Act 1, scene 1
In Troy, Troilus, son of King Priam, talks with Pandarus, Cressida’s uncle. Troilus says he does not intend to fight today. He has too much emotional turmoil inside of him to permit him to go out to war. It soon transpires that he is in love with Cressida. He and Pandarus agree that the previous night, Cressida looked even more beautiful than usual. Troilus says he is madly in love with Cressida, and he reproaches Pandarus for saying how beautiful she is, because that only makes him feel worse, even more frustrated. It emerges that Troilus has been using Pandarus as a go-between in his desire to win Cressida, with no positive result, but Pandarus says he will not do that any more. After Pandarus exits, Troilus bemoans the fact that the only way for him to reach Cressida is via Pandarus. As for Cressida, he says, she is showing no interest in him.
Aeneas, a Trojan commander, enters and asks Troilus why he is not out on the battlefield. Troilus answers evasively, and Aeneas says that Paris has returned to Troy, wounded by Menelaus in the fight. Troilus expresses no sympathy for his brother. Aeneas returns to the battle, and Troilus accompanies him.
This is the audience’s first sight of Troilus, and it is clear that he is more interested in love than war. Indeed, he expresses a cynicism about the war and a lack of interest in the outcome. He could hardly be more explicit about it than in these words: “Fools on both sides, Helen must needs be fair / When you with your blood you daily paint her thus” (lines 90-91). In the next line he says that the cause of the war—Helen’s presence in Troy—is too trivial for him to fight over. He seems to have no love for his brother Paris either, having only contempt for the wound Paris has suffered at the hands of Menelaus. He almost seems to imply that Paris gets what he deserves, having taken Menelaus’s wife.
Act 1, scene 2
Cressida enters with her servant Alexander. Alexander tells her that Hector the great Trojan warrior is angry because he was knocked down in battle by Ajax, the Greek. Hector feels humiliated and ashamed by this. Pandarus enters, and confirms to Cressida that Hector is angry, and the Greeks will suffer for it that day in battle too. Troilus will perform well, too, says Pandarus. He thinks Troilus is a better man than Hector, although Cressida makes a point of disagreeing. She will not acknowledge holding Troilus in any esteem at all. But Pandarus says that Helen loves Troilus, and Pandarus thinks she loves him more than she does Paris.
They stop to watch the Trojan warriors returning from the battlefield. Pandarus wants to make sure that Cressida sees Troilus. Aeneas and then Antenor pass by, and then Hector. Pandarus points out the many marks on Hector’s helmet, where the Greeks have hacked away at him. Then Paris passes by, and Pandarus praises him. Next isHelenus, and then Troilus. Pandarus praises him to the skies, saying his helmet is more hacked about than even Hector’s. Paris is but dirt to Troilus, Pandarus says. Cressida says that the Greeks have a better man, Achilles, but Pandarus disparages Achilles. Cressida is skeptical about that, and Pandarus expresses exasperation with her. Pandarus exits, saying he will bring a token from Troilus for her. Cressida has some harsh words for her uncle, but admits in a soliloquy that she does in fact love Troilus, but she is playing hard to get. She does not want to be easily won, because then Troilus will not value her so much. Also, Troilus will then be able to command her, whereas as long as she holds out on him, she is the one who is in charge, and he must pay court to her.
This is the audience’s first sight of Cressida, who is being very careful to cover up her affection for Troilus. She seems to be well aware of how the game of love is played and wants to make Troilus work hard before she gives in to him. She shows herself to be quite knowledgeable about life and the world, not a naïve young girl. She knows what Pandarus is up to, trying to create a match for her, but she has little respect for her uncle.
Also interesting in this scene is how the Greek warriors are referred to. Perhaps it is to be expected, since it is their adversaries that are describing them, but the great Greek warriors of mythology are here cut down to size. Ajax is described by Alexander as valiant but also “slow as the elephant,” and Cressida laughs at how absurd Alexander makes him sound. Then Pandarus describes Achilles, the Greeks’ greatest warrior, as “A drayman, a porter, a very camel” (lines 251-52). These descriptions are important because they occur before the audience has even seen these characters, so it gives them some idea of what to expect. Perhaps even more important is that even the great Trojan Hector is made to look somewhat petty, fasting, losing sleep, and getting angry because he has been bested by Ajax in a skirmish.