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  • Writer's pictureJOE WOODWARD

“Alone, alone, all, all alone, alone on a wide wide sea!"

Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida" is a raft on a wide wide sea of arts mediocrity and agenderism

I don't know that Coleridge referenced Shakespeare in his imagination! I don't know if he dreamed of an ancient mariner while in some ecstatic state of euphoria while experiencing laudanum. I do know that the romantic poets did revise Shakespeare. I know that Cressida in "Troilus and Cressida" is alone" and is "all alone on a wide, wide sea" as described by Coleridge ... I know that my skeptical students wonder if there is any relevance in even considering the discussions on Brecht and the ancients. Perhaps more attention to the work of theatre and art might put a bomb under the pretentions and erroneous conclusions of professional pundits of contemporary realities ...

Art as Provocation

Art and theatre are able to provide provocations which can indicate the connections between categories of conception and perception. By this I mean, if you are concerned about an issue of gender, race, class, poverty, systems of governance, religion, climate and survival and world views etc. Art and Theatre may well provide the questioning means necessary for consideration, study and even activism.

Can it provide answers? Probably NOT! Art as agitation / propaganda has long been associated with leftist theatre production to advance ideas of soviet or communist revolutionary platforms. While elements of its style are used consistently and even taught in schools, Agit-Pro is generally discredited as a legitimate artistic form. Art and theatre isn't about preaching or telling people what to think. That is for agitators, preachers, religious leaders and possibly for political leaders, psychologists (proclaiming what are disorders and deviations from the norm), opinion piece writers and philosophers! Though in all cases theatrical techniques are used to propagate messages ...

But art and theatre like the province of the Elizabethan "all licensed fool" is able to poke needles in the eyes of sanctimonious illusion and bullshit!

The Isolation of the Oppressed and Victimized

And so in Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida" a young woman is isolated and abandoned to being an object in a disfunctional enemy controlled universe. She is betrayed by her father and left to suffer by her lover, Troilus. She is left with limited choices. However, her passion for life over-rides her victimhood and she uses her oppression as a mirror to turn it back on her oppressors. For this, she is labelled whore.

Does anyone ever realize how isolated we all really are? Capitalism and the whole New Age thing preached in well-being seminars suggests we are all connected and part of the same universe; a positive universe at that. Yet so much of life's relationships are really games and posturing; hiding behind semantics. Language itself is a wall. As Artaud suggested it is a source of lies and deception. How true is this today? How constant is the social media in proclamations of how we can use petty well-being slogans to overcome the intense crises of existence? Each recovering addict who found the truth and the one true means wants to spread the message to some illusory crowd that is apparently eager to hear the heavenly message. Yet we all know this is illusory!

Being conditioned to believe in constancy and the positive certainty of our destiny or our worth, there is a devastating experience that defies this normative world propagated since birth. The atheist who proclaims there is no god then becomes neurotic when confronted with the inconsistency of their own belief system and actual experience only to then be soon diagnosed with some disorder becomes the victim of their own emptiness. The dysfunctional experience is transformed into a psychological disorder and soon destroys the very essence of personal control or one's well-being.

To see Cressida as being somehow a disloyal figure or an immoral / amoral wanton being is to fall into the trap of psychological romanticism; that setting of normative qualities against which everyone might be judged before some concept of god! Yet Shakespeare's Cressida is a strong and resilient being; she is capable of survival in both a spiritual and physical sense. As her captors line up to kiss her, she mirrors their disparaging and scornful approach with a mirror to them. She is no Medusa, yet one senses the potential destruction she might cause ...

Or am I being too overly blind on this issue ...


"Troilus and Cressida" is a contemporary work. It is no longer simply an historical piece as represented by it's being a least presented Shakespeare play. The shyness and patriarchal viewpoints that give rise to theatrical production mean that "Troilus and Cressida" is an almost forgotten work. Perhaps it is preferred to be forgotten; perhaps misunderstood and clearly discarded because of the ambiguous nature of female sexuality in a theatrical context! If all men are monsters, then "Troilus and Cressida" is a living and breathing theatrical truth to this notion! The male writer cannot claim to know the female psyche; just as the female experience of male monsters is a subject hidden by centuries of fear and a lack of conscious appreciation of the reality of relationships.

Boys and young men need to see this work of Shakespeare's to perceive how they might be perceived by militant young women who no longer wish to appease the posturing and brutish behaviour of you or your friends and their desire to seduce, humiliate or dominate. Yet somehow, after these centuries of humiliation and domination, there is empathy and even an expression of love and a truly felt connection to the slaughtered corpse of male superiority. Shakespeare captured something of this in the seventeenth century with this play. It wasn't evident in any other work. Yet the power dynamics were expressed so well in "Troilus and Cressida".

Coleridge and Cressida

I doubt Samuel Taylor Coleridge ever met Cressida, let alone Shakespeare. Both were dead long before he was born. Yet there is something of the aloneness of Cressida in Shakespeare's play that seems to have been missed in productions of "Troilus and Cressida"; though I could be wrong!

In Act 5 Scene 2 of "Troilus and Cressida" we witness the total attack on Cressida as a human being yet we also see her humanity as she recognizes the humanity of her unwitting oppressor. This is genius Shakespeare. The use of dialectics is a precursor to postmodernism. The aloneness and the fight she exhibits is amazing and something we can't assume in 21st century thinking!

Her boyfriend, Troilus, is a voyeur watching her make out with her future lover and enforced husband ... what happens to Troilus after this? Shakespeare offers no answer. Yet we know from the accounts of mythology he is killed ... perhaps without ever knowing the truth of his relationship with Cressida ...

Is Troilus, like Cressida, also alone, all, all alone on a wide wide sea?

As director of the production of "Troilus and Cressida", I can't but help see the connections between Shakespeare's work and that of Coleridge. I have then to pull myself back knowing the actors have no idea of such connections and such dimensions while they also bring to it the very notion of passion that relationships offer even in times of total insanity and war!

I am also aware that they, as young students of theatre, Drama and acting have been guided by the media and their education to see issues of consent, gender and culture appropriation the key elements in their approach to the development and performance of "Troilus and Cressida".

Education and youth arts might well accept mediocre manifestations for theatrical creation and presentation. Yet Alfred Jarry was still a student when inventing the characters that changed theatre for the next hundred years. Jarry was in many respects the first post modernist theatre practitioner.

Can we accept more from students performing in this current production of "Troilus and Cressida"?

Joe Woodward

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