I have been looking forward to seeing Monmouth College’s Crimson Masque production, this weekend, of Euripides’ “Trojan Women” (Troades) -- so much so that I have read and reread the poetic Gilbert Murray translation, complete with endnotes and criticism, just to prepare myself (if you’d like to do the same, you can actually download the text from the internet without costing you a penny -- I did that, as well, since some of the pages of my book were a little tattered).
By modern standards, Troades, as Murray described in 1915, is “far from a perfect play; it is scarcely even a good play. It is an intense study of one great situation, with little plot, little construction, little or no relief or variety.” Its perspective is that of the women and slaves left to be traded as spoils of war, and is the simplest layering of grief upon grief. As such, Troades is probably the most powerfully moving antiwar literature ever produced, for Euripides defies heroic convention and shows the agony of a conquered people, at the hands of the Great Warriors.
I’m still not absolutely sure why this particular play was chosen to be performed at this time -- although, as my political leanings are occasionally awakened, I have my suspicions. I asked the director of this production, Dr. Bill Wallace, for comment, and his reply was,“Though written over 2500 years ago, THE TROJAN WOMEN is still worth our serious consideration. Euripides asked his society to look at how far it should show go in the name of victory, and to make sure their treatment of those who disagreed was in line with fundamental issues of human dignity and freedom…concerns that are worthwhile for all societies to ponder.” I could easily bring myself to believe that, in producing so powerful an antiwar piece, there is an unsubtle message. Or, from a less biased viewpoint, maybe the time just rolled around again for the production of a strong, angst-filled work from ancient times.
Whichever slant one puts on it, though, I salute the theater department at MC, for their boldness. This is a play which speaks for the victims of bloodthirsty conquest and cruel oppression, of which there has been a bit, historically and currently. The version Crimson Masque is performing is a less stiff one than that which I read -- translated by Nicholas Rudall -- with language more accessible to modern ears. Whichever voice is used, though, the message seems to resonate across two and a half millennia.
Consider the plight of the women of Afghanistan and Iraq only a few years ago. They had been conquered by petty tyrants from their own lands. Once the Taleban drove out from Afghanistan the foreigners and the rest of the infidels, they proceeded to make their women into valueless objects, subject to rape, beatings, starvation, and imprisonment in their own homes -- or worse. In Iraq, Saddam conquered his people through a coup decades ago, and men, women, and children suffered maiming, rapes, and a variety of outrageous tortures for the slightest perceived offense. This play would not have survived its first rehearsal, under either of those regimes.
I know many people who would equate our own military presence in the Mideast with conquering enemies, and sell the story of Troades as the obvious plight of the women in Baghdad under American “occupation”. Unfortunately for them, they would be selling a fiction -- ours is a liberating army, and the women over there are, for the first time in more than a generation, free to make decisions for themselves, to control their own destinies. Such was not the case for Queen Hecuba of Troy, or her daughters, or the many nameless, unremembered women of Troy.
In light of the reasons and methods of American military actions in this most recent time, I hold out a frail hope (Euripides abhorred hope, as the greatest cause of pain): it is my hope that, as democracy spreads, and people find courage to free themselves from their oppressors on their own, there may yet come a time when civilization will view the piteous ruins of the lives of the Trojan Women with vague incomprehension. At the very least, it is my hope that there will come a time when antiwar plays will no longer be deemed necessary in this world.
Any way you approach it, though, just reading the text of the play is a fifteen-hanky event. If you plan to attend it, like me, you may want to bring a whole box of tissues, just in case.
Addendum (per Dr. Bill Wallace): Euripides’ THE TROJAN WOMEN – performances Friday March 18, Saturday March 19 at 7:30 pm; Sunday, March 20 at 2:00 pm at the Wells Theatre, located at 9th and Broadway on the Monmouth College campus. Tickets are $4 for Monmouth College staff, faculty, and students; $5 for other students and senior citizens, and $6 for adults. Tickets may be reserved by contacting Dr. Bill Wallace at (309) 457-2374, or firstname.lastname@example.org.