Follow Troilus and Cressida with our scene by scene synopsis.
A printable version of this synopsis is available in the downloads section below.
Priam King of Troy
Sons to Priam and Hecuba:
Helenus a priest
Margarelon the bastard, illegitimate son to Priam
Cassandra a prophetess, daughter to Priam and Hecuba
Andromache wife to Hector
Calchas a Trojan priest
Cressida daughter to Calchas
Pandarus uncle to Cressida
Man (Alexander) servant to Cressida
Servant to Paris
Agamemnon general of the Greek forces
Menelaus brother to Agamemnon
Helen wife to Menelaus, living in Troy with Paris
Patroclus companion to Achilles
Thersites a scurrilous fool
Servant to Diomedes
Scene by Scene
A prologue, dressed in armour, explains that the play is ‘beginning in the middle’ of the Trojan War.
Act 1 Scene 1 - ‘I am mad in Cressid’s love’ Troilus, son of Trojan King Priam, complains to Pandarus that he cannot fight because of his lovesickness for Cressida, his confidante’s niece. When Pandarus leaves, Troilus notes that he must keep him on side to win over Cressida.
Act 1 Scene 2 - ‘Brave Troilus, the prince of chivalry!’
Pandarus and Cressida discuss Hector, Troilus’ older brother. Pandarus argues that Troilus is superior but she refuses to believe him. Some Trojan lords, including Troilus, ride by on their way back from battle. Once alone, Cressida admits that she is hiding her true feelings for Troilus.
Act 1 Scene 3 - ‘I bring a trumpet to awake his ear’
The Greek leaders gather with King Agamemnon. Some are disheartened by the lack of progress in the siege, made worse by one of their greatest warriors, Achilles, refusing to fight. Aeneas enters under a truce flag from the Trojan camp to deliver a challenge from Hector to fight any warrior. The Greeks discuss and decide to send Ajax, as the possibility of losing Achilles is too grave.
Act 2 Scene 1 - ‘Thou sodden-witten lord!
Achilles tells Ajax about Hector’s challenge. Both believe that the warrior will be selected by lottery, not knowing of Ulysses’ plan.
Act 2 Scene 2 - ‘What’s aught but as ‘tis valued?’
Priam and his sons discuss whether it would be better to return Helen to the Greeks and end the war. Hector argues she is not worth the bloodshed. Their sister Cassandra runs in, prophesying that Troy will burn if they do not do so. Troilus rejects the claim as madness, and Hector eventually agrees to continue the war effort.
Act 2 Scene 3 - ‘In second voice we’ll not be satisfied’
The Greek commanders come to call on Achilles but he will not stir from his tent, sending his friend Patroclus in his place. In response they turn to praising Ajax extensively, and tell him he shall fight Hector the following day.
Act 3 Scene 1 - ‘So dying love lies still’
Pandarus tells Helen and Paris to make excuses for Troilus’ absense at dinner with the King. Paris guesses correctly he is with Cressida, but Pandarus refuses to confirm it.
Act 3 Scene 2 - ‘Hard to seem won; but I was won’
Troilus nervously paces Cressida’s garden. Pandarus arrives and fetches his niece. Cressida tells Troilus that she has loved him for months but not wanted to admit it. The pair exchange vows of eternal faithfulness and Pandarus send them to bed to seal the ‘bargain’.
Act 3 Scene 3 - ‘All the Greeks begin to worship Ajax’
Calchas, Cressida’s father who defected to the Greek side, requests a prisoner swap so that his daughter can be brought into the camp. Agamemnon agrees. The Generals purposefully ignore Achilles, who grows angry. Ulysses tells him he isn’t the favoured warrior any more. Anxious about his exclusion, Achilles invites Ajax and the Trojan lords to his tent after the combat.
Act 4 Scene 1 - ‘The noblest-hateful love’
Leading figures from the Greek and the Trojan camp meet on a street in Troy. The Trojans learn about the planned prisoner swap with Cressida. Aeneas runs ahead to warn Troilus, who he expects to find in Cressida’s bed.
Act 4 Scene 2 - ‘No sooner got than lost?’
In the courtyard of Cressida’s house, the lovers bid farewell after their night together. Pandarus interrupts with bawdy quips about the loss of maidenheads. Suddenly Aeneas arrives and delivers the bad news about Cressida, and Troilus leaves with him to meet the lords. Cressida, distraught, says she will refuse the swap.
Act 4 Scene 3 - ‘I know what ‘tis to love’'
Outside the house, Paris instructs Troilus to fetch Cressida; he pities his brother, but there is nothing he can do to help.
Act 4 Scene 4 - ‘The salt of broken tears’
Troilus tells a tearful Cressida that nothing can be done: she must go to the Greek camp. They exchange love tokens (a sleeve and a glove) and Cressida makes Troilus promise several times to be faithful. As Cressida is walked to the port by Diomedes, trumpets sound for the battle between Ajax and Hector.
Act 4 Scene 5 - ‘Her wanton spirits look out’
The Greek leaders welcome Cressida to their camp with kisses, except for Ulysses who accuses her of ‘sluttish’ behaviour. After a short fight with no clear winner, Ajax and Hector stop fighting, and retire to the Greek camp where Achilles claims that he will kill Hector in battle the following day. While everyone dines in Agamemnon’s tent, Troilus confesses his love for Cressida to Ulysses.
Act 5 Scene 1 - ‘Too much blood and too little brain’
Thersites arrives at the Greek camp with a letter for Achilles from Queen Hecuba, and a love token from her daughter, Polyxena. Having promised both that he will not fight, he decides that he cannot face Hector tomorrow. Ulysses encourages Troilus to follow Diomedes secretly to Calchas’ tent, where he might see Cressida.
Act 5 Scene 2 - ‘O false wench!’
Troilus and Ulysses watch unseen as Diomedes and Cressida whisper outside the tent. Her flirting intensifies until she hands over Troilus’ love token, the sleeve, to the ‘sweet honey Greek’. After some hesitation, she decides women are inherently promiscuous and promises to sleep with Diomedes. Troilus cannot believe what he sees, and swears bloody revenge on Diomedes.
Act 5 Scene 3 - ‘Words, words, mere words’
Hector’s wife (Andromache) and sister (Cassandra) try to persuade him against going to battle, warning him of ominous dreams. Although he dismisses their claims, he also attempts to stop Troilus from fighting – and similarly fails. Pandarus enters with a letter for Troilus from Cressida, which he reads and tears up.
Act 5 Scene 4 - ‘That Greekish whoremasterly villain’
Thersites discusses the action on the battlefield, where Diomedes wears Troilus’ sleeve on his helmet. The two men enter fighting and Hector pursues them.
Act 5 Scene 5 - ‘I have chastised the amorous Trojan’
Diomedes tells his servant to take Troilus’ horse to Cressida, to symbolise that he is her new knight. Agamemnon lists the dead Greeks, including Achilles’ close friend, Patroclus. Ulysses informs Nestor that Hector is on a killing streak, pursued by a wrathful Achilles. Ajax enters, looking to kill Troilus.
Act 5 Scene 6 - ‘He is my prize’
Ajax and Diomedes discuss who deserves to fight Troilus, but he takes both on at once. Hector enters chased by Achilles and the pair fight, but Hector gets the better of his opponent and allows Achilles a ‘pause’. Troilus informs everyone that Ajax has captured Aeneas, before running off to save the Trojan commander.
Act 5 Scene 7 - ‘I love bastards’
Achilles instructs his followers, the Myrmidons, to surround and impale Hector. Thersites watches Menelaus and Paris fight, before being challenged by Priam’s bastard son, Margarelon. Thersites fails to persuade him that, both being bastards, they should stick together and runs away.
Act 5 Scene 8 - ‘Achilles hath the mighty Hector slain’
Hector takes a break from the battle and disarms, just as Achilles and the Myrmidons arrive. The Trojan points out he is unarmed but Achilles, disinterested in codes of conduct, orders his men to strike, killing Hector.
Act 5 Scene 9 - ‘Great Troy is ours’
Soldiers announce the death of Hector at Achilles’ hands. Agamemnon is overjoyed and predicts the fall of Troy and the end of the war.
Act 5 Scene 10 - ‘Frown on, you heavens’
Hector’s body is dragged around the field by a horse. Troilus miserably imagines how Hecuba and Priam will react to the news of their son’s death. Pandarus arrives and Troilus curses him before leaving him alone to mourn how unrewarded the work of a pander goes.