Literary critics largely agree that Shakespeare’s history plays raised troubling questions about who qualified as a member of the national community.1 Problematic cases include: the Scots, the Welsh, and the Irish; bastards; ethnic half-breeds; foreign brides; women generally; and sometimes all non-aristocrats. Still, though, despite these questions and anxieties, Shakespeare’s tetralogies and the other English history plays move toward closures in which the nation heals and the dream of community reasserts its claim. Troilus and Cressida explores a more pessimistic political argument. If Shakespeare’s histories maintain an investment in some idea of national community, Troilus and Cressida works programmatically to reveal the nation as a collection of fictions. Where the histories construct genealogies for England, projecting a new social formation backward into the past, Troilus and Cressida attacks the very idea of genealogy.
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