Hecuba. Hecuba. Hecuba. Mother, captive, queen. I don’t know what to say about her, but I know that something must be said. So we interrupt our scheduled programming to talk about last night, when I saw Euripides performed in Stratford-upon-Avon. There will be time for Sexual Abuse in Folk Traditions another day. And tomorrow, of course, we see Shakespeare, but how, even here, could it possibly compare to the beauty of Hecuba?
Don’t get me wrong; Shakespeare is great. But Euripides, guys. I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to see a Greek tragedy on stage. And technically, I guess I didn’t. It was all rewritten, perspectives shifted, a new and different story. But Euripides was there. And Hecuba. Hecuba. I have no words for her, or none I can think of now. Fortunately, there’s an entire blog to be spent searching for them.
I have always had a soft spot for the women of Greek tragedy. I have risen to their defense, every time, no matter how little there was to be said, since the first time I read Sophocles.
Medea, well, there’s not much wiggle room there. She did what she did, and it was an awful thing to do. But oh, how she must have paid for it after, when she saw what she’d done in her madness. Medea, sacrificing everything she had for Jason, Medea, rejected and abandoned, Medea, alone with the blood of her sons on her hands. Medea. Antigone, poor Antigone, always in the right, and always doomed to fail.
And how I fought for Clytemnestra. Her daughter dead, her husband gone for ten years, fighting for another woman, returning with another and the two children she’d born him. I would have killed him too. Agamemnon, that monster, so many words to describe him that I dare not type—I know my grandparents will be reading this post. I have seen a thousand-thousand portrayals of Agamemnon, that killer of daughters, that killer of nations, that monster disguised as a man. A thousand-thousand portrayals, and never once have I felt an ounce of sympathy.
In Hecuba I did. In Hecuba I saw him slaughter children, and for his sake—for his sake as well as theirs—I nearly cried. Agamemnon, a man in an impossible situation, the blood of his daughter still wet on his hands, Agamemnon, fighting only to survive the war, Agamemnon fighting harder for the trust of his troops than the gold of the Trojans. Agamemnon, eternally alone, the ghosts of little girls and boys to haunt his nights, and nothing but death awaits him in his longed-for home. For this monster I could have wept.
Cassandra, the girl who bore him those two children, the un-believed prophetess, the Trojan princess who foresaw the end, Cassandra was perhaps the greatest feat of the show. Bitter and angry in modern dress, a beautiful anachronism on the Grecian stage. I had never imagined her portrayed like this, but the classical character, always set apart from the world by her gift and her curse—of course she was bitter, un-trusted, unloved. She could never belong with the rest of them, never fit in with anyone of her world. Her presence on the stage was jarring, disconcerting, utterly perfect.
And Hecuba, Hecuba, the woman herself, her husband and her sons all dead, sitting on his throne with weeping girls around her, holding his head in her hands. There were few props in the performance, but that head, oh, I could see it, though she held only air.
You may have read the original play by Euripides—I have not, though I was given a detailed summary. That is a story of the Greeks, the victors. This was a story of Troy. In the original Hecuba goes mad after the death of her last and youngest son, blinds a man, kills his sons in turn.
This Hecuba did not. She was anger and agony and mercy, fighting fiercely for her children’s lives, failing, yielding, ultimately, with dignity and grace. She died still a queen.
I have another two months now to spend traveling across Europe. We leave the day after tomorrow. But if it were up to me, I think I would just stay here, watching every performance of Hecuba until it ended.
(Also, it was my birthday, and oh my goodness, what an amazing way to spend it. Twenty-three, you have a tough act to follow.)