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War and Manliness in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida Emil Roy The primary area of conflict in Shakespeare’s psyche, Nor­ man Holland has said, was the phallic or oedipal stage. “The plays express over and over again the two basic oedipal wishes, to get rid of the father and possess the mother.”! A pychoanalytic study of Troilus and Cressida (1600-02) enriches and qualifies the conclusion Professor Holland has drawn from his excellent and illuminating examination of Shakespeare. In this very diffi­ cult and enigmatic play, as in Hamlet, fathers and sons clash over their claims to mother-figures and their differing valuations of her. Moreover, the oedipal issues in the play are tinged (to a degree unusual in Shakespeare) with the unresolved issues of earlier phases of childhood development. That is, all the characters in Troilus and Cressida are work­ ing out in adulthood and middle age the issues of the anal stage of infancy, namely the problem of autonomy. Erik Erikson has stressed in a series of works the critical importance of that stage of life when we must leam to exercise free choice: when we dis­ cover, guided by reassuring adults, that we can hold on and let go with a sense of good will and pride. It is this sense of selfcontrol without shame or doubt that enables an infant to act consistently, to expect others to treat him fairly and justly. He feels protected from violence both inside and outside himself. This experience carries over into later life. It is the ability and willingness to test and manipulate objects in the outside world that saves an adult from self-centeredness, from trying “to gain power by stubborn and minute control, where he could not find large-scale mutual regulation.’^ We must possess, as the char­ acters in Troilus do not, an ability to hold on and let go with discretion, rather than an obsession with repetitiveness—as the 107 108 Comparative Drama Greeks must again and again demand a worthless Helen, and the Trojans must repeatedly refuse to give her up. In other words, we must repeat experiences in order to master them, not to avoid the shame and exposure which results from “opening up” too soon. So it is with the characters in Troilus. To achieve maturity they should assume that if Helen is not worth the keeping, either the Greeks should depart without her or the Trojans should give her up, “and all damage else . . ./ Shall be struck off” (II.ii.3, 7). Both Greeks and Trojans must learn that an­ other person is not an object to be toyed with. Their failure on both sides to do so turns the play into a large-scale, complex projection of a compulsion neurosis. Theodore Reik’s descrip­ tion of such an illness perfectly fits Troilus: “an undecided bat­ tle in which the antagonists are entangled in an inextricable melee and in which the outcome is dubious.”3 Therefore, selfconsuming destruction, as R. J. Kaufmann has said, is the cen­ tral thematic metaphor of the play.4 And it applies to the bodies of states as well as of men, especially that of the sensitive Trojan prince of the title. For Troilus loses lover, brothers, faith in his most cherished values and (ultimately) his life and homeland. At the end of the play we are left with reports and legends. It seems problematic whether faith will outlast time, the great devourer , or be swallowed up itself. The war at the center of Troilus divides society into warring halves, pitting Greek aggression against Trojan sensuality. Like the behavior of the Romans in Antony and Cleopatra, the Greeks have assembled a harsh and competitive fatherland outside the walls of Troy. They see themselves largely as fathers and sons and are concerned with masculinity in its aggressive and intrusive sense. “Troy in our weakness stands,” Ulysses remarks, “not in her strength” (I.iii. 137). Most of the Greeks are identified by their parentage or fatherhood. Nestor claims to have been “a man/ When Hector’s grandsire sucked” (I.iii.291-92), and Ajax is said to be half made of Hector’s blood (IV.v.83). Patroclus...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 107-120
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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