One of Shakespeare's most notoriously difficult and cynical plays, labelled a "Problem Comedy", Troilus and Cressida has perplexed critics and theatre directors, and after Shakespeare's lifetime it was not performed again until 1907. In many ways the play's difficulty is a surprise; the story of Troilus and Cressida was a popular theme, drawn from Homer's Iliad and Chaucer's own Troilus and Criseyde, as was its classical setting, the Greek siege of Troy, led by Agamemnon, Achilles, Ajax, Diomedes and Ulysses.
Within the walls of Troy, Prince Troilus falls madly in love with Cressida, daughter of the deserter Calchas. His love is intense and frenetic--"I am giddy, expectation whirls round me," but turns to bitter disillusion when Cressida defects to the Greek camp and flirts with Diomedes. As the war and conflict over the abduction of Helen whirls around the doomed romance, the play delights in its complex syntax and cynical images of waste, decay, corruption and mutability, summed up in Ulysses' comment that, "Love, friendship, charity, are subjects all / To envious and calumniating time." The play's cynical open-ended quality has frustrated many readers, but gives the play a remarkably modern, contemporary sensibility. --Jerry Brotton