Cressida

Cressida (also Criseida, Cresseid or Criseyde) is a character who appears in many Medieval and Renaissance retellings of the story of the Trojan War. She is a Trojan woman, the daughter of Calchas a priestly defector to the Greeks. She falls in love with Troilus the youngest son of King Priam, and pledges everlasting love, but when she is sent to the Greeks as part of a hostage exchange, she forms a liaison with the Greek warrior Diomedes.

The character's name is derived from that of Chryseis, a character who appears in the Iliad but has no connection with Troilus, Diomedes or Calchas. Indeed, the story of Troilus and Cressida does not appear in any Greek legends but was invented by the twelfth century French poet Benoît de Sainte-Maure in the Roman de Troie. The woman in the love triangle is here called not Cressida but Briseida, a name derived from that of Briseis, a different character in the Iliad, who again is neither related to Calchas nor involved in any love affairs with Troilus or Diomedes. Initially, after the Roman appeared, other authors who refer to the story, for example, Azalais d'Altier in her poem Tanz salutz e tantas amors and Guido delle Colonne in his Historia destructionis Troiae, continue to use names derived from that of Briseis.

It is Boccaccio who makes the decisive shift in the character's name in Il Filostrato. This poem is the first work dedicated to telling the story of the love triangle rather than to the larger tale of the Trojan War. Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde is an expanded version of the story based on Boccaccio. Several other British authors then took up the tale, for example Robert Henryson in his The Testament of Cresseid (15th century) and William Shakespeare in his Troilus and Cressida (c. 1603).

Cressida has most often been depicted by writers as "false Cressida", a paragon of female inconstancy. As soon as she has betrayed Troilus, she has fulfilled her purpose and the men who have written about her do not mention her again. Such is the case in Benoît, Guido, Boccaccio, Chaucer and Shakespeare. Chaucer's poem, however, at least portrays a more sympathetic Criseyde showing a self-conscious awareness of her literary status: "Alas, of me until the world's end shall be wrote no good song". Henryson's treatment is unusual in that he looks at events after the end of the traditional tale. His poem takes up the repentant Cresseid's story after she has developed leprosy and been abandoned by Diomedes. Christa Wolf provides another degraded future for the character in Cassandra by once more naming her Briseis and including the Homeric story of her slavery to Achilles and Agamemnon. Jack Lindsay's novel Cressida's first lover : a tale of ancient Greece explores another area untouched in standard narratives, some of her earlier life.

Some authors have attempted to exonerate the character by having her choose Troilus over Diomedes. Such is the case in John Dryden's rewriting of Shakespeare in an attempt at "remov that heap of Rubbish, under which many excellent thoughts lay bury'd." and in William Walton and Christopher Hassall's opera. In both of these cases, Cressida's being true to Troilus is associated with her death as part of the concluding tragic events.

The character of Cressida has also appeared in more modern drama. A 1965 storyline of the time travel-based British science fiction television series Doctor Who ("The Myth Makers" by Donald Cotton) diverts substantially from the original literature. In the story, Vicki, a teenaged travelling companion of the Doctor played by Maureen O'Brien, meets Priam, King of Troy who, disliking her name, dubs her Cressida. During the course of the story Vicki/Cressida falls in love with Priam's son, Troilus, and after the fall of Troy elects to stay with Troilus and rebuild the city. The story inverts the traditional fates of Troilus and Cressida, a change made to facilitate the departure of the Vicki character (and actress O'Brien) from the series.

Read more about Cressida:  Shakespeare

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