Iliad was the most common version of this story. William Shakespeare has borrowed heavily from Geoffrey Chaucer to tell the Trojan War using the same heroes and events. Shakespeare’s play Troilus, and Cressida introduces a sense of realism to the conflict, and a new spin on events. In the retelling, the Greek deities are almost completely eliminated and only mentioned by name. Shakespeare’s breakaway from tradition when it comes to the Homeric Iliad, is evident by the way Shakespeare depicts both heroes and antagonists, the abandonment of Greek gods’ actions, as well as the anachronisms Shakespeare introduces. Shakespeare’s play replaces the epic nature of the Iliad with a realist sense in its heroes and plot.
Achilles, the strongest warrior in the war, is the first to stand out as a hero who breaks with tradition. Mark Edwards argues that Apollo’s rage fueled plague on the Greeks is a result not only of Hector’s support for Troy, but most likely also because Achilles was said to have killed Troilus, Priam’s son, at the temple Apollo. Homer’s original portrayal of Achilles killing Troilus did not seem to fit with Shakespeare’s plot, since Troilus plays a major role in the play. Achilles has a much smaller role than Troilus in Shakespeare’s play. This is significant because the Iliad, which is often referred to as Achilles’ rage, is a departure from the tradition.
Achilles’s relationships are an important aspect of the Iliad. He has a hatred for Agamemnon and a respect for Priam. However, Shakespeare breaks with tradition in this area as well. Robert Fagles wrote that Achilles hated Thersites the most in Robert Fagles version. Thersites was supposed to be the truth-teller of Greek warriors. Thersites is not well-liked by the Greek leadership because of his brutal honesty about how the commanders in Greece are doing. Achilles offered to have Thersites join him for a meal in Troilus And Cressida. Achilles asks Thersites “Where…Are you ?…why haven’t thou served yourself in my table so often?” Come, what’s Agamemnon?” (II.iii, 40-43). Achilles begins by asking where Thersites has been since his rant against the Greek leadership. He then embraces Thersites and invites him to his feasts. Then, in an effort to understand, he asks Thersites what Agamemnon means for Thersites. This is the difference between Troilus Cressida, and the Iliad. Thersites was despised and hated by everyone in the Iliad. Achilles is also said to have detested him. However, in Troilus And Cressida Achilles extends his hand in friendship and understanding. Shakespeare is breaking tradition in that he includes Achilles’s close brotherly treatment of Thersites.
Achilles’ cool-headed demeanor when dealing with insults directed at him, or his cousin Patroclus shows a different side to Homer’s Iliad, which is characterized by a fiery anger. Achilles asks Thersites for a more in-depth explanation of his views when he is invited to attend Achilles’ feasts. Achilles and Thersites are all brought up as characters to discuss, but Achilles seems not to take these words seriously, while Thersites tries to make the conversation about Patroclus. “Peace, fool! Thersites declares to Patroclus I haven’t done, and Achilles replies “He has a privilege man.” Move on, Thersites. Thersites, who had called Patroclus stupid, was now ranting at Achilles and Patroclus. They both knew that Thersites hated Agamemnon with all the Greek generals. Achilles, on the other hand, is sympathetic, perhaps because Achilles and Thersites both agree that the Trojan War was a futile war, based on greed and ego. Achilles accepts Thersites’s constant criticisms, even if it is only to get to know him better. Shakespeare breaks tradition with his relationship with Thersites.
Shakespeare has rewritten the ending of Hector’s story in Troilus and Cressida to reflect the changes that have occurred. Homer says that Achilles’s divine intervention was revealed in the Iliad. Athena disguised as Hector ally Deiphobus to help him fight an angry Achilles. Achilles was not able to kill Hector before the illusion dissipated. Hector had been fully armed at this point and was therefore killed honorably (XXII.248, 432). Shakespeare had decreed in Troilus And Cressida that no mystic or deity forces would appear. He also offered a different interpretation of Hector’s fate.
Hector begins to disarm himself near the end of another day of battle. “Rest, sword, thou hast thy fill with blood and death.” Achilles, however, is not as honorable in his portrayal. Hector was unarmed. Hector disarms himself prematurely near the end a battle day. Hector dies (V.viii.4, 10). Achilles’s lack of concern for whether Hector died honorably is evident here. However, it is not confirmed that Achilles had actually struck Hector with the fatal blow. Achilles may have been enraged at Patroclus’s death earlier in The Iliad, but it is not clear if he was unable to care less about honor. It could also be that Achilles thought Hector disarmed himself on the battle field because he was stupid and therefore deserved to die. Achilles killing Hector is devoid in The Iliad of any mysticism. It was also a complete lack of bravery, honor and glory.
Pandarus differs significantly between the Iliad and the play Troilus. Pandarus, an Iliad archer and hunter who is lured by Athena to kill Menelaus, with one arrow, promises glory and prize money. Athena transforms what might have otherwise been a fatal blow into one of injury, and thus, the brutal conflict begins again. The roles are so different that one might think that Shakespeare was portraying a different Pandarus. Pandarus was portrayed in two different ways. The Iliad shows Trojan warriors blocking the Greeks view to prevent Pandarus from aiming critically. Troilus And Cressida also has a similar depiction of Pandarus, but the Greeks were unable to see Pandarus. Shakespeare uses Pandarus in a way that suits his story. Shakespeare has a hidden agenda and uses Pandarus as a master manipulator. While Pandarus’ only claim to fame was his miss shot in Iliad in the role of an archer.
Shakespeare’s handlings of characters are not the least different when comparing Troilus & Cressida with the Iliad. A man of his age, Shakespeare retells the Iliad in a way that is relatable to an audience. This includes avoiding the Greek deities and using religious terms and titles. These anachronisms further separate Homer from Shakespeare’s tales. Troilus & Cressida contains no evidence of divine intervention. The play’s mortals only refer to the deities in the Roman name. The fact that many people think the survivors from Troy were the ones who founded Rome is why this is so significant.
Troilus & Cressida, a Shakespeare play, contains a connection to Rome that is of particular significance. Rome, afterall, is where Catholicism was born, and in true Shakespearean style, Shakespeare makes numerous references to the religion. The Greeks and England are a perfect complement to Shakespeare’s comparison of the Trojans and Rome. Henry VIII severed his ties to Catholicism in the 1600s after several disputes involving the annulment of the marriage he had with Catherine of Aragon. This completes the comparison: the Greeks are now the covert representation of Protestantism and the Trojans are Rome and Catholicism. Shakespeare’s intention to propagate his views through the play may be the reason for this subtle yet controversial change in tone.
Shakespeare introduces a variety of anachronisms to Homer’s works that further distinguish them from Shakespeare. Troilus and Cressida introduce, as mentioned above, the expression amen, which is strictly Christian. Achilles mentions the Virgin Mary in fact. This could be Shakespeare’s preference for religion, since Achilles is talking about Hector visiting and the coming lottery. “Marry is announced, sir.” (II.i.120). Achilles says “Marry”, but it is actually ‘by Virgin Mary’. This is similar to saying ‘by God’ today. Troilus & Cressida’s introduction of the title knight is yet another anachronism. Knight implies nobility and honor and although this was a term that audiences were familiar with, it did not exist in Homer’s day. The anachronisms in Troilus & Cressida help Shakespeare adapt Homer’s Iliad to his needs.
Shakespeare portrays the Trojan War this way to make a point: Sometimes heroes are just mortals, who have the same faults and misgivings that the audience. Troilus & Cressida may have been Shakespeare’s way of highlighting the Greeks’ cowardice and lechery. Shakespeare’s adaptation re-imagines the heroes to reflect his own vision of what a realistic world would look like. Shakespeare may have even introduced a touch of spirituality to his adaptation by using amen as a seal for powerful words and calling upon the Virgin Mary icon. This anachronism serves to further divide Troilus from Cressida, the epic poem of Homer. Shakespeare, though a lover of Homer’s Iliad had many reservations. Shakespeare can reinvent Homer’s epic by adapting Chaucer, while also bringing down the intensity and power of each side’s heroes and removing divine intervention other than calling Greek gods’ names. Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida is a reworking of Homer’s epic. He has lowered the ferocity and power of both sides heroes to more realistic levels and removed all divine intervention except for calling the names of Greek deities.