Feminist Approaches When Viewing Cressida’s Character        
Kelly Herzog
Class of 2011

There are a wide range of feminist opinions and approaches that have been taken when Shakespeare’s play, “Troilus and Cressida” has been analyzed. Throughout the decades of the twentieth century, feminists have continued to look deeper into Cressida’s character and question how Shakespeare is portraying her in the play. During some time periods there are similarities in feminist’s views which have characterized Cressida’s character as a “whore”. Although many of the critiques that have been made are harsh and negative, there are also several feminists that challenge these assumptions regarding Cressida’s character. With regard to either opinion, these critics use concrete examples from the play to strengthen their arguments as to whether or not Cressida’s actions are justified or if they show her to be a “whore”.
A crucial scene in the play is when Cressida’s faithfulness to Troilus is tested by Diomedes seduction. Diomedes, the deceitful Greek commander, seeks out and finds Cressida alone in her tent. He attempts to win Cressida’s heart and Cressida proves unfaithful to her husband Troilus. Cressida not only gives Diomedes the sleeve that Troilus gave her as a token of his love, but promises to sleep with him later that night (Shakespeare 486). This passage is one that is heavily relied upon to portray Cressida being seen as a “whore” by critical feminists throughout the decades. It is one of the primary reasons for this view of Cressida, since they cannot justify her actions with regard to Diomedes.
What is especially interesting in the critical response of the 1970s and 1980s to Cressida, is not merely that traditional views continue the “whore” definition (Foakes, Schwartz, and West) but that several feminists reinforce this tradition as well. Juliet Dusinberre, for instance, classified Cressida as part of the “whore” genre. Though Dusinberre defined Cressida’s “womanhood” as thus encompassing some facet of power in terms of its use as a “political bargaining point,” she validated Troilus’s feelings at the same time that she feits the confession of a lovesick girl, baffling Troilus who really feels that confusion (Harris 64).
Dusinberre focuses on how devoted Cressida seemed towards Troilus when she had vowed to stay true to him even with distance between them. Through his eyes, Cressida represents a young and naïve girl who is desperate for love but cannot understand the true meaning of being in love. This mindset toys with Troilus’s head and he is mystified when Cressida quickly betrays him.
            In the 1940’s, well before the 70’s and 80’s, the scholar Theodore Spencer also criticizes Cressida’s actions and feels no empathy towards her. “Spencer mourned the passion Troilus wastes on “the worthless Cressida” and concluded that “Cressida is a whore; and the nobility of Troilus, shining through his own sensuality and the murky lustfulness of his environment, is disillusioned and betrayed” (Harris).Cressida is unfaithful to Troilus the first night they are apart and leaves him heartbroken even after he expresses his deep love for her. She also confesses her undying love for Troilus and promises to stay true to him. These actions make it easy for Spencer to take no pity on Cressida and criticize the person she is.
            In the 1950s Cressida was also viewed negatively, though not so much as a “whore” but rather represented as a weak woman that gives into temptation due to low self esteem. Men in the play such as Diomedes take advantage of her low feelings of self-worth and use her for their pleasure.  “In the 1950s, Troilus was not always seen as quite so noble, but Cressida remained “weak”, “an absolute of perfidy,” and a die hard “daughter of the game” (Harris). Because Cressida does not show strength, she gives substance to the idea that all women are frail and can easily be persuaded to perform for men or do what is asked of them. “In the literary responses of the 1950s, there was an adamant assertion that Shakespeare surely did not mean to condemn all women with Cressida’s scarlet nomenclature: “Cressida does not stain our mother...Cressida did not cancel out Rosalind and Viola”; the failure is true only of one woman, or at most... of one type of womanhood” (Harris).  Shakespeare seems to be using Cressida as an example to woman of how they should not act and remind them that it is important to speak up for themselves when under pressure or when their identity is being questioned.
            Scholars in the 1960’s also portray Cressida’s character as a “whore” and support Troilus’s actions when he leaves her. “Derick R.C. Marsha remarked that after Pandarus’s bawdy jokes, an audience must know that Cressida cannot be stubborn chaste.  Nor, indeed, does Troilus’ later behavior give any indication that he really believes her to be so” (Harris).  Marsha’s views criticize Cressida for her actions and also validate Troilus’s later desertion of her.  Troilus constantly tries to justify his love’s actions even after witnessing them himself. Later in the play he does begin to illustrate strength when he abandons Cressida and believes the rumors he hears and events he witnesses.
             Feminist Coppelia Kahn also feels Cressida’s actions portray her character as a “whore” and they are inexcusable. “Coppelia Kahn attempts to combine the “argument for a whore” with a sense of power in its social correlation when she suggested that “Ulysses’ vision of emulative chaos finds its final expression in Troilus’ response to Cressida’s wanton sexuality”, and Kahn concluded that Cressida’s, “If I be false” approach is merely “rhetorical” (Harris).  Kahn sees Cressida as a woman that has no respect for herself nor does she take pride in being a woman.  She appears to be easy when she accepts the first man who approaches her after Troilus leaves. Her overly playful actions seem to show she has no respect for herself. Some feminists agree that Cressida appears to be a “whore” because her actions are a poor representation for woman and cast them in a bad light.
Many feminists, however, defend Cressida and disagree with her characterization as a “whore” and take a closer look at the reasoning behind Cressida’s unfaithful actions. Elaine May Eldridge is an example of a feminist that challenges the assumption of Cressida as a whore.
It centers around the conclusion that there is some limitation inherent in Cressida’s wantonness but asserted that it is a failure of imagination on Cressida’s part not to believe that she really could be loved by Troilus.  Cressida believes, according to  Eldridge, that “she can survive only as long as she keeps her relation with Troilus static, and therefore tries to protect herself by teasing him... even if the circumstances she describes (at the end of I.ii) prove true, she is also willing her own pathetic limitedness (Harris 86-87).
 Eldridge has sympathy for Cressida because she feels her weariness that men are not faithful and her heart will be broken. “Her blatant rejection of the seductive power of appearances and rhetorical embellishments even seems to confer on her the authority to divest such a game of its power” (LaBranche). Cressida’s is protecting herself from being heartbroken by Troilus and her actions prove that she has hopes of keeping the power in the relationship. When Troilus witnesses her betrayal his initial reaction is to deny it to himself. He is allowing Cressida to have control of the relationship. “Troilus does not reject Cressida-which is entirely the problem” (Matos).  If Cressida stays in control of the relationship there is no way she can be hurt and will only enjoy the pleasure of being desired.
Cressida becomes weak when she is no longer in the presence of Troilus and makes a bad decision when tempted by Diomedes. This gives a poor representation of woman and the respect they should have for themselves. “But while Cressida-bashers have had to ignore the play’s representations of the historical forces that have denied women the ability to make meaningful choices about their own lives, anti-Troilus readers face the burden of disagreeing with Cressida herself, who never blames Troilus for her plight” (O'Rourke). Although Cressida gave in to the seduction of Diomedes, she never put the blame on Troilus, since he was the one who sent her away, but rather writes him a letter in efforts to repair their relationship.
 Another approach some critics, to include feminists, take when defending Cressida’s unfaithful actions is by focusing on the world that she lives in and what surrounds her. “.. The play often opens the door to a feminist opinion concern with Cressida as a complex character who plays the weak hand she has been dealt as best as she can” (Gil). Cressida was alone in her tent pining for Troilus when Diomedes came in and took advantage of her loneliness and separation from Troilus. Diomedes creates a world of sin and betrayal for Cressida. “For instance, in the earlier analyses, there were still such commonplace statements as, “The character of Troilus may be somewhat more romantic and less unattractive than that of Cressida... Cressida is no better than Troilus, but it is difficult to determine exactly how much worse…” (Gil).   Troilus allows Cressida to be taken to the Greek camp where she does not want to go because she will be away from him. He leaves Cressida to feel lonely and because of these conditions she is weak under pressure which leads her to be unfaithful.
Feminist Arlene Okerlund justifies Cressida’s actions by noting the corruption of Diomedes character and how he takes advantage of an innocent woman. 
Okerlund notes that in the opening scene Cressida is an “innocent young woman with all the intelligence and energy of Shakespeare’s comic heroines,” that she “possesses the wit, charm, vitality and passion of Roslin or Portia. But Cressida’s world is immoral and corrupt, and instead of the previous attitude of woman-as chaos and corrupter of that world, Okerlund suggests that Cressida is being forced into certain actions in spite of her inherent goodness (Harris).
When Diomedes comes into Cressida’s tent she is taken off guard and contradicts herself several times because she is so confused. Diomedes uses her state of confusion as a way to seduce her and destroy her identity.
When Cressida enters the Greek camp to meet her father, the Greek commander, Ulysses, demands she kiss all the Greek commanders. This scene was a cause for feminist disapproval of Cressida’s purity (Shakespeare 480).  Feminists feel that Cressida kissing all the Greeks proves she is a “whore”. Other critics felt that Cressida should have refused to kiss all these men making her appear unattainable and therefore put her on a pedestal, where a woman should be. “...feminist critics such as Gayle Green leave this assumption unchallenged, preferring instead to excuse Cressida’s behavior by arguing that “Cressida is merely complying with ‘opinion,’ with the assumption of her society that the worth of an individual is in the eye of the beholder: and, as opinion changes, so does she” (LaBranche). Green feels that Cressida did no wrong by kissing the Greek warriors and this action does not give reason to assume she is a “whore”.
            Another approach feminists take when defending Cressida’s character is taking note that Troilus, like many men, only see woman as a means of sex. Raymond Southall feels that the male figures in the play try to take control of Cressida and manipulate her into doing things. Even her father does not allow her to make her own decisions and forces her to be with him for his personal well being. “Cressida is not a whore Southall asserts; she is merely a bartered commodity-not just by Troilus but by all men, including her father” (Harris). Southall also argues that Troilus is allured by Cressida’s virginity and only sees her as someone he can sleep with. “Like any other member of the “gluttonous and lecherous capitalistic society,” Southall notes, Troilus merely wanted “access” to Cressida” (Harris).  Troilus barely knows Cressida in the beginning of the play but recognizes her beauty and immediately falls in love with her not giving the audience much proof that his love is real.
Feminist, Katherine Stockerholder also rejects Cressida’s role as “whore” and focuses on Troilus’s violent character. “Noting the violent images of ulcers, gashes, knives, and so forth that Troilus employs in I.i.51-64, Stockholder asserts, this violence, together with this treatment of Cressida as sex object, prepare us for the total reversal Troilus makes at the end of the first scene” (Harris).  Troilus is portrayed as a violent and angry warrior in the beginning of the play but the side he shows Cressida is a softhearted kind lover. This causes feminists to question the truth in Troilus’s character.
            As we can see, there are many differing opinions as to what causes Cressida’s actions and if it is reasonable to portray her as a “whore”. Personally, I tend to agree with Gayle Green’s assertion that as opinion changed so did Cressida and that the term “whore” is a little harsh. I also think that Shakespeare intentionally creates many characters that are complex and not easily defined. After all, his plays and the characters in them would not be studied and enjoyed for hundreds of years if they were not.

Works Cited

Gil, Daniel Juan. "Troilus and Cressida (review)." Shakespeare Quarterly 55.3 (n.d.): 320-322.
Project MUSE. EBSCO. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.

Harris, Sharon M. "Feminism and Shakespeare's Cressida: 'If I be false …'." Women's Studies:
An Interdisciplinary Journal 18.1 (1990): 65-82. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.

LaBranche, Linda. "Visual Patterns and Linking Analogues In Troilus and Cressida."
Shakespeare Quarterly 37.4 (1986): 442. Print.

Matos, Timothy L. "Shakespeare's TROILUS AND CRESSIDA." Explicator 62.2 (2004): 74-77.      

Academic Search Elite. EBSCO. Web. 16 Nov. 2010.

O'Rourke, James. ""Rule in Unity" and Otherwise: Love and Sex in "Troilus and Cressida""
Shakespeare Quarterly 43.2 (1992): 139-40. Print.

Shakespeare, William, and Kenneth Muir. Troilus and Cressida. Oxford: Clarendon, 1982. Print.