Wednesday, October 24, 2012

you might actually like it if you try it

(and by like I mean, be companionably depressed...)

So, Shakespeare on love. What a surprise! One of our most famous writers is constantly obsessed with love - who isn't?

Troilus and Cressida is not just about pointless, protracted war that destroys lives, it's also kind of about pointless, protracted love that destroys lives.

Love of course has many aspects, and darling William explores them all. Some of the quotes you may vaguely know ("love is not love that alters when it alteration finds or bends with the remover to remove" for eg) demonstrate his deep grasp of the nature and depths of love.

In Troilus and Cressida, Bill explores the nature of sexual love and the question of fealty. Obviously, the catalyst of the plot (the rape of Helen) is itself an indicator of the ruinous effects of infidelity (steal a wife, start a war... Pretty large-scale for most of us, but of course T and C provide the more personal dimension to the argument). The love affair between Troilus and Cressida mirrors this destruction, ultimately playing on the theme of oaths and their breaking. Cressida even points out the problem they face, "they say all lovers swear more performance than they are able, and yet reserve an ability that they never perform; vowing more than the perfection of ten, and discharging less than the tenth part of one", or as Troilus would have it, "this is the monstruosity in love, lady, that the will is infinite, and the execution confin'd; that the desire is boundless and the act a slave to limit".

Basically, big promises, small delivery. All the national and personal tragedy of this plot hinges on the inability of lovers to remain faithful, whether to their marriage partner, or the nation they 'love' and swear to protect (but, actually, putting their own egos and sexual relationships first, drawing their nation into protracted war instead of loving peace).

None of this is any surprise to most of us - infidelity sux. And it appears that modern audiences, particularly after the two world wars of last century, beaten down by constant, wearing battles of attrition and the bending to breaking point of personal morality found new interest in this half-forgotten, 'problematic' play.

We find the cries of our hearts echoed in its words, we join with Troilus' disappointment in Cressida's unfaithfulness, we feel the tragedy of Hector's death - the true, faithful, honourable hero of the play is brought down to dust while dodgy, bloodthirsty, fornicating, egotistical anti-heroes live on.

Troilus and Cressida succeeds for a modern audience because of it's dissatisfactions and disillusions, the very same elements which left a bitter taste in the mouths of more triumphal generations.