Act 5, scene 3
Andromache urges Hector not to fight today. She has had ominous dreams about death. Cassandra enters, and she and Andromache both try to persuade Hector, who is arming himself, not to fight. Hector will not listen to them. He insists that honor is at stake. Andromache sends Cassandra to fetch King Priam.
Troilus enters and Hector tells him not to fight today. Troilus chides him for his habit of allowing defeated opponents to live, and says they must be ruthless. Hector again says he does not want Troilus to fight, but Troilus says nothing will keep him away.
Priam and Cassandra enter. Priam urges Hector not to fight, since Andromache, Hecuba, and Cassandra all have expressed fears of what the day may bring. Hector refuses, saying it is his duty to go. Cassandra and Andromache plead with Priam to persuade Hector, but Hector becomes angry with his wife and sends her away. Cassandra tells Hector he will die. As she departs she tells Hector that he is deceiving himself.
The battle is about to begin, and Troilus is eager to encounter Diomedes. Pandarus enters with a letter from Cressida to Troilus, but Troilus tears it up.
Shakespeare follows one of his sources, Homer’s Iliad, for this account of Andromache’s fears about the fate Hector will meet if he goes to the battle today. Hector’s refusal to take any notice of the warnings is rooted in his concept of honor, a virtue that the rest of the play shows can barely survive in a war such as this. There is nothing about this war that is honorable. Hector emerges in a better light than Troilus, however. Troilus sees no virtue in Hector’s willingness to allow defeated enemies to live, and he fights merely for revenge against Diomedes.
Act 5, scene 4
As the battle rages, Thersites enters. In sixteen lines of prose, he manages to pour out insults against Diomedes, Troilus, Cressida, Nestor, Ulysses, Ajax, and Achilles. The effect is comic. Diomedes and Troilus are seen fighting. Hector comes upon Thersites but does not bother to fight with him when he discovers that Thersites is not of royal blood and has no other importance.
The brief action in this scene is framed by Thersites’ satirical remarks about everyone, which tend to undermine any concept of noble warfare. At least Thersites mocks himself too, describing himself to Hector as a “very filthy rogue.”
Act 5, scene 5
Agamemnon gives news of the battle. Many on both sides have fallen. Patroclus has been either captured or killed. Nestor enters with instructions that Patroclus’s body must be taken to Achilles. He tells soldiers to go to Ajax and tell him to join the battle, because Hector is performing tremendous feats, killing many Greeks.
Ulysses enters, saying that Achilles is arming, ready to join the battle to seek revenge for the death of Patroclus. Ajax is seeking out Troilus, who has been outstanding in battle. Achilles enters, seeking Hector. He wants no one else.
Act 5, scene 6
Ajax and Diomedes both call for Troilus. Troilus enters and takes them both on. Hector and Achilles enter and fight. Hector appears to get the better of it and chivalrously asks Achilles if he needs a break. Achilles says that his skills are a little rusty. They part for the time being.
Troilus tells Hector that Ajax has taken Aeneas prisoner. Troilus is determined to rescue him.
An unidentified Greek warrior enters, dressed in rich armor. Hector says he wants the armor for himself, but the warrior runs off before a fight can begin. Hector says he will hunt him down for his armor.
Commentators often find fault with Hector at this point. He has previously spoken of the war in terms of honor, and he does show chivalry toward Achilles in this scene. However, he pursues the unidentified Greek merely so he can get his hands on the warrior’s rich and showy armor. It shows him in a bad light, concerned only with greed and superficiality.