Set during the Trojan War, Troilus and Cressida recounts the love affair of its title characters. Inside the besieged city of Troy, the Trojan prince Troilus is lovesick for Cressida. Cressida is drawn to Troilus, too, and her uncle, Pandarus, brings them together.
In the Greek camp outside, Cressida's father, Calchas, asks that Cressida be brought to him in return for the help he has given the Greeks. The morning after the lovers’ night together, Cressida is exchanged for a Trojan prisoner and taken to the camp by the Greek warrior Diomedes.
The great Trojan warrior Hector, Troilus’s brother, engages in single combat with the Greek Ajax, a fight that ends inconclusively. Hector and Troilus join the Greeks for a feast. Cressida, meanwhile, is seduced by Diomedes.
Distraught at Cressida's betrayal, Troilus fights Diomedes and others. Patroclus, favorite of the Greek warrior Achilles, dies in battle. Achilles fights with and loses to Hector, who is then, on Achilles’s orders, dishonorably slain. Grieving, Troilus and the other Trojans return to Troy.
Early printed texts
Troilus and Cressida exists in two different early versions, both of which have complicated histories, although the textual variants are not significant enough for most readers to notice. The play was first published in 1609 as a quarto that exists in two different states. The earlier state (Qa) has a title page describing the play as a "Historie" published "As it was acted by the Kings Majesties servants at the Globe." The second state (Qb), however, has a title page that does not refer to the play's performance and includes a prefatory letter, "A never writer, to an ever reader," that asserts that the play was "never stal'd with the Stage, never clapper-clawd with the palmes of the vulger." (Scholars are divided on the assertion that the play was never performed.)
The play was then included in the 1623 First Folio (F1) as The Tragedie of Troylus and Cressida, albeit only after some confusion; a few copies of F1 survive without the play and it was never listed in the book's "Catalogue," or table of contents. The play seems to have been intially slated to appear in the middle of the tragedies, just after Romeo and Juliet, and a few copies still include a leaf that has the ending of Romeo and Juliet on one side and the start of Troilus and Cressida on the other. (The Folger's Fo.1 no.45 is one such copy.) But before the full play could be printed, there was apparently a change of plans. The play was moved to appear after the last play in the history section, Henry VIII, and the first play in the tragedy section, Coriolanus. A prologue to the play (not in Q) was also added, facing the ending of Henry VIII.
Picturing Troilus and Cressida
As part of an NEH-funded project, the Folger digitized thousands of 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century images representing Shakespeare’s plays. Some of these images show actors in character, while others show the plays as if they were real-life events—telling the difference isn't always easy. A selection of images related to Troilus and Cressida is shown below, with links to our digital image collection.
More images of Troilus and Cressida can be seen in our digital image collection. (Because of how they were cataloged, some images from other plays might appear in the image searches linked here, so always check the sidebar to see if the image is described as part of a larger group.)