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Krims, M. (2002). Misreading Cressida. Psychoanal. Rev., 89(2):239-256.
   

(2002). Psychoanalytic Review, 89(2):239-256

Misreading Cressida

Marvin Krims, M.D.

Troilus and Cressida is perhaps the most perplexing of Shakespeare's three “problem plays.” The other two of these often vexatious plays, All's Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure, follow comedic tradition and end in reconciliation, but there is such ill will along the way that tender love scenes like those that grace Romeo and Juliet are clearly out of place. In Troilus and Cressida, however, we are indeed treated to a few such scenes but, just as we begin to care about the lovers, their romance abruptly vanishes into the morass of mutual betrayal, heedless lust, and cynical expediency that constitute the leitmotifs of the play.

It is Shakespeare's portrayal of Cressida that presents particular problems, for she apparently changes from a vulnerable, devoted woman into a saucy strumpet who takes on another lover as Troilus watches, unable to speak or act. This problem I explore in this essay: Shakespeare's representation of a woman who apparently transforms into such a negative figure of lust, deceit, and disappointment that our empathy with her is lost, and even our appreciation of the play as a work of art is placed in some jeopardy. The word “apparently” in the proceeding sentences is key, for I argue that this transformation in Cressida's character is more apparent than real; it is our perception of her that changes while she remains essentially the same throughout the text. Furthermore, I argue that in representing what appears to be a radical change in sympathetic character when there really is no change, Shakespeare reflects what happens in real life when our perception of our lover becomes distorted by unconscious problems left over from childhood. In this reading of Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare holds a mirror up to problems that can plague us in our everyday lives.

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