12. Date of Troilus and Cressida

Orthodox chronology dates the play in 1601 or 1602. This dating seems unchallengable. The play was entered in the Stationer's Register in February 1603 and the limits of the interval in which the definitive text can have been put down are well delineated. They are so by allusions to some earlier events, especially the performance of Ben Jonson's The Poetaster as terminus post quem and the play The Return from Parnassus as the terminus ante quem, in which the author has Will Kemp say: 'Why, here's our fellow Shakespeare puts them all down - ay, and Ben Jonson too. O, that Ben Jonson is a pestilent fellow; he brought up Horace, giving the poets a pill; but our fellow Shakespeare hath given him a purge that made him bewray his credit' (Act IV.iii).

If the pill Shakespeare administered to Ben Jonson is the latter's representation as Ajax in Troilus and Cressida - and there are very good reasons to interpret Ajax, at least in the first three acts, as a caricature or satirizing of Jonson's self-posturing in such plays as Every Man Out of His Humour, Cynthia's Revels and, above all, The Poetaster - then the play must have been written after Ben Jonson's The Poetaster, being the play in which Horace (Jonson) administers an emetic pill to the poetasters Crispinus (John Marston) and Demetrius (Thomas Dekker). As this play was acted in the second half 1601, Troilus and Cressida could not have been written earlier than at the end of 1601 or in 1602.

1. The Return from Parnassus and some other allusions

The play was publicly acted at the University of Cambridge, probably around Christmas. In the prologue the stagekeeper says: 'What we show is but a Christmas jest; /Conceive of this, and guess of all the rest.' At the close of Act III.ii we find the expression: '... he is glad as if he had taken Ostend...'. The siege of Ostend lasted from 1601 to 1604. As the play was entered in the Stationers' Register in February 1603, only Christmas 1601 or 1602 are possible. This is further confirmed by another line in Act III.i: 'What day of the month lights the Queen's day on?'. The queen died in March 1603. Christmas of the year 1601 seems to early, coming very close after the performance of Ben Jonson's The Poetaster. Moreover, there seems to be an allusion to the play in Thomas Middleton's play Burt, Master-Constable, printed in 1602: ' 'S light, methinks a Frenchman should have a good courage to wine, for many of them be exceeding hot fiery whoresons, and resolute as Hector, and as valiant as Troilus' (I.i.ll. 141-144).

Shakespeare must have written the play as we know it at the end of 1601 or early in 1602. It all depends on whether it is, indeed, Shakespeare's pill for Ben Jonson.

2. Ajax

The most convincing arguments have been brought forward by Roscoe Addisson Small in 1899.[1] In only one work of Shakspere can I find the slightest allusion to the quarrel; that work is Troilus and Cressida. In it there are at least three verbal allusions to quarrel-plays.[2]

'Further, the play as we have it seems later than Dekker's Satiromastix, August or September, 1601; for "When rank Thersites opes his mastic jaws" (I.iii.73) seems a clear allusion to the railings of that play.[3] There is, then, the following passage which is well applicable to Jonson's overbearing attitude in his early comedies, especially after Every Man out of His Humour, to his self-admitted slowness of composition, mocked by Dekker and Marston in Satiromastix, to his staunch and lonely defence of what he considered true poetry. 'In the play, on the other hand, Alexander says that Ajax is "A very man per se and stands alone" (I.ii.15-16). He "hath", Alexander continues, "robbed many beasts of their particular additions; he is as valiant as the lion, churlish as the bear, slow as the elephant; a man into whom nature hath so crowded humours that his valour is crushed into folly, his folly sauced with discretion; there is no man hath a virtue that he hath not a glimpse of, nor any man an attaint but he carries some stain of it; he is melancholy without cause, and merry against the hair; he hath the joints of everything, but everything so out of joint that he is a gouty Briareus, many hands and no use, or purblind Argus, all eyes and no sight." (I,2,19-31). Agamemnon remarks: "He will be the physician that should be the patient". (II.iii.323). Again and again he is called dull and foolish (e.g. "blockish" (I.iii.375); "brainless" (I.iii.381); yet, Thersites says, there is wit in his head, "but it lies as coldly in him as fire in a flint, which will not show without knocking" (III, 3, 256 ff.).[4]

Compare with this some of Jonson's words which, if not explicitly meant as self-representation, were nevertheless ideals he recommended for emulation:   

Cynthias Revels
, II.iii.123-145:


CRITES. A creature of a most perfect and divine temper. One, in whom the humours and elements are peacably met, without emulation of precedencie: he is neither to phantastickely melancholy, too slowly phlegmaticke, too lightly sanguine, or too rashly cholericke, but in all so composde & order'd, as it is cleare, Nature went about some ful worke, she did more then make a man, when she made him. His discourse is like his behaviour, uncommon, but not unpleasing; hee is prodigall of neyther. Hee strives rather to bee that which men call iudicious, then to bee thought so: and is so truly learned, that he affects not to shew it. Hee will thinke, and speake his thought, both freely: but as distant from depraving another mans merit, as proclaiming his owne. For his valour, tis such, that he dares as little to offer an injurie, as receive one. In summe, he hath a most ingenious and sweet spirit, a sharp and seasn'd wit, a straight judgment, and a strong mind. Fortune could never breake him, nor make him lesse. He counts it his pleasure, to despise pleasures, and is more delighted with good deeds, then goods. It is a competencie to him that hee can bee virtuous. He doth neyther covet, nor feare; hee hath too much reason to doe eyther: and that commends all things to him.'

Every Man Out of His Humour, Grex 16-18):


But (with an armed, and resolved hand)
Ile strip the ragged follies of the time,
Naked, as at their birth



.... and with a whip of steele,
Print wounding lashes in their yron ribs.
I feare no mood stampt in a private brow,
When I am pleas'd t'unmaske a publicke vice.
I feare no strumpets drugs, nor ruffians stab,,,
I feare no courtiers frowne


None, but a sort of fooles, so sicke in taste,
That they contemne all phisicke of the mind,
And like gald camels, kicke at every touch.

3. The Prologue

In his long prologue to The Poetaster Jonson has the following lines (72-81):

                'Gainst these have we put on this forced defence,
                Whereof the allegory and hid sense
                Is that a well erected confidence
                Can fright their pride, and laugh their folly hence
                Here now put case our Author should once more
                Swear that his play were good; he doth implore
                You would not argue him of arrogance,
                Howe'er that common spawn of ignorance,
                Our fry of writers, may beslime his fame
                And give his action that adulterate name.

In his What You Will John Marston has a character named Lampatho who has many features of Ben Jonson. In act III Lampatho states:

Mauger Informer and slie intelligence,
Ile stand as confident as Hercules,
And with a frightlesse resolution,
Rip up and launce our times impieties.

Marston's use of 'confident' is understandable but Jonson's use of the word 'confident' seems somewhat out of the way. In putting up or erecting a strong defence one may feel confident, but a 'confidence' is hardly a thing which is 'erected'. It is the defence itself which is erected and inspires confidence. However, Jonson could not rhyme 'defence' with itself. 'Confidence' seems to have resulted from such an embarassment. And it is here, in my opinion, that Shakespeare in his own prologue to Troilus and Cressida hits Jonson hardest: Jonson had represented Marston and Dekker as bad poets, Shakespeare picks out a passage where Jonson's poetical powers were failing. The lines (23-25) in Shakespeare's prologue are:

A Prologue arm'd, but not in confidence
Of author's pen or actor's voice, but suited
In like conditions as our argument,

Here, too, 'defence' would have been more suitable, as may be seen from a similar thought in the epilogue to Marston's Play Antonio and Mellida, a play registered and printed at about the same time (October 1601) as Jonson's Poetaster and Dekkers's and Marston's Satiromastix: 'Gentlemen, though I remaine an armed Epilogue, I stand not as a peremptory chalenger of desert, either for him that composed the Comedy, or for us that acted it'. In repeating Jonson's use of 'confidence' to avoid double rhymes Shakespeare drew the attention to Jonson's insufficient command of verse-making, indeed a pill difficult to digest, a purge hard to endure for a man as proud as Ben Jonson.

4. Was there an older play?

John S.P. Tatlock has argued the existence of an earlier play. 'Far the most interesting and illuminating fact about the sources of Shakespeare's play is the clear evidence that it is not independent of Iron Age, - the existence of similarities too great to be accounted for merely by their common relation to Caxton and Homer.[5] Thomas Heywood's play Iron Age was not printed until 1632, however. Tatlock circumvents this difficulty in positing that the Iron Age must have been a later version of a play Troy noted in Henslowe's diary as acted at the Rose in 1596. Either Shakepeare had borrowed from this play or both Heywood's alleged Troy and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida were borrowing from a third unknown precursor. Edmund K. Chambers refutes this suggestion and it is difficult not to accept his verdict: 'This is ingenious, but it can hardly stand against the clear inference from the epistles to Heywood's earlier Ages that the Iron Age, whether based upon earlier work or not, had not yet "adventured the Stage" in 1611, although it was contemplated "by Gods grace" in 1613. And I think we must ascribe the parallels with Troilus and Cressida to borrowings by Heywood from Shakespeare.'

5. Another 'pill' for Ben Jonson?

Besides Ajax, Caporal Nym in Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor could be another candidate for the purge Shakespeare administered to Jonson. Henry V was printed in 1600, MWW in 1602, and this seems the period in which the tension between Jonson and Shakespeare reached a peak. Jonson was well known as 'the humorous poet'. 'The untrussing of the humorous poet' is the subtitle of Satiromastix. Nym does not appear in Henry IV. He is introduced in these two plays, clearly with the intention of applying wherever possible his theory of 'humours', nearly each of the few sentences Nym speaks has the word 'humour'. It is difficult to see what else Shakespeare should have pursued with the introduction of caporal Nym than a satire on Jonson's theory of humours.   

But this has no impact on the dating.

6. The entrance in the Stationers' Register

The entry reads :

7 February 1603

master Robertes Entred for his copie in full Court holden this day to print when he hath gotten sufficient aucthority for yt, The booke of 'TROILUS and CRESSEDA' as yt is acted by my lord Chamberlens Men.


The requirement of authority has been understood as having particular significance: 'It is not clear whose authority might have been required, and hence we cannot be sure whether Roberts intended to publish, or whether this was a "blocking" entry by the Lord Chamberlain's Men to prevent unauthorized printing'.[6] The author of these lines has understood very little of the printing trade regulated by the Stationers' Company. There cannot be a shadow of doubt as to whose authority was required. The Lord Chamberlain's Men had nothing at all to do with it. The reason why authority was required is trivial: because it had none.

Very early, before 1576, in the history of th SC it was the word 'licence' which prevailed. It was used both for the license by the authorities, the censors, which W.W. Greg calls 'official' license, and the license of copyright by the SC (wardens), which W.W. Greg calls 'domestic' license.[7] In the Star Chamber Decree of 3 June 1586 this 'official licence' is termed 'authoritye': '... that no person or persons shall ymprint or cawse to be ymprinted... Except the same book, woork, coppye, matter, or any other thinge, hath been heeretofore allowed, or hereafter shall be allowed before the ymprintinge thereof, according to the[e]order appoynted by the Queenes maiesties Iniunctyons, And been first seen and perused by the Archbishop of CANTERBURY and Bishop of LONDON for the tyme beinge or any one of them (The Queenes maiesties Prynter for somme speciall service by her maiestie, or by somme of her highnes pryvie Councell thereunto appoynted, and such as are or shalbe pryviledged to prynte the bookes of the Common Lawe of this Realme, for such of the same bookes as shalbe allowed of by the Twoo Chief Justices, and Chief Baron for the tyme being, or any twoo of them onely excepted) Nor shall ymprynt or cause to be ymprinted any book, work or coppie against the fourme and meaninge of any Restrynt or ordonnaunce conteyned or to be conteyned in any statute or lawes of this Realme, or any Iniunctyon made, or sett foorth by her maiestie, or her highnes pryvye Councell, or against the true intent and meaning of any Letters patentes, Commissions or prohibicons under the great seale of England, or contrary to any allowed ordynaunce sett Downe for the good governaunce of the Cumpany of Staconers within the Cyttie of London, uppon payne to have all such presses, leters, and instrumentes as in or about the pryntinge of any such bookes or copyes shalbe employed or used, to be defaced... And shall morrover sustayne ymprysonment Six moneths without Bayle or mayneprise'.

The difference between Troilus and Cressida and Hamlet the entrance of which reads:

12 July 1602

James Robertes. Entred for his Copie under the handes of master PASFEILD and master waterson warden A booke called 'the Revenge of HAMLETT Prince Denmarke' as yt was latelie Acted by the Lord Chamberleyne his servantes. (Arber III.212)

is that in having been submitted to the episcopal censor Zachariah Passfield Hamlet had the authority which the Court of Assistants requested for Troilus and Cressida. The absence of authority had no influence on the publisher's copyright. This was established by the domestic license of the wardens or the Court of Assistants of which the wardens were members and of which they normally acted as executives.

I have counted the entries for which no authority was asked by the wardens, those which had obtained authority at their submission to the wardens, and those for which further authority was requested for the period between July 1598 and June 1604. Out of a total of about 620 entries 392 had obtained authority before, 211 passed without such a requirement and for 17 was asked 'further authority', that is, to follow the same procedure, submitting to the episcopal censors, as had been done voluntarily for the bulk of the other entries.

Court of Assistants

The Court of Assistants was the leading body of the company. It settled issues which the wardens could not decide and often took over the licensing on days they gathered. I have also counted, for the same period, the cases in which it was the Court of Assistants which licensed the books: for the second half of 1598 there are 3 cases, for 1599: 8, for 1600: 2, for 1601: 5, for 1602: 5 and for 1603: 4. No special meaning can be attached to it.

7. Did Ben Jonson write the epistle to the second quarto?

Ben Jonson seems, indeed, the most likely candidate as author of the epistle to 'Troilus and Cressida'.

James Roberts did not print Troilus and Cressida. In 1608 he had transferred his business to William Jaggard, the printer of the Folio. No doubt, this printer would have been James Roberts had he and Oxford lived longer. Between 1600 and 1604 Roberts, by then a proliferic printer,  abruptly stopped all printing to concentrate on works of William Shakespeare (apart from England's Helicon and Samuel Harsnett's A Declaration of Egregious Popishe Impostures, each of which, however, has a special relationship to Shakespeare's work, the former to The Passionate Pilgrim, the latter to King Lear).

In January 1609 two young stationers, Richard Bonion and Henry Walley(s) re-entered the play on the register. A first quarto was soon published with on the title-page the mention 'As it was acted by the Kings Maiesties servants at the Globe'. The entry in 1603 reads ' as yt is acted by my lord Chamberlens Men'.  The Chamberlain's Men had become the King's Men in May 1603. But the difference between the SR entry and title-page of the first quarto not only lies therein that the former gives the impression that the play was being performed in February 1603 but also that the title-page of the first quarto states it had been acted at the Globe, hence PUBLICLY. And this statement is not only cancelled from the second issue shortly afterwards but to correct this, rather than the assertion of being a new play, seems to have been the VERY PURPOSE of the epistle:  to deny it had been publicly acted: '... never stal'd with the Stage, never clapper-clawed with the palmes of the vulger... and all such dull and heavy-witted wordlings, as were never capable of the witte of a Commedie... So much and such savored salt and witte in his Commedies... for not being sullied with the smoaky breath of the multitude...'.

Richard Bonion and Henry Walleys, the publishers of TC, must have been in contact with Jonson in January and February 1609. We may confidently infer that from 4 entries on the Stationers' Register:

26 Januarij [1609]:

Henry Walleys / Richard Bonion

Entred for their Copye unde th[e h]andes of master SEGAR deputy to Sir GEORGE BUCKE and of th[e] wardens a booke called, The case is altered. (Arber III.400)

28 Januarij [1609]:

Richard Bonion / Henry Walleys

Entred for their Copye unde th[e h]andes of master SEGAR deputy to Sir GEORGE BUCKE and master warden Lownes a booke called, the history of TROYLUS and CRESSIDA. (Arber III.400)

22 Februarij [1609]:

Richard Bonion / Henry Walley

Entred for their Copye unde th[e h]andes of master SEGAR and Th'wardens a booke called, The maske of the Queenes Celebrated, done by BENIAMIN JOHNSON (Arber III.402)

20 July [1609]:

Henry Walley / Richard Bonyon /Bartholomew Sutton

Entred for their Copye by direction of master Waterson a booke called, The case is altered whiche was Entred for H[enry] Walley and Richard Bonyon the 26 of Januar Last. (Arber III.416)

Why was Jonson's play The Case is Altered re-entered in July? Possibly, the stationer Bartholomew Sutton also had a claim to it which became known to the wardens in the esnuing months. In July new wardens were appointed. One of them, Simon Waterson, might have decided in favour of Sutton's claim. Be that as it may, the point is without interest here. We may exclude that it was due to an intervention by Jonson himself in order to secure the printing of a good copy because Jonson didn't show any interest in that play. He never disclaimed the play but it was not included in the folio of 1616. And Herford & Simpson write there was no sign of his proofreading, the quarto being of poor quality. But according to the same Herford & Simpson 'The Mask of the Queen Celebrated' was carefully edited and, therefore, must have been proofread by Jonson.

The following sequence of events seems likely: Jonson could have prevented Bonion and Walley from printing his play The Case is Altered. He did not. But he approached them nevertheless and offered them the publication of his mask in exchange of an epistle added to their first publication of Troilus and Cressida. In this epistle it was thrice said that the play had never been publicly acted. From its title-page was cancelled 'acted at the Globe' as was stated on the title-page of the first quarto. Jonson, probably acting on behalf of the 'grand possessors', stressed that Shakespeare had not written the play for the public stage.

I do not see any difficulty in the suggestion that Shakespeare was still alive. If the intervention was caused by the Herbert brothers and Jonson wrote the epistle, as we may safely presume, nothing else could be expected. As Shakespeare was to be presented as a courtier in the planned folio of his complete plays, this folio had to be published posthumously (as in Sidney's and Fulke Greville's case). The  pseudo-author Shakespe(a)re had to be dead to take on that role. In 1609 he was still alive. So, in the epistle to TC Jonson had to present Shakespeare as still living and at the same time as a courtier which Shakespere, of course, was not. The epistles in the folio contain several hints to Shakespeare's being a courtier: he could not edit himself ('executor') his own works as was 'common for some' (for commoners), only keep an eye on it from the background ('overseer'), he was a 'gentle expresser'. The epistle to TC also stresses this: his work excelled all others, it was intended to circulate privately, among people of rank and the public should be happy that it 'made an escape among them'. Similarly Thomas Nash in his epistle to Sidney's Astrophel and Stella in 1591 : 'Which although it be oftentimes imprisoned in Ladyes caskes & the president bookes of such cannot see without another mans spectacles, yet at length it breakes foorth in spight of his keepers, and useth some private penne... Long hat Astrophel (Englands Sunne) withheld the beames of his spirite from the common view of our darke sence...[8] This, in my opinion, also helps explain the curious wording with regard to a living author: 'And beleeve this, when he is gone, and his Commedies out of sale, you will scramble for them, and set up a new English inquisition.' It is reminiscent of another phrasing which, rightly or wrongly, has also been associated with Shakespeare, and defines the essence of 'A worthy Poet': 'Hee paies backe all his imitation with interest; whilst his Authors (if revived) would confesse their chief credit was to be such a patterne: otherwise (for the most part) he proves himselfe the patterne, and the project in hand: Silver onely and sound metall comprehends his nature: rubbing, motion, and customary usage, makes the brightnesse of both more eminent. No mervaile though he be Immortall, seeing he converts poyson into nourishment; even the worst objects and societies to a worthy use. When he is lastly silent (for he cannot die) hee findes a Monument prepared at others cost and remembrance, whilst his former actions bee a living Epitaph.[9]

The author of the latter lines was an acquaintance of Ben Jonson's. Comparing the epistle to Troilus and Cressida with the epistles of the Folio of 1623 Ben Jonson himself seems, indeed, the most likely candidate as author both of the epistle to Troilus and Cressida and the dedication and epistle in the First Folio.

8. Grand Possessors

In the light of the aforementioned, little need to be said about who were the grand possessors. Edmund K. Chambers as well as Walter W. Greg state these were the players, unusually bluntly. Chambers: 'The epistle implies that it was not obtained from the "grand possessors"; that is the King's men.[10] Greg: 'On 28 January, 1609, two young stationers, Richard Bonian and Henry Walley, had entered the play at Stationers' Hall, and this entrance they followed up the same year with an edition, in a rather flamboyant preface to which they went out of their way to proclaim that they were printing the play against the wishes of the "grand possessors", by which they can have meant none other than his Majesty's players.[11] Compare this with a contemporary statement by Fulke Greville, incidentally on the tennis court quarrel between the Earl of Oxford and Philip Sidney: 'Lastly, to prove nothing can be wise, that is not really honest; every man of that time, and consequently of all times may know, that if he should have used the same freddome among the grandees of the Court... he must infallibly have found worth, justice, and duty lookt upon with no other eyes but Lamia's; and so have been stained by that reigning faction, which in all Courts allows no faith currant to a soveraign, that hath not past the seal of their practising corporation... yet hee [Oxford] was no lord over him [Sidney]: and therefore the difference of degrees between free men, could not challenge any other homage than precedency... he did instance the government of Kinge Henry the Eigth, who gave the gentry free and safe appeal unto his feet, against the oppressions of the grandees...[12] Greg and Chambers knew certainly better and had rapidly to step over the difficulty these grand possessors pose for the orthodox theory. If the  phrase is to be understood as "chief possessors" , then one must ask whether there were other, lesser possessors. The term can only relate to social rank and as the equivalent of Nashe's 'imprisoned in Ladyes caskes' from which prison Sidney's Astrophel and Stella made a similar escape as Troilus and Cressida from Lords' hands. The term 'grand possessors' is void of meaning in relation to the players.

[1] Small, Roscoe Addison, Ph.D., The Stage-Quarrel between Ben Jonson and the so-called Poetasters, Verlag von M. & H. Marcus, Breslau 1899.

[2] Ibidem, p. 139-40.

[3] Ibidem, p. 142.

[4] Ibidem, p. 167-8.

[5] Tatlock, John S.P., The Siege of Troy in Shakespeare and Heywood in PMLA, New Series, Vol. XXIII,4, 1915, p. 743.

[6] Troilus and Cressida, Arden edition, edited by  Kenneth Palmer, edition of 1994, first edition in 1982, p. i.

[7] Greg, W.W., Some Aspects and Problems of London Publishing between 1550 and 1650, Oxford 1956, p. 41f.

[8] Thomas Nashe, The Works of Thomas Nashe, edited by Ronald B. McKerrow, Oxford 1958, Vol. III, p. 330.

[9] Stephens, John, the younger, Essayes and Characters, Character VI: A Worthy Poet, London 1615. 

[10] Chambers, Shakespeare, Vol. I. p. 441.

[11] Greg, W.W., The Printing of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida in the First Folio in The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, Volume 45, 1951, p. 275.

[12] Fulke Greville, The Works in Verse and Prose Complete of Fulke Greville Lord Brooke, edited by Rev. Alexander B. Grosart, Printed for Private Circulation 1870, reprint o AMS Press Inc, New York 1966, Vol. IV, The Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney, Vol. IV. p. 64 and p. 70.