Troilus and Cressida

Henry Chettle and Thomas Dekker (1599)

N.B. This page is still under construction.

Historical Records

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. 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
& creseda the tragede of Agamemnon the some of . . . . . xxxs



Plot. British Museum MS. Add 10449, fol. 5. Transcribed by W.W. Greg. (Henslowe Papers, App. II.5, 142)

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.)

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 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.)

Critical Commentary

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

Collier proposed that the entry in the Stationers' Register (February 7, 1603) for "The booke of Troilus and Cresseda" applied to the Chettle-Dekker play and not to Shakespeare's (Diary). Greg dismissed this theory on the grounds that the Register explicitly describes the play as having been performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men, not the Admiral's (Diary).

Greg, Dramatic Documents, II.138-43

Tatlock, 697-703


Jenkins, 218-225

The Plot as Evidence

The 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).

Possible References

Histrio-mastix (1599)

A feeble and derided performance of a Troilus and Cressida dialogue in the second act of Histrio-mastix 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). (A possible pun on Shakespeare's name has suggested to some that the attack is on his play; however the traditional dating of both works argues against this conclusion.)

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).

Relationship to Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida

Much critical discussion of Chettle and Dekker's "Troilus and Cressida" involves conjectures about its relationship to Shakespeare play of the same name. 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). 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

(Content welcome.)

Works Cited

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.