Troilus and Cressida
Henry Chettle and Thomas Dekker (1599)
N.B. This page is still under construction.
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. 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:
Lent vnto mr dickers & mr chettell the 26 of maye 1599 in earneste of a Boocke called troylles & cresedathe tragede of Agamemnon the some of . . . . . xxxs
One of the seven extant backstage-plots is generally assumed to belong to Dekker and Chettle's "Troilus and Cressida." (See Critical Commentary below.) The plot was transcribed by Greg in 1904 (Henslowe Papers, App. II.5, 142). A facsimile was published and the transcription corrected in Greg, Dramatic Documents, I, Plate V. (This later transcription was reprinted in Bullough, Narrative Sources, VI.220-21; and another facsimile appears in Bullough, "The Lost 'Troilus and Cressida'," facing p. 38.)
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 19: The missing direction in the leftmost column revised to "<......etr..t>
- • line 36: "Achillis" emended to "Achil<lis Tent>"
- • line 50: A direction is supplied to the left of "Hellen" reading "a re<tr....t>"
"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.
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 has 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. 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. For conjectural reconstructions of these scenes, contextualized within the literary tradition of Troy, see Tatlock 697-703 and Bullough.
References to the Play
(Content welcome.) (See "Possible References" in Critical Commentary below.)
[N.B. This section is still under construction.]
Greg, Dramatic Documents, II.138-43
Bullough notes that "Troilus" would have constituted one of four plays owned by the Admiral's Men on the subject of the Trojan War and its aftermath (25). Performances of a play called "Troy" are recorded in Henslowe's Diary for June and July 1596 (fol. 21v); payments to Chettle for a play called "Troy's Revenge, with the tragedy of Polyphemus" are recorded in February 1599 (fol. 53v); and payments to Chettle and Dekker for a "Tragedy of Agamemnon" appear in May 1599 and for licensing in June. As Bullough 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" (25).
The Plot as Evidence
The Trojan plot in British Museum 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 that Henslowe records in June 1596 as a more likely candidate (461).
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. "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).
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 in the second act of 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). 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).
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).
For What It's Worth
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.
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.
Potter, Lois. The Life of William Shakespeare: A Critical Biography. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
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.
Thompson, Ann. Shakespeare’s Chaucer: A Study in Literary Origins. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 1978.
Site created and maintained by Misha Teramura, Harvard University; updated 21 July 2012.