Scene: Ancient Sparta, a little more than a decade before the start of the Trojan War, at the “beginning of the end of the age of heroes.” Whatever that means.
CLYTEMNESTRA, 26, princess of Sparta; daughter of LEDA; big sister to HELEN, Castor, Pollux, TIMANDRA, and PHOEBE
PENELOPE, 24, cousin of CLYTEMNESTRA, HELEN, Castor, Pollux, TIMANDRA, and PHOEBE; niece to LEDA
LEDA, fifties, queen of Sparta; wife of Tyndareus; mother of CLYTEMNESTRA, HELEN, Castor, Pollux, TIMANDRA, and PHOEBE; aunt to PENELOPE
AITHRA, forties, mother of Theseus, slave to HELEN
ATALANTA, 28, priestess in training at the Temple of Artemis, lover of PENELOPE, friend of Odysseus
HELEN, 22, princess of Sparta; little sister to CLYTEMNESTRA, Castor, and Pollux; big sister to TIMANDRA and PHOEBE; daughter of LEDA
PHOEBE, 18, the littlest princess of Sparta; little sister to CLYTEMNESTRA, HELEN, Castor, Pollux, and TIMANDRA; daughter of LEDA
TIMANDRA, 20, princess of Sparta; little sister to CLYTEMNESTRA, HELEN, Castor, and Pollux; big sister to PHOEBE; daughter of LEDA
Notes on the script
On punctuation: punctuation is intended to reflect the speed of the dialogue; any absent marks are intentional and indicate that the following line should almost overlap or interrupt. The absence of a question mark where one would seem to be required is intended to distinguish between ways of forming questions. Capitalization likewise communicates some difference in emphasis.
Act I, Scene 1
Penelope and Clytemnestra in Clytemnestra’s room.
Penelope and Clytemnestra make out.
Eventually, Penelope helps Clytemnestra come.
Clytemnestra looks to reciprocate. Penelope deflects.
Penelope concedes. She climaxes a little too quickly and a little too obviously.
Maybe she was faking?
They collapse alongside each other. Clytemnestra is agitated.
She sits up on her elbows. She waits for Penelope to notice. Perhaps she has fallen asleep?
Penelope starts to snore. Clytemnestra sighs loudly. Then louder. Finally she whacks her sleeping cousin to wake her, gently but not too gently.
CLYTEMNESTRA I can’t stop thinking about it.
CLYTEMNESTRAI want a baby.
CLYTEMNESTRA It enrages me. This fact consumes me with rage.
PENELOPEWell, why don’t we get one for you.
CLYTEMNESTRA Have you . . . god, don’t answer that.
PENELOPEWell, why not?
CLYTEMNESTRA Because I hate men.
PENELOPE Oh please.
CLYTEMNESTRA I don’t care for them.
PENELOPE Obviously that isn’t the case.
CLYTEMNESTRAI’m telling you, I hate myself, I hate my mind, for dwelling on it, on him.
PENELOPE Well that’s silly.
CLYTEMNESTRA Why? I don’t want him to come here.
PENELOPE Could you have one with someone else?
CLYTEMNESTRATheoretically, yes, that should be possible.
PENELOPEHowever, this is silly.
CLYTEMNESTRAWhy is it silly.
PENELOPEYou think your desire is your own!
CLYTEMNESTRAWhose else would it be?
CLYTEMNESTRAWhomst owns my desire if not me?
PENELOPE I mean, you think desire is your servant. Like it’s yours to command. It isn’t, but even if it was, servants need to be fed if they are going to do any work.
CLYTEMNESTRA Why can’t I feed on you.
CLYTEMNESTRABut why isn’t that enough.
PENELOPE Because I can’t give you a baby.
PENELOPEDo you feel better or worse?
CLYTEMNESTRAI don’t know.
PENELOPEWhich is worse — to want a man? Or to want a baby?
CLYTEMNESTRAI think I feel better. I mean, a man is worse than a baby.
PENELOPEHey man. It’s your baby.
CLYTEMNESTRABut if it’s a baby I want, I don’t see why it has to be his baby.
PENELOPE(Giggling again) Hey baby, it’s your man.
CLYTEMNESTRA Can you be serious. Help me think.
PENELOPE I think I know why it has to be his.
CLYTEMNESTRA You do?
PENELOPEI think you do, too.
CLYTEMNESTRA I do?
PENELOPEOf course you do.
CLYTEMNESTRA Tell me why I want his baby.
PENELOPE Because he lived here for a while when he was an indigent child and so you feel like you saw him first. Which, you know, you kind of did. Also, he’s the richest and most powerful man on the peninsula. Except for your dad.
CLYTEMNESTRA He’s insufferable.
PENELOPE He’s straightforward.
CLYTEMNESTRA He’s a bore.
CLYTEMNESTRA Why do I want his baby.
PENELOPEYou’re not going to like the answer.
CLYTEMNESTRA Tell me.
PENELOPEOh Tem, my Tem.
CLYTEMNESTRA Tell me!
PENELOPEBecause you’re vain!
CLYTEMNESTRA (Falls back) So vain.
PENELOPE Vain enough to hate yourself for wanting what everyone else wants. You’re powerful and you know it and that makes you powerfully vain. And so you can’t stop thinking about him because he’s the strongest.
CLYTEMNESTRA He’s not strong like you.
PENELOPE(Beat, she looks at Tem) That’s right
CLYTEMNESTRAIt’s true! You get to break all the rules. And everyone loves you anyway.
PENELOPE More like: I love them anyway.
CLYTEMNESTRA I can’t leave you, I’ll die.
PENELOPE I can’t give you what you need. Look around you. Everything around us shouts your fertility. Points toward it. The whole palace is waiting on your womb. It’s the organizing principle of this entire operation. You think you can hold out against it?
CLYTEMNESTRA I think I’d like to try. Or I thought I did.
PENELOPEIt will tear you limb from limb. It will leave you desperate and grasping.
CLYTEMNESTRA I can’t live without you.
PENELOPEYou’ll miss me. I’ll visit. None of us is going to war.
CLYTEMNESTRA Maybe we should?
PENELOPEDon’t tell me you envy them that.
CLYTEMNESTRA The Amazons seem to do OK.
PENELOPEYou can’t go a day without washing your hair in incense and taking a bath in perfume.
CLYTEMNESTRAThose are powerful things. I like powerful things. Wasn’t that your point?
PENELOPEYou can’t imagine the smell.
CLYTEMNESTRA What smell
PENELOPEOf war. War is mostly a smell. And boredom. And also fear. And then moments of stumbling, faltering, amputated truth. Mutilated understanding. Fundamental elements pulled apart for everyone to see.
CLYTEMNESTRA How would you know
PENELOPE(Getting dressed) You ask a lot of questions.
CLYTEMNESTRAHow do you know the first thing about war, you little slut.
PENELOPEI know bodies. You’d be amazed what you can experience when everybody isn’t fixated on your family all the time.
CLYTEMNESTRA I didn’t come here, I was born.
PENELOPEI gotta go.
A silence while Penelope gathers her things. And then when she is almost out the door . . .
CLYTEMNESTRA Hey Penny.
PENELOPE Yes Tem?
CLYTEMNESTRA Tell anyone about Agamemnon and I’ll kill you.
CLYTEMNESTRA (Calling after her) Thank you!
I love you.
Leda and Aithra, someplace high up, looking out.
LEDA The mornings make me want to die.
AITHRA Excuse me.
LEDA Each morning. The thought of facing another one. Makes me want to die.
AITHRA You’re the queen of Sparta.
LEDA You don’t feel that way? In the morning?
AITHRA I don’t, no. I mean, we all get depressed sometimes.
LEDA I could throw myself off a cliff. Or fall on a sword. Or hang myself. But none of these is very queenly.
AITHRA No, not really.
LEDA Now, if I were a king — when you’re a king, you can have a little war and conveniently make some strategic miscalculation. Lead a foolish attack against an impenetrable fortress. That way everyone still has to call you brave, at least.
AITHRA Suicide isn’t brave.
LEDA What’s worse is that you have to recruit a bunch of peasants to fight with you and give them weapons. And, you know, they aren’t stupid. They know a suicide mission when they see one.
AITHRA It’s cowardly.
LEDA And so they’re frightened and crying and shitting themselves and they want to go home and you feel terrible because it was really only yourself you wanted to destroy. But now some poor fucking farmer with shit running down his leg is reminding you that he has more to live for than you do. You are that wretched.
AITHRA (After a moment) This is what kings do?
LEDA Or they kidnap young people and have sex with them. Trick them into it. Either way.
AITHRA I’m sorry to hear you don’t think that will work in your case
LEDA Embarrassing, really, to be a king, when you think about it. Having sex with someone twenty years younger — like masturbating in public. Everyone knows what’s going on but they’re too embarrassed to speak until it’s over. You can’t connect with someone so young. The psyches don’t fit together. You’re just getting high off the fact that you can get it up again. But you never stop feeling old. And now you’ve added dishonesty into the bargain, making everybody pretend there’s love where really there is only exchange.
AITHRA What does your husband think about all this?
AITHRA That’s the one.
LEDA He’s dying.
AITHRA (Freezes) What.
LEDA Or that’s my guess anyway. Communication isn’t exactly our strong suit. Sometimes I think you know him better than I do. You’ve been here what, ten years?
AITHRA Since Helen was 12.
LEDA (Recovering a bit of ceremony) You are, of course, free to go at any time.
AITHRA Technically, I think that is Helen’s choice.
LEDA See? Even my daughter’s slave doesn’t take me seriously.
AITHRA It could be worse.
AITHRA (Unfreezing) You could have Theseus. He kidnapped your 12-year-old daughter while she was praying in the temple.
LEDA You know the only thing worse than your son? My sons.
AITHRA I suppose that’s true, but at least they brought Helen back.
LEDA And you with her
AITHRA To be her slave! As they so dramatically put it.
LEDA That was Castor’s doing I believe. Pollux doesn’t much care for rhetorical precision.
AITHRA The truth is: I wanted to come. They didn’t force me.
LEDA It’s OK, Aithra. You don’t need to explain.
AITHRA It’s that the men in my life, my son, the earthshaker, are angry all the time. Sometimes their anger takes the form of lust, but it’s always there. The rage.
LEDA My sons are like that. I wonder where they are. Probably stealing cattle and sexing the lower classes. This is what passes for life in our time.
AITHRA They learned from the best. (Indicates heavenward. They both scoff silently.) And watch your mouth. I’m still a slave you know.
LEDA What a pathetic god. Fucking the help and getting chased all over creation by his wife.
AITHRA It’s not much to aspire to.
LEDA And your daughter? Why didn’t she come with you?
AITHRA We didn’t get along. She wanted to go to Egypt and learn from some strange priest. So she cut her hair and picked up a bow. Last I heard she had made it all the way to Ethiopia, and was much prized for her wisdom, in the hall of the river king. Maybe I will see her again someday.
LEDA I suppose I have daughters enough for the both of us.
AITHRA You certainly do.
Aithra and Penelope, passing each other.
AITHRA Don’t you have your own palace full of young ladies to seduce?
PENELOPE Who, me? I am just a humble servant to my cousin.
AITHRA No, technically, I am just a humble servant to your cousin.
PENELOPE Oh please. If you are a slave then I am a priestess of Diana.
AITHRA Oh I know all about you. There is something I wanted to talk to you about.
PENELOPE How convenient, there is something I wanted to talk to you about.
A and P together It’s about Helen.
AITHRA I mean, it’s about Tyndareus
AITHRA She’s getting older
PENELOPE I know. Her eggs have declared war.
AITHRA I can imagine. What are the demands?
PENELOPE You remember the two brothers who came to hide out with us when they were young? Because their father had fed their uncle his children or some ridiculous shit.
AITHRA I know who Agamemnon and Menelaus are, yes. Mycenae is not nowhere. On the contrary.
PENELOPE Tem wants the older one, and hates herself for wanting him.
AITHRA I always wondered what that would be like.
AITHRA Desire like an unwanted guest. Something that shows up and won’t leave.
PENELOPE You don’t know?
AITHRA Well, old Neptune didn’t exactly ask for my opinion before he put two babies in me. And once you’ve been had by the god of the sea, it changes your relationship to sex. But, even if it didn’t, two babies would have. I never made it to that point of warring with my own body over whether babies and whose.
PENELOPE (Giggling to herself) whomst
PENELOPE I think Tem thought she’d be spared.
AITHRA Demeter comes for us all. She’s very proud.
PENELOPE That’s what I told her.
AITHRA She loves you very much.
PENELOPE I think she should marry Agamemnon.
PENELOPE What’s with Tyndareus?
AITHRA He’s miserable, but that isn’t new. Leda thinks he’s dying.
PENELOPE Is he sick?
AITHRA Not that I can tell.
PENELOPE He’s always been sad.
AITHRA Yes, but she says he has started into some kind of decline.
PENELOPE We are all dying, every day.
AITHRA Yes, Penny, thank you for that. But consider, if you would, what such an event would mean for the rest of us. Especially if Clytemnestra ends up moving in with Agamemnon.
PENELOPE (A beat and then realizing) God, Castor and Pollux in charge. Can you imagine?
AITHRA I’d rather not.
PENELOPE It’s terrifying.
AITHRA You heard about how they lost all those cows?
PENELOPE The ones that got stolen?
AITHRA They weren’t stolen. Two weeks ago, this man from Messene, Idas, rode over with his little brother and began bragging to Castor about how big his appetite is.
PENELOPE His appetite?
AITHRA Correct. So Castor said, “Oh yeah well ours is even bigger” and he went to get Pollux and the four of them made a bet that whoever could eat lunch the fastest would get half the cows in the north pasture, and second place would get the other half.
PENELOPE But Messene is mostly swamp.
AITHRA That’s the thing. They don’t even have cows in Messene. Castor and Pollux just gambled their own cows for nothing. Not even their cows. Our cows, your cows, your uncle’s cows, whatever. Even if they had won, all they would get was what they had to begin with.
PENELOPE And they didn’t win
AITHRA Of course not. Idas kicked Castor in the balls and when Pollux punched him, his little brother ate all four servings before the twins knew what was going on. Idas took the whole herd into Megara that afternoon and traded it, laughing all the way
PENELOPE Well, you know why Idas did that
AITHRA Who wouldn’t? That’s the easiest two hundred cattle that’s ever been raised.
PENELOPE Well sure, but it doesn’t help that the twins knocked up his sisters.
AITHRA They didn’t.
PENELOPE They did. Snuck into their beds on a full moon and everything. That’s probably why Idas knew he could get away with Sparta’s finest animals. ’Cause what are the twins going to do? Tell everyone they married some swamp girls when no one was looking?
AITHRA Well that would be the honorable thing, surely.
PENELOPE But Tyndareus.
PENELOPE If Tyndareus dies . . .
AITHRA If Tyndareus dies, and we want someone rational in charge, we have to bet on Clytemnestra not getting what she wants. For the first time in her life.
PENELOPE Not even the twins would take that bet.
AITHRA Because if she goes off to be queen of Mycenae, we are left here with Helen unmarried, and Castor and Pollux.
PENELOPE They’ll trade her for a ball of yarn before Tyndareus has finished burning.
AITHRA Probably without even realizing it.
PENELOPE And then
AITHRA When they realize they’ve been had? There will be war. Cattle can be replaced or lied about.
PENELOPE But there is only one Helen.
AITHRA You begin to see the problem.
PENELOPE What does Leda think?
AITHRA I haven’t asked her specifically. She’ll be glad to be rid of the king and hasn’t thought beyond that.
PENELOPE I’m flattered Aithra. That you trust me to consider Sparta’s future.
AITHRA When you get older you realize that people are stupid for all kinds of reasons, but they are stupid, nevertheless. Leda has seven children, two of them are twin terrors, and one is the most beautiful woman in the world. Maybe she was raped by the king of the gods, maybe she just likes birds.
PENELOPE You don’t really think that.
AITHRA That Leda likes birds?
PENELOPE That Helen is the most beautiful woman in the world.
AITHRA Well you would know better than anyone. What I think doesn’t matter. It’s the brand. Theseus made sure of that when he kidnapped her at age 12 from a holy temple in the middle of a sacred ceremony. After a blasphemy like that, the valuation went through the roof. ’Cause why do it if she isn’t?
PENELOPE That’s gross.
AITHRA It’s what we have to work with, Penny. We have an aging king and a dangerously stupid pair of princes set to inherit a kingdom that I happen to like.
PENELOPE One that includes a 22-year-old princess with a very specific reputation.
AITHRA It’s been ten years of peace. I’d like ten more.
PENELOPE She’s my cousin.
AITHRA She’s my master.
PENELOPE She’s my friend.
AITHRA She’s my friend, too.
PENELOPE Ten years of peace.
AITHRA For us anyway. The twins don’t exactly wage peace out there in the countryside.
PENELOPE And why do we deserve better?
AITHRA Are you sure you’re not a priest?
PENELOPE Come on, Aithra, it helps me think.
AITHRA Because I love the girls as much as I loathe their useless brothers.
PENELOPE I love them, too.
AITHRA So what are we going to do?
PENELOPE You’re asking me?
AITHRA You people are the worst. Always needing to be flattered into doing your job. You’re worse than kings. You know why.
PENELOPE Is it ’cause I’m pretty?
AITHRA You’re such a little sex brat
PENELOPE Is it because my body drives you wild with desire? (Shows)
AITHRA It’s because you’re the smartest person on the peninsula. Everyone knows that.
PENELOPE (Covers) Oh. In that case.
AITHRA Penny, I need your help. Sparta needs your help.
PENELOPE What can I do? I’m not queen of any kingdom.
AITHRA If the fate of your lovers does not move you, consider that your home, too, cannot avoid war if Tyndareus dies and leaves the twins to be taken for everything we have. Helen alone is worth a war to these idiots, never mind the entire kingdom of Sparta.
PENELOPE War is the dumbest thing there is.
AITHRA Even dumber than the twins?
PENELOPE Even dumber than the twins. That’s why they like it.
AITHRA Then it should be easy enough for you to prevent.
Penelope and Atalanta, outside the city, running.
They collapse, giggling and exhausted.
ATALANTA Kiss me.
PENELOPE God you’re worse than me
ATALANTA Just a kiss. (Kiss)
PENELOPE OK now listen
ATALANTA I want to touch you.
PENELOPE I brought you here to help me think.
ATALANTA (Touches her) I am thinking.
PENELOPE you are thinking
ATALANTA I am thinking that (Kiss)
PENELOPE You are thinking that
ATALANTA I am thinking that I
PENELOPE That you
ATALANTA That I
PENELOPE That I
ATALANTA That me
PENELOPE That I and me are thinking
ATALANTA That I am thinking
PENELOPE That you are thinking
ATALANTA Good thoughts
PENELOPE The best thoughts
ATALANTA My thoughts
PENELOPE It’s the best thinking
ATALANTA You like my thinking best of all
PENELOPE I do, you are the best thinking
ATALANTA You like my thought
PENELOPE It’s the best thought
ATALANTA I’m crazy about you.
PENELOPE You like me. You’re sweet. But you aren’t crazy. If you were, I wouldn’t see you.
ATALANTA What is crazy?
PENELOPE Crazy is killing at the first sign of trouble. It is defaulting to violence. It is dying over nothing at all. Or worse. It is killing over nothing at all.
ATALANTA Odysseus says the same thing.
PENELOPE What’s an Odysseus?
ATALANTA He’s a friend who comes by the temple from time to time. He brings good wine and we talk.
PENELOPE I thought men weren’t allowed in the temple.
ATALANTA They aren’t. We make an exception. I make an exception. He’s king of Ithaca . . .
ATALANTA Anyway! He isn’t interested and I’m allowed to have friends.
PENELOPE Well, OK, friend, I need your help to keep the crazy from consuming us all.
ATALANTA How can I do that?
PENELOPE By telling me how you got here.
ATALANTA Here? Outside the city? I ran here with you.
PENELOPE Yes, but how did you get me here.
ATALANTA Oh come on, you’re not exactly known as Prude Princess Penelope.
PENELOPE (Moves closer) Oh do you think so Priestess Atalanta?! Did you need to kill some innocent bird for that bit of insight? (Kisses her) Still, (kiss) despite my vaunted harlotry, (kiss) there are several of you temple ladies that I have caught looking at me. (Kiss) And yet (kisses again) when I look around, (kiss) I only see you here. How is that?
ATALANTA You want me to spill my princess-seducing secrets?
PENELOPE I do, yes.
ATALANTA (Covers herself) It’s not very romantic, is it.
PENELOPE Please, for me?
ATALANTA Sigh. Is nothing sacred anymore? Can’t a priestess make love to a princess without having to give a talk about it
PENELOPE It’s important.
ATALANTA You remember when we first met?
PENELOPE Of course. You came up to me that night last spring after the bonfire, when I was mooning over someone else.
ATALANTA You never told me who
PENELOPE I can’t even remember who.
ATALANTA And I asked you to pray with me
PENELOPE And what a prayer! I wish I could remember . . .
ATALANTA (Suddenly recites)
Deathless Aphrodite of the spangled mind
Weaver of snares, daughter of Zaz, I beg you
Do not, with pain and sadness, break my heart
But come to me
If you have ever come to me before
Hearing my voice from far away,
You heeded it, and leaving your father’s house of iron
Your chariot limitless sparrows
Speeding you over black earth
With a thick whirring of wings
Suddenly the air split
And they were here and you
She turns toward Penelope.
Oh perfect one,
With a smile on your eternal face
You asked me
What was wrong this time
Why do you call on me this time, Atalanta
And what in my maddened heart I wanted most
She lifts Penelope’s face gently.
“Whom shall I persuade this time to welcome you in friendship?
Who is it who wrongs you? Penelope?
For if she flees now
Soon she shall follow
If she refuses presents
Soon she will give them. If she does not love, she will soon, even against her will”
Come to me again, dear goddess of love;
release me from my agony:
all that my heart yearns to complete,
and be yourself
an ally in my arms.
They kiss for a while, until Penelope remembers and then:
PENELOPE (Hitting her) I thought you made that up on the spot!
ATALANTA Of course you did! I worked very hard to make it seem that way.
PENELOPE I couldn’t believe you could talk like that.
ATALANTA I can! So long as I spend months scouring the archives and committing what I find to memory.
PENELOPE But how did you know I liked that sort of thing
ATALANTA Because I learned as much as I could about you. We all did.
PENELOPE And what did you learn?
ATALANTA That you’re not considered dumb, for starters.
PENELOPE This again.
ATALANTA And so, we competed to say the smartest thing we could to you.
PENELOPE You and the rest of the priest-girls.
ATALANTA That’s right. Do you remember when Dido came up to you in the marketplace?
PENELOPE Oh man, I was so bloated and just needed something to eat.
ATALANTA And she rushes up to you and says:
PENELOPE “Did you know that two sides of a triangle are equal to the third?”
ATALANTA She learned that in Persia.
PENELOPE And I was like, “Cool story babe, now hand me that pineapple.”
ATALANTA Then there was the time Thetis ambushed you before breakfast.
PENELOPE I was barely awake.
ATALANTA She asked what had four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three at night.
PENELOPE And I said “I don’t know who you’ve been doing honey but my men have a third leg their whole lives amirite.”
ATALANTA She was quite scandalized.
PENELOPE I thought it was funny
ATALANTA And then when the high priestess apprehended you in the field . . .
PENELOPE We had a wonderful conversation. God is one, she said, perfect and eternal, and, without toil, shakes all things with the thoughts of her mind. Incredible concept.
ATALANTA And then she put her hand on your thigh.
PENELOPE I’d forgotten! Not all good ideas are sexy.
ATALANTA So we each took our shot. And I won.
PENELOPE But why not defer to the high priestess? Weren’t you afraid of her?
ATALANTA Oh, we had discussed it beforehand. Believe it or not, Penny, you aren’t exactly the first young woman to become an object of common desire for the priestesses of Diana.
PENELOPE No, I suppose not.
ATALANTA If the high priestess couldn’t seal the deal, it might tempt others to try, which might lead her to get envious and retaliate, which might destroy the whole order.
PENELOPE So you let me choose?
ATALANTA Yes, we relied on your agency to keep the community intact.
PENELOPE But I still see other people.
ATALANTA We can’t help that. The goal was not to dominate the indomitable desire of Penelope. The goal was to keep us from killing one another in spite of the fact that we all desperately wanted you.
PENELOPE I think I’m beginning to get it.
Helen with Phoebe and Timandra in the gym.
PHOEBE You’re so ugly. I’d rather die
HELENYou both at once, come on
TIMANDRA You’re so fat Helen how do you even get out of bed in the morning
HELENIt’s a challenge you tiny sluts, you micro whores, now come on
Phoebe jumps on Helen’s back while Timandra goes for her legs.
TIMANDRA I’ll kill you, you enormous hag
PHOEBE I’ll bury you out back where they pee and nobody will notice you’re gone
HELEN That’s right. Good. (She throws one sister, then the other)
PHOEBEAre you hurt
HELENDon’t worry about her. Keep your eyes on me
TIMANDRA This isn’t real life you know. It’s just a game
HELENIt isn’t a game
PHOEBETake it easy. Let me just look at Tim
HELENYou’ll have to go through me first
Phoebe tries. Helen throws her.
TIMANDRAIt’s fine, I’m fine, just, enough
HELENNow you two wrestle each other
HELENJust do it. I’m the biggest and I say so
PHOEBEou’re the oldest you mean
TIMANDRATechnically I’m —
HELENJust do what I say, you have to
Phoebe and Timandra reluctantly make ready to fight each other.
HELENAnd what do we say to our enemy
PHOEBEI hate you
TIMANDRAEverybody hates you
PHOEBEThey’ll be glad when you’re dead
TIMANDRAI’ll be glad when you’re dead
HELENOK good, go
The girls jump Helen instead. Surprise gives them the upper hand.
PHOEBEGet her arms
TIMANDRAGet her legs
HELEN (Gasping) You fucking sluts, you tramps, shoving it all over town you’re worthless
PHOEBE Get the other one, it’s almost pinned
PHOEBEYou’re just like the rest of us now
Helen performs an incredible reverse, leaving both sisters at her mercy. Lots of overlap in what follows, which is not a sex scene.
HELENhow about now, how do you like me now
HELENyou like this don’t you
TIMANDRA ow oh
TIMANDRA ow ow
HELENYou weak trash
HELENI take my pleasure from little weakling sluts like you. I steal your pleasure for my own. I grow fat from strength.
HELEN you like it. You like when I take from you. You roll over and let me have it. Everyone likes it when I steal
HELENSay it say how much you like it
HELENsay what I am and why you like it
HELEN say! Say who it is and say how you feel
PHOEBE ah! Helen
TIMANDRA It is Helen
HELENAnd what is Helen
The energy switches sides. Phoebe and Timandra struggle harder, topping from the bottom.
PHOEBE Helen is the most beautiful
TIMANDRA Helen is the most beautiful
HELENThe most beautiful what
PHOEBE The most beautiful of all that ever was and ever will be
TIMANDRA The most beautiful of all the animals and the stars and the skies
PHOEBE The most beautiful of the hills and the valleys and the earths
TIMANDRA More beautiful than chaos more beautiful than mist
PHOEBE More beautiful than night more beautiful than day
HELEN yes, harder
PHOEBE more beautiful
TIMANDRA more beautiful
PHOEBE yes more
TIMANDRA more yes
HELEN more and more
PHOEBE more, more
TIMANDRA more more
PHOEBE and more
TIMANDRAa nd more
PHOEBE me, more, and I
TIMANDRA and more more
Helen back on top. Capitulation. Clytemnestra appears.
CLYTEMNESTRAIs it Tuesday already?
P, H, and T Tem!
They run to greet her.
CLYTEMNESTRA ugh you two are sweaty. Not on my clothes! Ugh go bathe you sweaty little things. Get out of here. (She slaps an ass on their way out. When they are gone):
HELEN wrestle me
CLYTEMNESTRA (Laughs) absolutely not
HELEN Wrestle me!
CLYTEMNESTRA no, Helen, come on. I want to talk.
HELENFight me, coward.
CLYTEMNESTRA Ah. No.
HELEN why not
CLYTEMNESTRA because I’ll win and you’ll never forgive me
HELENThis isn’t the old days
CLYTEMNESTRA I know
HELENI wouldn’t be too confident
CLYTEMNESTRAI’m not. I just know you, is all. Plus I don’t like to lose.
HELENAre you saying I do
CLYTEMNESTRA I’m saying they do, our little sisters you so gleefully abuse
HELEN c’mon they like it
CLYTEMNESTRA that is what I am afraid of
Helen charges her big sister, who throws her instantly and with no effort at all. Helen lies on her back. Clytemnestra sits. Helen catches her breath.
CLYTEMNESTRA What’s the sky look like little bean
HELENIt’s blue and bright
CLYTEMNESTRA And clear and cold
HELENthe sun is young
CLYTEMNESTRA And we are old
HELEN(Begins to rise) Speak for yourself grandma, I’m like peak youth right now
CLYTEMNESTRA I want a baby, Helen.
Helen collapses back down. Longest pause of the play so far. Eventually . . .
HELEN no no please no
CLYTEMNESTRA I can’t help it
HELEN fight it
CLYTEMNESTRA I’ve tried
HELEN It’ll split you open
CLYTEMNESTRA I know
HELENBust you apart, leave you in ruins.
CLYTEMNESTRA yes I know
HELENtatter you, shred you
CLYTEMNESTRA come on
HELENthere’ll be nothing left.
CLYTEMNESTRA come on come on
HELEN my big sister is leaving me
HELENshe is, she is
CLYTEMNESTRA Nobody is going to war
HELENon the contrary, that is exactly what is happening
CLYTEMNESTRA What would you have me do
HELENI don’t know. show some fucking spine. Stop thinking with your eggs.
CLYTEMNESTRA You are something.
CLYTEMNESTRAThis might happen to you someday.
HELENTo Helen of Sparta? Are you out of your mind? I’ll cut my clit off first
CLYTEMNESTRA why are you so gross
HELEN heh. Sorry
CLYTEMNESTRA That’s really visceral
HELEN(Farts) how about now
CLYTEMNESTRA ugh what is wrong with you
HELEN it’s pretty visceral now isn’t it
CLYTEMNESTRA(Moves away) you’re impossible
HELENlook at me
HELENthat’s the point
CLYTEMNESTRA what’s the point
HELENlove is for slaves
CLYTEMNESTRA stop it
HELENlove is for slaves, by slaves. It is what slaves do. They love. Or really, they slave, and call it love.
CLYTEMNESTRA Everyone loves you.
HELENYes, I have many slaves.
CLYTEMNESTRA That you love.
HELENAbsolutely not. Freedom is my only lover. Liberty my lonely passion. I float above the earth on a thick mattress of possibility.
CLYTEMNESTRA I don’t think that sounds like freedom.
HELEN Why would you want to give that up?
CLYTEMNESTRA I think that sounds like loneliness
HELEN I’m fine
CLYTEMNESTRA I think that sounds like trauma singing itself to sleep.
HELEN I’m fine!
CLYTEMNESTRA Helen, you were kidnapped when you were 12.
HELEN Yes. So. I’m very beautiful!
CLYTEMNESTRA You were kidnapped when you were 12 from a holy temple and taken far away from your family and god knows what he did to you.
HELEN I know.
CLYTEMNESTRA Well, you never talk about it.
HELEN You never ask, there is a difference.
CLYTEMNESTRA I thought you should know.
HELEN Do you want to know if he touched me, is that it?
CLYTEMNESTRA I just thought you should know about what I’ve been feeling.
HELEN Ask if you want to know.
CLYTEMNESTRA It felt important to say.
HELEN Do you want to know if he put his hands on my fragile little titties? Slipped his fingers inside my tight, hairless little mound?
CLYTEMNESTRA (Making ready to go) I’m glad we had this conversation.
CLYTEMNESTRA See what.
HELEN You don’t want to know.
CLYTEMNESTRA I’m sorry.
HELENYou claim to care, to want to know, you make a big deal out of my past but when it comes down to it, you spare yourself the details.
CLYTEMNESTRA I should have been there. I’m sorry.
CLYTEMNESTRA It’s hard on me too, you know
HELEN Hell, I even thrived. I shook it off and look at me.
CLYTEMNESTRA I’m sorry, Helen
HELENTurn and look on the most beautiful woman in the world
CLYTEMNESTRAI’m sorry little bean, I should have been there. I should have stopped them
HELEN(Viciously) Look at me.
CLYTEMNESTRA (Looks, and then) I see you.
HELEN How do I look
CLYTEMNESTRA You look strong
HELEN I look broken?
CLYTEMNESTRA You look savage
HELEN I look whole?
CLYTEMNESTRA You look like me
HELEN (Breaks down) Don’t leave me
CLYTEMNESTRA I’m not, I’m not
HELEN Don’t go don’t go
CLYTEMNESTRA I won’t I’m not
HELEN You promised
CLYTEMNESTRA I promise
HELEN you promise
CLYTEMNESTRA I promised
HELEN I’m sorry
CLYTEMNESTRA I’m sorry
HELENit’s going to be okay
CLYTEMNESTRA I know I know
HELEN we’re going to be okay.
CLYTEMNESTRA we are, I know
HELEN what are we gonna do
CLYTEMNESTRA we’re going to do what we always do
HELEN What’s that
CLYTEMNESTRA the best we can
Act II, Scene 6
Helen and Penelope are bowhunting on the plains.
HELEN Maybe I’ll run away and join the Amazons
PENELOPE You’d have to cut your titty off
PENELOPE You would
PENELOPE Amazons think you can’t shoot a bow with two titties. They think they get in the way. So, they cut one off.
HELEN (Thinks for a moment) Which one
PENELOPE Depends which arm you draw with. (Examines her. Touches one of her breasts, weighing it, then the other. Considers a little too long.) In your case it would be the right titty, I believe.
HELEN (Shaking her off) I’m a fine shot with my right titty intact
PENELOPE I don’t think the Amazons are big on making exceptions
HELEN But if the point of the titty removal is to shoot better and I can shoot fine already, I don’t see why it should be necessary to cut her off.
PENELOPE The justification for the practice is bowhunting, but it’s not the reason, exactly. Plenty of bosomy ladies can bull’s-eye boobies intact. That’s not the issue.
HELEN Then what is the issue?
PENELOPE The Amazons aren’t really interested in tourists, you know? If you’re joining the Amazons, you’re joining the Amazons. You have to be willing to surrender that part of yourself.
HELEN What part?
PENELOPE The sexy part! The beautiful titties part. The part that makes you a giant walking liability anytime a man comes around.
HELEN I don’t mean to be rude, but I seem to recall that it is not only men who have enjoyed my titties.
PENELOPE You’re very beautiful, Helen.
HELEN Thank you Penny, I know.
PENELOPE The Amazons are not interested in beauty, they find it slavish and demeaning. They want out, so they get out.
HELEN That sounds sexy to me.
PENELOPE It can be very attractive! Compelling, charismatic, but the choice is against your kind of power and in favor of another kind.
HELEN The killing kind.
PENELOPE Correct. The Amazons reckon they can kill as well as men and so they don’t need men, and so, they live without them.
HELEN (Pause, and then) Theseus was obsessed with the Amazons.
PENELOPE The guy who kidnapped you?
HELEN Yeah, he thought they were the greatest. I kept waiting for him to take advantage of me or something, but instead he just wanted to sneak around and play Amazon. It was weird.
PENELOPE So he didn’t rape you
HELEN No, not exactly.
PENELOPE I assumed he had
HELEN Everybody does. It gets so you don’t want to ruin everyone’s good impression of you
PENELOPE But, that’s good! That he didn’t, I mean.
HELEN He stuffed my dress in my mouth, bound my hands and feet so tightly they bled, and slung me across the back of his horse while he galloped for six hours. I was totally helpless and in more pain than I’ve ever felt and honestly would probably rather die than feel again.
PENELOPE But he didn’t rape you?
HELEN Would it have been better if he had? If it meant a saddle and my own horse? Sometimes I think so. A little gentle raping and then being treated like a human. Instead I was an object, something to be picked up and put down as he wished. When we got back to the sea I wanted desperately for him to kill me, but instead he just kept babbling on about adventures. My clothes were in tatters, my skin was raw. I was scared. He took one look at me and threw me a blanket. Told me to cover up.
PENELOPE (Stops. Realizing something.) Helen. Are you a virgin?
HELEN Penelope, please.
PENELOPE I mean
PENELOPE Were you a virgin that time when I, when we
HELEN What is virginity? Phoebe slipped and fell on a fence
PENELOPE You told me you were bleeding anyway
HELEN I didn’t want to upset you. And besides, better you than some man
PENELOPE So you’ve never had a man, never been raped
HELEN To live in this world with breasts and a birth canal is to have your agency denied and your personhood abridged every day of every year. What difference does it make if some man put his penis inside me without my express written consent. Some of them are smaller than your fist anyway. Most of them, actually, from what I understand
PENELOPE Oh Helen, I’m sorry
HELEN Don’t be, Penny. Truly.
PENELOPE I didn’t know.
HELEN You’ve had lots of men, I’m sure they weren’t all nice about it. You know what it’s like.
PENELOPE What can I say.
HELEN What can you?
PENELOPE (Pause, and then) It’s not like that for me.
HELEN What do you mean?
PENELOPE I mean, for whatever reason, men are not a source of unfreedom for me. They don’t treat me violently. Usually I can get what I want from them without much trouble at all.
HELEN So you’re saying it’s my fault, that I brought it on myself, being kidnapped from a temple at age 12.
PENELOPE No! No, come on. You know that’s not what I mean.
HELEN You mean that I was a born victim and for some reason Princess Penelope was not. You’re favored by god, being unfathered by him, is that it?
PENELOPE No, I’m just trying to be true to my experience. Who knows, maybe if I was as beautiful as you are, it would have been different.
HELEN You are as beautiful as I am.
PENELOPE What sorry I couldn’t hear you.
HELEN You are as beautiful as I am. More so in fact.
PENELOPE Oh come on, be serious. You are Helen of Sparta. Your beauty is your identity. It’s who you are. I’m Penelope, wily slut, louche mistress of lust.
HELEN Things change. But whatever you are it is not so vastly inferior to myself as to explain why I have a big fat bull’s-eye painted on my head and you don’t.
PENELOPE Well let’s think. Theseus wanted you because he was anxious about his own lineage, right? He wanted people to think he was fathered by a god so he wanted a partner who was fathered by a god.
HELEN Well that’s understandable, surely.
PENELOPE you are way too smart for that.
HELEN What? I don’t want some weakling peasant seed inside of me, sprouting arms and legs.
PENELOPE Stop right there. Listen to me.
HELEN I’m listening.
PENELOPE Who are your parents?
HELEN Tyndareus and Leda. Or Leda and Zeus. Or Zeus and Nemesis.
PENELOPE Let’s go out on a limb and say it’s Tyndareus and Leda. Now, who are their parents?
HELEN Grandpa and Grandma Tyndareus, and Grandpa and Grandma Leda
PENELOPE And who are their parents?
HELEN Maternal Great-Grandpa Tyndareus, paternal Great-Grandpa Tyndareus, maternal Great-Grandma Leda, paternal Great-Grandma Leda
PENELOPE Maternal Great-Grandma Tyndareus, paternal Great-Grandma Tyndareus, maternal Great-Grandpa Leda, paternal Great-Grandpa Leda
PENELOPE And who are their parents?
HELEN That’s a lot of greats
PENELOPE Count them out, you’re quick.
HELEN One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen
PENELOPE And who are their parents
HELEN Penelope c’mon
PENELOPE No, listen, it takes a second of thought to realize that each of us has thousands upon thousands of ancestors, each of whom also has thousands and thousands. Among these there are, by sheer structural necessity, rich and poor, kings and slaves, barbarians and Greeks, near and far, by the hundreds. When people pride themselves on a list of twenty-five ancestors and trace their pedigree back to this or that pillaging asshole, all they display is sheer, uncontaminated stupidity. They might as well fixate on a beetle or a shiny little stone. As for the twenty-fifth ancestor of the twenty-fifth ancestor, whatever she may be is simply a matter of luck, and similarly with the fiftieth before her. How ridiculous not to be able to work that out, and free yourself from the gaping vanity of a silly mind.
HELEN I am immoderately in love with you
PENELOPE (Gets going a little too fast) How comical to imagine that it matters more who some long-dead fucker was than what to do with the day that has been given to you, with the life that has been given to you, divided out in distinct portions of light and darkness, now illuminated by the sun, now by the stars, and now, still, by the moon. Now here are the animals, and there are the friends, here are the lovers, and there, a little further, lies the family. Who will you be Helen, and how will you love? When your end comes to light, how will you face the beyond? Imagine distracting yourself with a dead diagram of ancestors. You may be a lot more to me than my dear beloved cousin, Helen of Sparta, but you are not one iota less than far, far better than that.
HELEN Sometimes I think maybe you’re more than just Penelope the slut, you know that?
PENELOPE Oh, come off it already.
HELEN I love it when you get worked up
PENELOPE (A little flustered) Sorry, where were we
HELEN If I recall the point was not what I believed about ancestry, but what Theseus believed. I was subject to that belief, whether I shared it or not.
HELEN We are an occupied country, Penny. Have you forgotten how put down we are?
HELEN Hence: the Amazons.
PENELOPE Right right.
HELEN And anyway that still doesn’t explain why you managed to avoid these fates. Progeny of a god or no, you are still plenty fancy, Princess Penelope.
PENELOPE Yes, I know.
HELEN You aren’t exactly some barbarian shepherdess.
PENELOPE I am aware, yes.
HELEN So what’s your secret? What’s your number-one hot tip for getting what you want from men.
HELEN Tell me quickly before I cut my titty off and run away to join the Amazons
PENELOPE You wouldn’t dare
HELEN You love my tits
PENELOPE It would be a great crime, it’s true. Like shitting in a temple and then burning it down.
Helen pushes Penelope down, draws her knife and holds it to her own right breast.
HELEN Tell me
PENELOPE Helen, enough this is stupid.
Helen presses the blade in slightly, just enough to draw a thin trickle of blood.
HELEN Tell me or no more beautiful titty, not for you or anybody else.
PENELOPE People are scared!
PENELOPE Men, too. That’s the secret. That’s what I’ve learned
HELEN Everybody’s scared, that’s no secret.
PENELOPE Yes, but
HELEN Go on
PENELOPE there are different kinds of fear.
HELEN I don’t follow
PENELOPE There is the fear where you are afraid of losing what you have
PENELOPE And there is the fear of having nothing, forever
PENELOPE Your average, typical person born with a birth canal, as you say, is also born in possession of something, which is virginity. Or the relative alienation from dick
HELEN I am familiar with the concept of virginity.
PENELOPE Right, so even if every sensible person agrees to its meaninglessness, it still orients people’s behavior. Your average menstruator is not just afraid of having nothing, but of losing what they have.
HELEN And men aren’t like this
PENELOPE Not usually no, usually men internalize the idea that they are born worthless and have to, you know, make something of themselves. Granted everyone is trying to get to ten, but some are starting from zero and the rest of us from one or two. We can be “ruined” as you know, while they are worthless from the beginning.
HELEN But you don’t believe that, clearly.
PENELOPE Of course not, but you are not asking a theoretical question about what I believe but a strategic question about how I behave. You asked how I get what I want.
HELEN And I still don’t understand how this helps.
PENELOPE Men are offensive creatures.
HELEN No doubt
PENELOPE I mean, they aren’t used to playing defense, especially against bodies like ours.
HELEN Is that true
PENELOPE Nothing is true everywhere and for all time, but in general, it is easier to play offense against men than to play defense. They are good at scaling walls, less good at building them, or guarding them, at least against us.
HELEN So concretely, what does that mean
PENELOPE It means that if you treat a man the way he treats a woman he likes, he will be defenseless. Sometimes.
HELEN You mean like, buy him gifts and tell him he’s beautiful and try to kiss him all the time.
PENELOPE Yes, exactly. They never see that coming.
HELEN But to pursue someone like that.
HELEN It’s humiliating.
PENELOPE That’s what they want you to think.
HELEN It’s pathetic.
PENELOPE It depends, some people look good hunting. Especially when nobody knows that’s what they are doing. All of the action, none of the responsibility. That’s the goal.
HELEN And how is this different from the Amazons?
PENELOPE The Amazons have been known to hunt men. They just kill them afterward.
HELEN And you hate killing.
PENELOPE I do.
HELEN Do you think the Amazons like it?
PENELOPE I think that’s the price they pay. I understand why they pay it. But that doesn’t make it any less steep. I am princess enough in this. I would like to live without violence, to the extent possible. Mostly, in my life, the men do the violence. Could I do the violence? Of course. But I don’t want to. And so I let them. I don’t like fighting.
HELEN Even when it’s over you?
PENELOPE Especially when it’s over me.
HELEN I like it.
PENELOPE I know!
HELEN I like it a lot.
HELEN So what?
PENELOPE Maybe you should go get it.
HELEN How would I do that?
PENELOPE I have an idea.
HELEN What kind of idea?
PENELOPE About how you could get them to fight over you. And also get back at your sister.
HELEN Say more
Leda and Aithra, looking out.
LEDA Explain it to me again.
AITHRA All the suitors are competing and the winner gets to marry Helen
LEDA Just like that
AITHRA That’s what she says
LEDA It doesn’t seem like Helen, to want that
AITHRA She’s punishing her sister
AITHRA She feels betrayed because Tem told her she wanted to marry Agamemnon and have a baby
LEDA So Helen organized a contest to decide her own marriage? I don’t understand
AITHRA I think Helen felt like they were a team, and now that Tem is threatening to leave they are in competition, and so she’s throwing a tantrum by demonstrating how desirable she is
LEDA Well that does sound like Helen. Unless
AITHRA Unless what?
LEDA Unless Agamemnon wins
AITHRA He is winning
LEDA The competition for Helen?
LEDA (Pause) Do you think Helen knows what she is doing?
AITHRA I hope so
LEDA That’s a hell of a thing to do to Clytemnestra.
AITHRA I know
LEDA What is the competition?
AITHRA A series of different athletic events. Throwing heavy things. Running in a circle. Fighting, of course.
LEDA Of course
AITHRA (Giggling) They’re calling it “The Olympics”
LEDA They are not
AITHRA (Laughing) They are!
LEDA (Laughing) After the Olympians
LEDA Unbelievable. That is so funny.
AITHRA It really is.
LEDA Who is judging?
AITHRA What do you mean?
LEDA Well, not all contests have obvious results. You would think, this one has a discus, that one has a discus, should be easy enough to determine who threw it farther.
AITHRA You would think that.
LEDA Or, hey, you run a race, first one past the post, seems pretty straightforward and inarguable.
AITHRA You’re saying it isn’t.
LEDA I’m saying it isn’t.
AITHRA You’re saying there are likely to be disagreements
LEDA I’m saying there are certain to be disagreements. With a prize like Helen? You can count on it.
AITHRA And it is not like everybody left their spears at home.
LEDA It’s not like that at all.
AITHRA Looks like you may get your war after all.
LEDA It does, though of course this is not what I had in mind.
AITHRA It’s a big day.
PENELOPE I can’t believe how many came.
LEDA What was it? Thirty-six in total?
PENELOPE It’s a great honor, your majesty
LEDA Don’t patronize me, Penny. I’m not that kind of queen.
PENELOPE Well, isn’t it?
LEDA Tell me, niece of mine, will you be getting married one of these days.
PENELOPE Ha. Never.
LEDA Why not?
PENELOPE I’m different.
LEDA Oh, are you? Different how?
PENELOPE It’s complicated
Leda and Aithra look at each other.
The older women can’t quite keep from laughing.
AITHRA Sometimes it sounds like you are the first person to be blessed with eyes and ears. As if there were a whole new species living inside you, just waiting to be born.
PENELOPE Well, why shouldn’t there be? Isn’t that what it was like for you? Didn’t you build a new age from the rancid detritus of the old? Didn’t you raise the seed of violence into something different entirely?
LEDA We didn’t have a choice
AITHRA We didn’t have your freedom
PENELOPE And your granddaughters will be slaves again, the way things are going.
LEDA I was under the impression this whole contest was your idea.
PENELOPE What makes you say that?
LEDA One day Helen is hunting on the plains with her cousin, the next she is saying she wants to have a contest for her hand in marriage. This is quite a turnaround.
PENELOPE Well, I had been given to believe that it was my responsibility to help this process along. Perhaps that instinct was mistaken.
AITHRA Well it would have been nice if whatever mechanism you had come up with didn’t favor Agamemnon.
PENELOPE I haven’t been paying attention.
LEDA Well you might start, Penny dearest, because the way things are going, it appears that Agamemnon could win Helen before the day is over.
PENELOPE Clytemnestra’s Agamemnon, you mean
AITHRA It’s looking more like Helen’s Agamemnon
PENELOPE But Helen doesn’t want Agamemnon. Clytemnestra wants Agamemnon. That’s how this whole thing got started.
LEDA But that isn’t how it is going to finish, if present trends continue.
PENELOPE That’s a recipe for the worst, Helen marrying her sister’s choice.
AITHRA It is not likely to end well, no.
PENELOPE Have you seen Phoebe? Or Timandra?
LEDA They’re probably having a pillow fight or splashing water on their naked bodies down by the river. (Penelope gives her a look) Wouldn’t want to miss that.
PENELOPE I’ll try to find them before the swans do.
LEDA Good plan
Excerpted from The Suitors of Helen