Attired in military armor, the Prologue sets the stage for the play.
The Greek forces have gathered in Athens. They sail for Troy, and having arrived at her shores they set up camp. A war will ensue, a war the cause of which is Paris, a Prince of Troy, who has abducted Helen, a Greek king’s wife, that is to say Menelaus‘ wife.
Removing his armor, Troilus, a Prince of Troy, complains that his mind is so distracted with thoughts of Cressida that he is no shape to engage in combat. Pandarus, Cressida’s uncle, who has acted as Troilus and Cressida’s go between, argues that Troilus must wait, that love can’t be hurried. Troilus continues to complain, however, saying how Pandarus’ compliments with regards his niece’s beauty only adds to the pain. Promising not to exacerbate Troilus’ pain, Pandarus vows to remain neutral in the matter henceforth. He argues that he has done all he can on behalf of Troilus and leaves. Presently, Aeneas, a commander of Troy, appears. He persuades Troilus to return to the battlefield and together they go but not before Troilus learns that Paris has been wounded by Menelaus.
Cressida learns from her servant, Alexander, that Hector, Troy’s champion, is angry on account of being knocked down by Ajax, a Greek, during yesterday’s battle. Anon, Pandarus enters the scene to sing the praises of Troilus, going so far as to say that when comparing Hector to Troilus that Troilus is the better man. Cressida begs to differ, but Pandarus insists that he speaks true, relating how even Helen complimented Troilus the other day at Paris’ expense. Apparently, Helen had caressed Troilus’s chin upon noticing a whisker of white hair among fifty-two whiskers of black hair. When asked what that single whisker of white hair signified, Troilus had answered that the white hair signified Priam, making the fifty-two black hairs Priam’s sons. When asked which of the fifty-two black hairs signified Paris,Troilus had replied that the forked one was Paris, making Helen blush, Paris angry, and everyone else giddy with laughter. (Forked denotes horned which denotes cuckoldry ergoTroilus is cuckolding his brother Paris.)
Presently, Pandarus and Cressida repair to a vantage point where they might observe the Trojan soldiers passing. They note and commend the bravery and honor of Aeneas, Antenor, and Hector. They note Helenus who Cressida assumes to be a soldier only to be told that he is a priest. They note Troilus who Cressida slyly disparages and Pandarus sings the praises of. They note the common soldiers who Pandarus characterizes as the dregs of society. Anon, a servant arrives to ask Pandarus to attend on Troilus. Pandarus leaves. Alone, Cressida confesses that she finds Troilus praiseworthy, indeed praiseworthy to degree far exceeding her uncle’s praises. Still, she determines to play hard-to-get, arguing that women are more valued when they withhold their affections.
Seven years have passed since the Greeks have waged war against the Trojans. In light of this, Agamemnon, the General of the Greeks, gives a pep talk to his commanders of the need to be constant and unwavering in their purposes. It’s an argument seconded by Nestor, the oldest of the Greek commanders. Ulysses, the shrewdest of the Greek commanders, then expounds upon the reason why the war has gone on as long as it has. He argues that it’s not because of the Trojans’ might, but because of the Greeks’ weakness, a weakness caused by a state of insubordination. He argues that it’s Achilles’ insubordination that has compromised the integrity of the Greek army, Achilles who has defied the chain of command which has had a rippling effect throughout the rank and file. Anon, the trumpet sounds announcing a Trojan herald. It is Aeneas with a message from Hector who would like a Greek who so values the honor and worth of his lover/lady that he would be willing to risk his life by fighting Hector, one-on-one, for the right to boast that his lady has no equal in all of Troy. Otherwise Hector will disparage all Greek women as ugly ducklings. Agamemnon assures Aeneas that one Greek or another will answer the challenge and invites Aeneas to a banquet deserving of a worthy foe.
Alone with Nestor, Ulysses shares his thoughts. Though ostensibly inviting any Greek to answer his challenge, Hector means to have Achilles answer. And though Achilles would be the man the Greeks would unanimously elect to oppose Hector, Ulysses argues that it will be a good idea to elect Ajax instead. What Ulysses proposes that the Greeks do is so advertise Ajax as the finest and most valiant Greek soldier which should in turn jolt Achilles out of his complacency. Nestor likes the idea.