Act I, Prologue
The Greeks have come to ransack Troy because Helen, Menalaus’s wife, is sleeping with Paris. Now the Greeks are camped outside of Troy and we are going to start in the middle of the war and cover the little bit that can be covered by a single play.
Act I, Scene 1
Troilus can’t possibly go to battle when all of his manly war thoughts are consumed with thoughts of womanly love. Pandarus has little sympathy for Troilus because he has done all he can to help Troilus. In the end, it must be Troilus that does the real work. (This is all communicated through a drawn out baking metaphor.)
Troilus can’t even sit and enjoy his tasty dinner because Cressida is constantly in his thoughts. Even Pandarus must admit that Cressida looked especially pretty last night. Troilus almost gushed about how pretty Cressida was the night before, but he was worried his older brother or father would notice his girly feelings and so his feelings of love turned to sadness. Pandarus thinks that if Cressida had lighter hair, she would be even prettier than Helen. (For those unfamiliar with the whole Trojan War story, Aphrodite gifted Paris with the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen). Of course, Pandarus is her uncle, so it’s not really appropriate for him to think too much about her beauty.
Apparently all of Pandarus’ praising of Cressida is only rubbing salt in Troilus’ love wounds. This is the last straw for Pandarus. He works so hard as the go between for the two lovers and gets nothing but grief in return. It’s too much for him to take and he leaves. Troilus tries to stop him, but to no avail.
Shortly after Pandarus leaves, the alarms of battle sound. It’s too much for Troilus to handle that men die every single day for Helen, but his love remains unrequited.
Aeneas comes in to bring Troilus into battle. Paris was injured by Menelaus and had to leave the field. Troilus thinks it’s fair, Paris did steal Menelaus’ wife. Aeneas and Troilus return to battle.
Act I, Scene 2
Cressida and Alexander see Helen and Queen Hecuba headed to the east tower to watch the battle. Hector is apparently especially angry today because the day before he was struck down by his nephew, Ajax.
They see Pandarus approaching and Cressida continues praising Hector. Pandarus asks a few questions about Hector before turning the conversation to Troilus by asserting that Troilus was more angry than Hector and the better of the two men. Cressida can’t believe that. Pandarus tries to construct the unassailable argument that Troilus is Troilus and therefore not Hector. Cressida astutely points out that the same could be said about Hector. Pandarus concedes that they are both in fact themselves and not the other.
Pandarus then laments that Troilus is in fact not himself, but the gods will sort that out in time. He asserts again that Troilus is a better man than Hector because Hector is old and will probably lose his wit and good qualities and beauty before the end of the year. That prospect doesn’t seem to bother Cressida too much.
Pandarus then moves on to explain that even Helen thought that Troilus had a better complexion than Paris. Cressida thinks Paris has enough color, so Troilus must have too much. Pandarus thinks Helen loves Troilus better than Paris (which is bad news for Paris). In fact, just the other day Helen touched his barely haired chin. You see, he’s so young he only has three or four hairs on his beautifully dimpled chin. Even Cressida must admit that Troilus has a beautiful smile.
Apparently Helen dwelled on Troilus’ chin so long that she noticed a white hair and everyone in attendance laughed so hard that they cried. You see Helen marveled at there being a white hair amongst so few other hairs. Troilus explained that the white hair was his father and the others were all his sons. When Helen asked which hair was Paris, he said the forked one and told her to pluck it out and give it to him. Everyone laughed but Paris.
A retreat sounds and they go to watch the soldiers return from battle. Pandarus explains who everyone is to Cressida, while building anticipation for Troilus’ arrival. He comments on the big players until Troilus comes by. He makes a big deal about Troilus and then dismisses the rest as nothing. Cressida has heard Achilles is pretty cute. Pandarus just can’t take her shenanigans any longer.
Troilus’ servant comes to bid Pandarus to meet at his house. Pandarus goes off, promising to return with a token from Troilus.
Once alone, Cressida reveals that she does love Troilus, but wants to keep him in the chase longer to build up his feelings of love.
Act I, Scene 3
Agamemnon doesn’t understand why the Greek army seems so down in the dumps. They’ve only been fighting outside the walls of Troy for seven years and Troy seems unaffected. That’s no reason to lose hope. Nestor supposes it’s because men tend cower when the going gets rough. Ulysses commends the thoughts of the others, but asserts that they are in chaos because everyone hates their superiors. Troy is only still standing because the Greeks are weak, not because Troy is strong. The others agree and ask what the solution is.
Ulysses believes that Achilles is the root of their problem. He just lays about all day, mocking their battle plans and having his super best bud Patroclus imitate everyone else. Nestor reveals that Ajax, who is similar to Achilles, also spreads discontent among the soldiers.
Aeneas enters with a challenge from Hector, but not before getting in some sweet burns against the Greeks. Hector will stand outside the gates of Troy to fight for the superiority of Trojan women. If no Greek meets him on the field, it must mean that Grecian woman are all ugly, horrible lovers. Obviously none of the Greek men will stand for that kind of insult. They are certain a soldier will fight Hector, but to be sure they will have Aeneas announce the challenge to every tent. After he eats, of course.
Ulysses and Nestor hatch a plot to get Achilles to be the one to challenge Hector. They are confident his pride will compel him to fight. However, Ulysses worries that Hector will win and then their best fighter is cut down. Then, they decide to coax Ajax into fighting because if he loses, they can say they still have better fighters and it won’t be so embarrassing for them. They decide that pitting Ajax and Achilles against each other is probably the best way to go.
Act II, Scene 1
Thersites brings news of the challenge to Ajax, but instead of just delivering the message he decides to make fun of Ajax’s intelligence, repeatedly. And so, Ajax does the only logical thing and beats Thersites repeatedly.
Achilles pops in to see what all the hullabaloo is about. Thersites continues to insult Ajax’s intelligence who keeps threatening to beat him. Achilles gets to the heart of the matter, which is that Thersites won’t deliver the proclamation. He still refuses because he insists his service to Ajax is voluntary. Achilles asserts that no one is beaten voluntarily. Thersites gives a general summary and hopes that Hector knocks both their heads in.
Achilles elaborates on Hector’s challenge. Ajax asks who will fight. Achilles doesn’t know and doesn’t care. He knows who Hector wants to fight. Ajax knows Achilles means himself and it wounds his pride. He goes off to learn more.
Act II, Scene 2
Priam meets with his sons to discuss the latest message from the Greeks. They say all will be forgotten and the war over if they just return Helen. Hector thinks this sounds like a pretty good idea. They have lost too many people over Helen.
Troilus is having none of that because they fight on behalf of their father’s kingly pride. Hector points out that Troilus doesn’t have any reason to continue the fight. Troilus thinks fighting an enemy is enough of a reason. Hector disagrees. Troilus points out that Paris only went to get Helen because everyone wanted to retaliate against the Greeks for kidnapping their old aunt. Paris came away with a much better prize and everyone was happy at first, even Hector.
Cassandra, their sister, busts in to deliver an impassioned prophesy about the doomed future of Troy. Hector finds this to be a compelling reason to stop fighting. Troilus thinks Cassandra is just crazy.
Paris is happy with his decisions and doesn’t want to give Helen back. He doesn’t think it’s fair for them to kick her out now when they’ve been so nice to her until this point. She is his sort of wife after all.
Hector finds his younger brothers’ arguments to be superficial at best. Anyway, if they’re going to start talking about the laws of marriage: Helen was married to Menelaus first, so she should go back to him. However, Hector still concedes to their terrible arguments and decides war is probably still the best. They are fighting for glory and honor, not just Helen…apparently.