Troilus and Cressida: Tempus edax rerum

  • Ralph Berry


Troilus and Cressida appears to present itself as a reworking of earlier material in the canon. One is immediately aware of certain correspondences (Troilus/Romeo, Pandarus/Nurse) and of some stylistic reminiscences of Shakespeare’s earlier manner. From these resemblances, commentators1 have been tempted to conclude that the play was conceived, perhaps partly written, at an earlier stage, and rewritten in accordance with a more complex vision. But this surely is erroneous. Shakespeare is drawing on the styles of his former manner to adduce certain characteristics (and inadequacies) of his dramatis personae.2 In an important sense, Troilus and Cressida is a revision of Romeo and Juliet (also, of Henry V) but not in the sense that most holders of revisionist theories adopt. Rather, it is the act of seeing again that every great artist applies to his earlier work in breaking fresh ground. I regard Troilus and Cressida as a grand allusion to the earlier treatment of love and war in the canon; and if Troilus and Cressida reads like a revaluation, that is no more than a recognition that Time is a presence in the Shakespearean canon, as well as in this play.


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Troilus and Cressida: Tempus edax rerum

  1. 9.
    See especially Mark Rose, Shakespearean Design ( Cambridge, Mass., 1972 ).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 10.
    David Horowitz, Shakespeare: An Existentialist View (London, 1965) p. 103.Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    For a commentary on the explicit Time-references, see G. Wilson Knight, The Wheel of Fire (London, 1930) pp. 65–9.Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    Erwin Panofsky, Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance (New York, 1962) p. 74.Google Scholar
  5. 14.
    Samuel C. Chew, The Virtues Reconciled: An Iconographic Study (Toronto, 1947) p. 90.Google Scholar
  6. 16.
    For a reading of the play’s three endings that differs significantly from the following, see R. A. Foakes, Shakespeare: The Dark Comedies to the Last Plays: From Satire to Celebration (London, 1971 ) pp. 58–60.Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    Geoffrey Bullough (ed.), The Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (London, 1966) vol. 6.Google Scholar
  8. 19.
    Quotations are taken from Shakespeare’s Ovid: Being Arthur Golding’s Translation of the Metamorphoses ed. W. H. D. Rouse (London, 1904).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ralph Berry 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ralph Berry
    • 1
  1. 1.York UniversityCanada

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