, fought for a trivial cause, setting "kindred" speakers of the same language and worshippers of the same gods against each other, has provided a dramatic image of bitter, needless suffering to authors as widely separate in time as Euripides, Shakespeare, and Giraudoux. In the sixteenth century, further, another conflict of kindred, the mutual slaughter of Oedipus' surviving sons Eteocles and Polyneices in Aeschylus' Septem and Euripides' Phoenissae made the same point.1 Of the Greek tragedians Euripides turned most frequently to these conflicts, illustrating the effects of suffering on the central characters and representing the complete annihilation of families and cities; both Renaissance and modem commentators have seen him as the dramatist who showed the price that war exacts from conquered and conquerors alike.2 Because of his realistic portrayal of the pagan world, his depiction of human emotion, and his useful sententiae, Euripides was the most popular Greek dramatist in Shakespeare's time.3 This study takes up the implications of F. L. Lucas' observation that "the most truly Euripidean thing in Shakespeare is the biting realism of Troilus and Cressida, where the fabled splendour of the heroes of Romance turns in hard daylight to lechery, as fairy gold to withered leaves."4 Lucas did not claim direct influence of Euripides on Shakespeare. One need not do so, because so many translations and commentaries contemporary with Shakespeare illustrate the terms in which Euripidean drama was taught and discussed.5 This paper explores Shakespeare's debt to these Renaissance conceptions of Euripides. Of course Shakespeare used much classical and post-classical material in Troilus, but the extent of his Euripidean echoes has been largely ignored.6 Reading Troilus as a Euripidean drama helps to illuminate its chaotic milieu, its deflated, often contradictory characters, its episodic structure, and its uncertain genre.

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