ATSUMORIScript2015 xOedipusPlay xTRIFLESPlay x
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Choose ONE of the following topics and write an essay of 600-800 words in response. Use specific evidence from the play to support your thesis. Be sure your final draft is double-spaced; proofread carefully before submitting. You may use up to TWO outside sources to support your views, but if you prefer, you can use only your own ideas with support from the play. If you use appropriate resources (preferably through the Library Online) be sure to cite in-text and include a works cited page. CHOOSE ONE: 1. Is Oedipus responsible for his downfall or is he a victim of fate? Choose a position and use evidence from the play to support your view. 2. Do you believe Oedipus is a good / ethical man? Take a position and support your view with convincing evidence from the play. 3. Choose TWO specific differences between the play “Trifles” and the story it is based on. In your essay, make a case for whether these differences substantially change the characterization and/or theme of the play. 4. Who is guilty in the play “Trifles”? Decide whether you feel Mrs. Wright’s murder of her husband was justifiable or whether you believe she should have been charged with the crime. Be specific in support of your view. 5. Choose TWO symbols in the play “Atsumori” and explain how they help to express the meaning of the play. You may use both the play and the short summary that is posted in order to make your case. 6.Compare and contrast Oedipus and the priest Rensei in “Atsumori” as heroes. In your essay, choose a trait for each character and explain why you believe these traits make them heroes in similar or different ways. (I WILL LEAVE LINKS TO THE FILES OF THE PLAY)
THE PRIEST RENSEI (formerly the warrior Kumagai).
A YOUNG REAPER, who turns out to be the ghost of Atsumori.
Life is a lying dream, he only wakes
Who casts the World aside.
I am Kumagai no Naozane, a man of the country of Musashi. I have left my home and call myself the priest Rensei; this I have done because of my grief at the death of Atsumori, who fell in battle by my hand. Hence it comes that I am dressed in priestly guise.
And now I am going down to Ichi-no-Tani to pray for the salvation of Atsumori’s soul.
(He walks slowly across the stage, singing a song descriptive of his journey.)
I have come so fast that here I am already at Ichi-no-Tani, in the country of Tsu.
Truly the past returns to my mind as though it were a thing of to-day.
But listen! I hear the sound of a flute coming from a knoll of rising ground. I will wait here till the flute-player passes, and ask him to tell me the story of this place.
To the music of the reaper’s flute
No song is sung
But the sighing of wind in the fields.
They that were reaping,
Reaping on that hill,
Walk now through the fields
Homeward, for it is dusk.
Short is the way that leads
From the sea of Suma back to my home.
This little journey, up to the hill
And down to the shore again, and up to the hill,–
This is my life, and the sum of hateful tasks.
If one should ask me
I too would answer
That on the shores of Suma
I live in sadness.
Yet if any guessed my name,
Then might I too have friends.
But now from my deep misery
Even those that were dearest
Are grown estranged. Here must I dwell abandoned
To one thought’s anguish:
That I must dwell here.
Hey, you reapers! I have a question to ask you.
Is it to us you are speaking? What do you wish to know?
Was it one of you who was playing on the flute just now?
Yes, it was we who were playing.
It was a pleasant sound, and all the pleasanter because one does not look for such music from men of your condition.
Unlocked for from men of our condition, you say! Have you not read:–
“Do not envy what is above you
Nor despise what is below you”?
Moreover the songs of woodmen and the flute-playing of herdsmen,
Flute-playing even of reapers and songs of wood-fellers
Through poets’ verses are known to all the world.
Wonder not to hear among us
The sound of a bamboo-flute.
You are right. Indeed it is as you have told me.
Songs of woodmen and flute-playing of herdsmen . . .
Flute-playing of reapers . . .
Songs of wood-fellers
Guide us on our passage through this sad world.
Song . . .
And the flute . . .
And music of many instruments . . .
These are the pastimes that each chooses to his taste.
Of floating bamboo-wood
Many are the famous flutes that have been made;
Little-Branch and Cicada-Cage,
And as for the reaper’s flute,
Its name is Green-leaf;
On the shore of Sumiyoshi
The Corean flute they play.
And here on the shore of Suma
On Stick of the Salt-kilns
The fishers blow their tune.
How strange it is! The other reapers have all gone home, but you alone stay loitering here. How is that?
How is it, you ask? I am seeking for a prayer in the voice of the evening waves. Perhaps you will pray the Ten Prayers for me?
I can easily pray the Ten Prayers for you, if you will tell me who you are.
To tell you the truth–I am one of the family of Lord Atsumori.
One of Atsumori’s family? How glad I am!
Then the priest joined his hands (he kneels down) and prayed:–
Praise to Amida Buddha!
“If I attain to Buddhahood,
In the whole world and its ten spheres
Of all that dwell here none shall call on my name
And be rejected or cast aside.”
“Oh, reject me not!
One cry suffices for salvation,
Yet day and night
Your prayers will rise for me.
Happy am I, for though you know not my name,
Yet for my soul’s deliverance
At dawn and dusk henceforward I know that you will pray.”
So he spoke. Then vanished and was seen no more.
(Here follows the Interlude between the two Acts, in which a recitation concerning Atsumori’s death takes place. These interludes are subject to variation and are not considered part of the literary text of the play.)
Since this is so, I will perform all night the rites of prayer for the dead, and calling upon Amida’s name will pray again for the salvation of Atsumori.
(The ghost of ATSUMORI appears, dressed as a young warrior.)
Would you know who I am
That like the watchmen at Suma Pass
Have wakened at the cry of sea-birds roaming
Upon Awaji shore?
Listen, Rensei. I am Atsumori.
How strange! All this while I have never stopped beating my gong and performing the rites of the Law. I cannot for a moment have dozed, yet I thought that Atsumori was standing before me. Surely it was a dream.
Why need it be a dream? It is to clear the karma of my waking life that I am come here in visible form before you.
Is it not written that one prayer will wipe away ten thousand sins? Ceaselessly I have performed the ritual of the Holy Name that clears all sin away. After such prayers, what evil can be left? Though you should be sunk in sin as deep . . .
As the sea by a rocky shore,
Yet should I be salved by prayer.
And that my prayers should save you . . .
This too must spring
From kindness of a former life.
Once enemies . . .
But now . . .
In truth may we be named . . .
Friends in Buddha’s Law.
There is a saying, “Put away from you a wicked friend; summon to your side a virtuous enemy.” For you it was said, and you have proven it true.
And now come tell with us the tale of your confession, while the night is still dark.
He bids the flowers of Spring
Mount the tree-top that men may raise their eyes
And walk on upward paths;
He bids the moon in autumn waves be drowned
In token that he visits laggard men
And leads them out from valleys of despair.
Now the clan of Taira, building wall to wall,
Spread over the earth like the leafy branches of a great tree:
Yet their prosperity lasted but for a day;
It was like the flower of the convolvulus.
There was none to tell them
That glory flashes like sparks from flint-stone,
Oh wretched, the life of men!
When they were on high they afflicted the humble;
When they were rich they were reckless in pride.
And so for twenty years and more
They ruled this land.
But truly a generation passes like the space of a dream.
The leaves of the autumn of Juyei
Were tossed by the four winds;
Scattered, scattered (like leaves too) floated their ships.
And they, asleep on the heaving sea, not even in dream
Went back to home.
Caged birds longing for the clouds,–
Wild geese were they rather, whose ranks are broken
As they fly to southward on their doubtful journey.
So days and months went by; Spring came again
And for a little while
Here dwelt they on the shore of Suma
At the first valley.
From the mountain behind us the winds blew down
Till the fields grew wintry again.
Our ships lay by the shore, where night and day
The sea-gulls cried and salt waves washed on our sleeves.
We slept with fishers in their buts
On pillows of sand.
We knew none but the people of Suma.
And when among the pine-trees
The evening smoke was rising,
Brushwood, as they call it,
Brushwood we gathered
And spread for carpet.
Sorrowful we lived
On the wild shore of Suma,
Till the clan Taira and all its princes
Were but villagers of Suma.
But on the night of the sixth day of the second month
My father Tsunemori gathered us together.
“To-morrow,” he said, “we shall fight our last fight.
To-night is all that is left us.”
We sang songs together, and danced.
Yes, I remember; we in our siege-camp
Heard the sound of music
Echoing from your tents that night,;
There was the music of a flute . . .
The bamboo-flute! I wore it when I died.
We heard the singing . . .
Songs and ballads . . .
Singing to one measure.
First comes the Royal Boat.
The whole clan has put its boats to sea.
He will not be left behind;
He runs to the shore.
But the Royal Boat and the soldiers’ boats
Have sailed far away.
What can he do?
He spurs his horse into the waves.
He is full of perplexity. And then
He looks behind him and sees
That Kumagai pursues him;
He cannot escape.
Then Atsumori turns his horse
Knee-deep in the lashing waves,
And draws his sword.
Twice, three times he strikes; then, still saddled,
In close fight they twine; roll headlong together
Among the surf of the shore.
So Atsumori fell and was slain, but now the Wheel of Fate
Has turned and brought him back.
(ATSUMORI rises from the ground and advances toward the PRIEST with uplifted sword.)
“There is my enemy,” he cries, and would strike,
But the other is grown gentle
And calling on Buddha’s name
Has obtained salvation for his foe;
So that they shall be re-born together
On one lotus-seat.
“No, Rensei is not my enemy.
Pray for me again, oh pray for me again.”
THE PRIEST OF ZEUS
CHORUS OF THEBAN ELDERS
HERD OF LAIUS
Thebes. Before the Palace of Oedipus. Suppliants of all ages are seated round the altar at the palace doors, at their head a PRIEST OF ZEUS. To them enter OEDIPUS.
My children, latest born to Cadmus old,
Why sit ye here as suppliants, in your hands
Branches of olive filleted with wool?
What means this reek of incense everywhere,
And everywhere laments and litanies?
Children, it were not meet that I should learn
From others, and am hither come, myself,
I Oedipus, your world-renowned king.
Ho! aged sire, whose venerable locks
Proclaim thee spokesman of this company,
Explain your mood and purport. Is it dread
Of ill that moves you or a boon ye crave?
My zeal in your behalf ye cannot doubt;
Ruthless indeed were I and obdurate
If such petitioners as you I spurned.
Yea, Oedipus, my sovereign lord and king,
Thou seest how both extremes of age besiege
Thy palace altars–fledglings hardly winged,
And greybeards bowed with years, priests, as am I
Of Zeus, and these the flower of our youth.
Meanwhile, the common folk, with wreathed boughs
Crowd our two market-places, or before
Both shrines of Pallas congregate, or where
Ismenus gives his oracles by fire.
For, as thou seest thyself, our ship of State,
Sore buffeted, can no more lift her head,
Foundered beneath a weltering surge of blood.
A blight is on our harvest in the ear,
A blight upon the grazing flocks and herds,
A blight on wives in travail; and withal
Armed with his blazing torch the God of Plague
Hath swooped upon our city emptying
The house of Cadmus, and the murky realm
Of Pluto is full fed with groans and tears.
Therefore, O King, here at thy hearth we sit,
I and these children; not as deeming thee
A new divinity, but the first of men;
First in the common accidents of life,
And first in visitations of the Gods.
Art thou not he who coming to the town
Of Cadmus freed us from the tax we paid
To the fell songstress? Nor hadst thou received
Prompting from us or been by others schooled;
No, by a god inspired (so all men deem,
And testify) didst thou renew our life.
And now, O Oedipus, our peerless king,
All we thy votaries beseech thee, find
Some succor, whether by a voice from heaven
Whispered, or haply known by human wit.
Tried counselors, methinks, are aptest found
To furnish for the future pregnant rede.
Upraise, O chief of men, upraise our State!
Look to thy laurels! for thy zeal of yore
Our country’s savior thou art justly hailed:
O never may we thus record thy reign:–
“He raised us up only to cast us down.”
Uplift us, build our city on a rock.
Thy happy star ascendant brought us luck,
O let it not decline! If thou wouldst rule
This land, as now thou reignest, better sure
To rule a peopled than a desert realm.
Nor battlements nor galleys aught avail,
If men to man and guards to guard them tail.
Ah! my poor children, known, ah, known too well,
The quest that brings you hither and your need.
Ye sicken all, well wot I, yet my pain,
How great soever yours, outtops it all.
Your sorrow touches each man severally,
Him and none other, but I grieve at once
Both for the general and myself and you.
Therefore ye rouse no sluggard from day-dreams.
Many, my children, are the tears I’ve wept,
And threaded many a maze of weary thought.
Thus pondering one clue of hope I caught,
And tracked it up; I have sent Menoeceus’ son,
Creon, my consort’s brother, to inquire
Of Pythian Phoebus at his Delphic shrine,
How I might save the State by act or word.
And now I reckon up the tale of days
Since he set forth, and marvel how he fares.
‘Tis strange, this endless tarrying, passing strange.
But when he comes, then I were base indeed,
If I perform not all the god declares.
Thy words are well timed; even as thou speakest
That shouting tells me Creon is at hand.
O King Apollo! may his joyous looks
Be presage of the joyous news he brings!
As I surmise, ’tis welcome; else his head
Had scarce been crowned with berry-laden bays.
We soon shall know; he’s now in earshot range.
My royal cousin, say, Menoeceus’ child,
What message hast thou brought us from the god?
Good news, for e’en intolerable ills,
Finding right issue, tend to naught but good.
How runs the oracle? thus far thy words
Give me no ground for confidence or fear.
If thou wouldst hear my message publicly,
I’ll tell thee straight, or with thee pass within.
Speak before all; the burden that I bear
Is more for these my subjects than myself.
Let me report then all the god declared.
King Phoebus bids us straitly extirpate
A fell pollution that infests the land,
And no more harbor an inveterate sore.
What expiation means he? What’s amiss?
Banishment, or the shedding blood for blood.
This stain of blood makes shipwreck of our state.
Whom can he mean, the miscreant thus denounced?
Before thou didst assume the helm of State,
The sovereign of this land was Laius.
I heard as much, but never saw the man.
He fell; and now the god’s command is plain:
Punish his takers-off, whoe’er they be.
Where are they? Where in the wide world to find
The far, faint traces of a bygone crime?
In this land, said the god; “who seeks shall find;
Who sits with folded hands or sleeps is blind.”
Was he within his palace, or afield,
Or traveling, when Laius met his fate?
Abroad; he started, so he told us, bound
For Delphi, but he never thence returned.
Came there no news, no fellow-traveler
To give some clue that might be followed up?
But one escape, who flying for dear life,
Could tell of all he saw but one thing sure.
And what was that? One clue might lead us far,
With but a spark of hope to guide our quest.
Robbers, he told us, not one bandit but
A troop of knaves, attacked and murdered him.
Did any bandit dare so bold a stroke,
Unless indeed he were suborned from Thebes?
So ’twas surmised, but none was found to avenge
His murder mid the trouble that ensued.
What trouble can have hindered a full quest,
When royalty had fallen thus miserably?
The riddling Sphinx compelled us to let slide
The dim past and attend to instant needs.
Well, I will start afresh and once again
Make dark things clear. Right worthy the concern
Of Phoebus, worthy thine too, for the dead;
I also, as is meet, will lend my aid
To avenge this wrong to Thebes and to the god.
Not for some far-off kinsman, but myself,
Shall I expel this poison in the blood;
For whoso slew that king might have a mind
To strike me too with his assassin hand.
Therefore in righting him I serve myself.
Up, children, haste ye, quit these altar stairs,
Take hence your suppliant wands, go summon hither
The Theban commons. With the god’s good help
Success is sure; ’tis ruin if we fail.
Exeunt OEDIPUS and CREON.
Come, children, let us hence; these gracious words
Forestall the very purpose of our suit.
And may the god who sent this oracle
Save us withal and rid us of this pest.
Exeunt PRIEST and SUPPLIANTS.
Sweet-voiced daughter of Zeus from thy gold-paved Pythian shrine
Wafted to Thebes divine,
What dost thou bring me? My soul is racked and shivers with fear.
Healer of Delos, hear!
Hast thou some pain unknown before,
Or with the circling years renewest a penance of yore?
Offspring of golden Hope, thou voice immortal, O tell me.
First on Athene I call; O Zeus-born goddess, defend!
Goddess and sister, befriend,
Artemis, Lady of Thebes, high-throned in the midst of our mart!
Lord of the death-winged dart!
Your threefold aid I crave
From death and ruin our city to save.
If in the days of old when we nigh had perished, ye drave
From our land the fiery plague, be near us now and defend us!
Ah me, what countless woes are mine!
All our host is in decline;
Weaponless my spirit lies.
Earth her gracious fruits denies;
Women wail in barren throes;
Life on life downstriken goes,
Swifter than the wind bird’s flight,
Swifter than the Fire-God’s might,
To the westering shores of Night.
Wasted thus by death on death
All our city perisheth.
Corpses spread infection round;
None to tend or mourn is found.
Wailing on the altar stair
Wives and grandams rend the air–
Long-drawn moans and piercing cries
Blent with prayers and litanies.
Golden child of Zeus, O hear
Let thine angel face appear!
And grant that Ares whose hot breath I feel,
Though without targe or steel
He stalks, whose voice is as the battle shout,
May turn in sudden rout,
To the unharbored Thracian waters sped,
Or Amphitrite’s bed.
For what night leaves undone,
Smit by the morrow’s sun
Perisheth. Father Zeus, whose hand
Doth wield the lightning brand,
Slay him beneath thy levin bold, we pray,
Slay him, O slay!
O that thine arrows too, Lycean King,
From that taut bow’s gold string,
Might fly abroad, the champions of our rights;
Yea, and the flashing lights
Of Artemis, wherewith the huntress sweeps
Across the Lycian steeps.
Thee too I call with golden-snooded hair,
Whose name our land doth bear,
Bacchus to whom thy Maenads Evoe shout;
Come with thy bright torch, rout,
Blithe god whom we adore,
The god whom gods abhor.
Ye pray; ’tis well, but would ye hear my words
And heed them and apply the remedy,
Ye might perchance find comfort and relief.
Mind you, I speak as one who comes a stranger
To this report, no less than to the crime;
For how unaided could I track it far
Without a clue? Which lacking (for too late
Was I enrolled a citizen of Thebes)
This proclamation I address to all:–
Thebans, if any knows the man by whom
Laius, son of Labdacus, was slain,
I summon him to make clean shrift to me.
And if he shrinks, let him reflect that thus
Confessing he shall ‘scape the capital charge;
For the worst penalty that shall befall him
Is banishment–unscathed he shall depart.
But if an alien from a foreign land
Be known to any as the murderer,
Let him who knows speak out, and he shall have
Due recompense from me and thanks to boot.
But if ye still keep silence, if through fear
For self or friends ye disregard my hest,
Hear what I then resolve; I lay my ban
On the assassin whosoe’er he be.
Let no man in this land, whereof I hold
The sovereign rule, harbor or speak to him;
Give him no part in prayer or sacrifice
Or lustral rites, but hound him from your homes.
For this is our defilement, so the god
Hath lately shown to me by oracles.
Thus as their champion I maintain the cause
Both of the god and of the murdered King.
And on the murderer this curse I lay
(On him and all the partners in his guilt):–
Wretch, may he pine in utter wretchedness!
And for myself, if with my privity
He gain admittance to my hearth, I pray
The curse I laid on others fall on me.
See that ye give effect to all my hest,
For my sake and the god’s and for our land,
A desert blasted by the wrath of heaven.
For, let alone the god’s express command,
It were a scandal ye should leave unpurged
The murder of a great man and your king,
Nor track it home. And now that I am lord,
Successor to his throne, his bed, his wife,
(And had he not been frustrate in the hope
Of issue, common children of one womb
Had forced a closer bond twixt him and me,
But Fate swooped down upon him), therefore I
His blood-avenger will maintain his cause
As though he were my sire, and leave no stone
Unturned to track the assassin or avenge
The son of Labdacus, of Polydore,
Of Cadmus, and Agenor first of the race.
And for the disobedient thus I pray:
May the gods send them neither timely fruits
Of earth, nor teeming increase of the womb,
But may they waste and pine, as now they waste,
Aye and worse stricken; but to all of you,
My loyal subjects who approve my acts,
May Justice, our ally, and all the gods
Be gracious and attend you evermore.
The oath thou profferest, sire, I take and swear.
I slew him not myself, nor can I name
The slayer. For the quest, ’twere well, methinks
That Phoebus, who proposed the riddle, himself
Should give the answer–who the murderer was.
Well argued; but no living man can hope
To force the gods to speak against their will.
May I then say what seems next best to me?
Aye, if there be a third best, tell it too.
My liege, if any man sees eye to eye
With our lord Phoebus, ’tis our prophet, lord
Teiresias; he of all men best might guide
A searcher of this matter to the light.
Here too my zeal has nothing lagged, for twice
At Creon’s instance have I sent to fetch him,
And long I marvel why he is not here.
I mind me too of rumors long ago–
Tell them, I would fain know all.
‘Twas said he fell by travelers.
So I heard,
But none has seen the man who saw him fall.
Well, if he knows what fear is, he will quail
And flee before the terror of thy curse.
Words scare not him who blenches not at deeds.
But here is one to arraign him. Lo, at length
They bring the god-inspired seer in whom
Above all other men is truth inborn.
Enter TEIRESIAS, led by a boy.
Teiresias, seer who comprehendest all,
Lore of the wise and hidden mysteries,
High things of heaven and low things of the earth,
Thou knowest, though thy blinded eyes see naught,
What plague infects our city; and we turn
To thee, O seer, our one defense and shield.
The purport of the answer that the God
Returned to us who sought his oracle,
The messengers have doubtless told thee–how
One course alone could rid us of the pest,
To find the murderers of Laius,
And slay them or expel them from the land.
Therefore begrudging neither augury
Nor other divination that is thine,
O save thyself, thy country, and thy king,
Save all from this defilement of blood shed.
On thee we rest. This is man’s highest end,
To others’ service all his powers to lend.
Alas, alas, what misery to be wise
When wisdom profits nothing! This old lore
I had forgotten; else I were not here.
What ails thee? Why this melancholy mood?
Let me go home; prevent me not; ’twere best
That thou shouldst bear thy burden and I mine.
For shame! no true-born Theban patriot
Would thus withhold the word of prophecy.
Thy words, O king, are wide of the mark, and I
For fear lest I too trip like thee…
Withhold not, I adjure thee, if thou know’st,
Thy knowledge. We are all thy suppliants.
Aye, for ye all are witless, but my voice
Will ne’er reveal my miseries–or thine.
What then, thou knowest, and yet willst not speak!
Wouldst thou betray us and destroy the State?
I will not vex myself nor thee. Why ask
Thus idly what from me thou shalt not learn?
Monster! thy silence would incense a flint.
Will nothing loose thy tongue? Can nothing melt thee,
Or shake thy dogged taciturnity?
Thou blam’st my mood and seest not thine own
Wherewith thou art mated; no, thou taxest me.
And who could stay his choler when he heard
How insolently thou dost flout the State?
Well, it will come what will, though I be mute.
Since come it must, thy duty is to tell me.
I have no more to say; storm as thou willst,
And give the rein to all thy pent-up rage.
Yea, I am wroth, and will not stint my words,
But speak my whole mind. Thou methinks thou art he,
Who planned the crime, aye, and performed it too,
All save the assassination; and if thou
Hadst not been blind, I had been sworn to boot
That thou alone didst do the bloody deed.
Is it so? Then I charge thee to abide
By thine own proclamation; from this day
Speak not to these or me. Thou art the man,
Thou the accursed polluter of this land.
Vile slanderer, thou blurtest forth these taunts,
And think’st forsooth as seer to go scot free.
Yea, I am free, strong in the strength of truth.
Who was thy teacher? not methinks thy art.
Thou, goading me against my will to speak.
What speech? repeat it and resolve my doubt.
Didst miss my sense wouldst thou goad me on?
I but half caught thy meaning; say it again.
I say thou art the murderer of the man
Whose murderer thou pursuest.
Thou shalt rue it
Twice to repeat so gross a calumny.
Must I say more to aggravate thy rage?
Say all thou wilt; it will be but waste of breath.
I say thou livest with thy nearest kin
In infamy, unwitting in thy shame.
Think’st thou for aye unscathed to wag thy tongue?
Yea, if the might of truth can aught prevail.
With other men, but not with thee, for thou
In ear, wit, eye, in everything art blind.
Poor fool to utter gibes at me which all
Here present will cast back on thee ere long.
Offspring of endless Night, thou hast no power
O’er me or any man who sees the sun.
No, for thy weird is not to fall by me.
I leave to Apollo what concerns the god.
Is this a plot of Creon, or thine own?
Not Creon, thou thyself art thine own bane.
O wealth and empiry and skill by skill
Outwitted in the battlefield of life,
What spite and envy follow in your train!
See, for this crown the State conferred on me.
A gift, a thing I sought not, for this crown
The trusty Creon, my familiar friend,
Hath lain in wait to oust me and suborned
This mountebank, this juggling charlatan,
This tricksy beggar-priest, for gain alone
Keen-eyed, but in his proper art stone-blind.
Say, sirrah, hast thou ever proved thyself
A prophet? When the riddling Sphinx was here
Why hadst thou no deliverance for this folk?
And yet the riddle was not to be solved
By guess-work but required the prophet’s art;
Wherein thou wast found lacking; neither birds
Nor sign from heaven helped thee, but I came,
The simple Oedipus; I stopped her mouth
By mother wit, untaught of auguries.
This is the man whom thou wouldst undermine,
In hope to reign with Creon in my stead.
Methinks that thou and thine abettor soon
Will rue your plot to drive the scapegoat out.
Thank thy grey hairs that thou hast still to learn
What chastisement such arrogance deserves.
To us it seems that both the seer and thou,
O Oedipus, have spoken angry words.
This is no time to wrangle but consult
How best we may fulfill the oracle.
King as thou art, free speech at least is mine
To make reply; in this I am thy peer.
I own no lord but Loxias; him I serve
And ne’er can stand enrolled as Creon’s man.
Thus then I answer: since thou hast not spared
To twit me with my blindness–thou hast eyes,
Yet see’st not in what misery thou art fallen,
Nor where thou dwellest nor with whom for mate.
Dost know thy lineage? Nay, thou know’st it not,
And all unwitting art a double foe
To thine own kin, the living and the dead;
Aye and the dogging curse of mother and sire
One day shall drive thee, like a two-edged sword,
Beyond our borders, and the eyes that now
See clear shall henceforward endless night.
Ah whither shall thy bitter cry not reach,
What crag in all Cithaeron but shall then
Reverberate thy wail, when thou hast found
With what a hymeneal thou wast borne
Home, but to no fair haven, on the gale!
Aye, and a flood of ills thou guessest not
Shall set thyself and children in one line.
Flout then both Creon and my words, for none
Of mortals shall be striken worse than thou.
Must I endure this fellow’s insolence?
A murrain on thee! Get thee hence! Begone
Avaunt! and never cross my threshold more.
I ne’er had come hadst thou not bidden me.
I know not thou wouldst utter folly, else
Long hadst thou waited to be summoned here.
Such am I–as it seems to thee a fool,
But to the parents who begat thee, wise.
What sayest thou–“parents”? Who begat me, speak?
This day shall be thy birth-day, and thy grave.
Thou lov’st to speak in riddles and dark words.
In reading riddles who so skilled as thou?
Twit me with that wherein my greatness lies.
And yet this very greatness proved thy bane.
No matter if I saved the commonwealth.
‘Tis time I left thee. Come, boy, take me home.
Aye, take him quickly, for his presence irks
And lets me; gone, thou canst not plague me more.
I go, but first will tell thee why I came.
Thy frown I dread not, for thou canst not harm me.
Hear then: this man whom thou hast sought to arrest
With threats and warrants this long while, the wretch
Who murdered Laius–that man is here.
He passes for an alien in the land
But soon shall prove a Theban, native born.
And yet his fortune brings him little joy;
For blind of seeing, clad in beggar’s weeds,
For purple robes, and leaning on his staff,
To a strange land he soon shall grope his way.
And of the children, inmates of his home,
He shall be proved the brother and the sire,
Of her who bare him son and husband both,
Co-partner, and assassin of his sire.
Go in and ponder this, and if thou find
That I have missed the mark, henceforth declare
I have no wit nor skill in prophecy.
Exeunt TEIRESIAS and OEDIPUS.
Who is he by voice immortal named from Pythia’s rocky cell,
Doer of foul deeds of bloodshed, horrors that no tongue can tell?
A foot for flight he needs
Fleeter than storm-swift steeds,
For on his heels doth follow,
Armed with the lightnings of his Sire, Apollo.
Like sleuth-hounds too
The Fates pursue.
Yea, but now flashed forth the summons from Parnassus’ snowy peak,
“Near and far the undiscovered doer of this murder seek!”
Now like a sullen bull he roves
Through forest brakes and upland groves,
And vainly seeks to fly
The doom that ever nigh
Flits o’er his head,
Still by the avenging Phoebus sped,
The voice divine,
From Earth’s mid shrine.
Sore perplexed am I by the words of the master seer.
Are they true, are they false? I know not and bridle my tongue for fear,
Fluttered with vague surmise; nor present nor future is clear.
Quarrel of ancient date or in days still near know I none
Twixt the Labdacidan house and our ruler, Polybus’ son.
Proof is there none: how then can I challenge our King’s good name,
How in a blood-feud join for an untracked deed of shame?
All wise are Zeus and Apollo, and nothing is hid from their ken;
They are gods; and in wits a man may surpass his fellow men;
But that a mortal seer knows more than I know–where
Hath this been proven? Or how without sign assured, can I blame
Him who saved our State when the winged songstress came,
Tested and tried in the light of us all, like gold assayed?
How can I now assent when a crime is on Oedipus laid?
Friends, countrymen, I learn King Oedipus
Hath laid against me a most grievous charge,
And come to you protesting. If he deems
That I have harmed or injured him in aught
By word or deed in this our present trouble,
I care not to prolong the span of life,
Thus ill-reputed; for the calumny
Hits not a single blot, but blasts my name,
If by the general voice I am denounced
False to the State and false by you my friends.
This taunt, it well may be, was blurted out
In petulance, not spoken advisedly.
Did any dare pretend that it was I
Prompted the seer to utter a forged charge?
Such things were said; with what intent I know not.
Were not his wits and vision all astray
When upon me he fixed this monstrous charge?
I know not; to my sovereign’s acts I am blind.
But lo, he comes to answer for himself.
Sirrah, what mak’st thou here? Dost thou presume
To approach my doors, thou brazen-faced rogue,
My murderer and the filcher of my crown?
Come, answer this, didst thou detect in me
Some touch of cowardice or witlessness,
That made thee undertake this enterprise?
I seemed forsooth too simple to perceive
The serpent stealing on me in the dark,
Or else too weak to scotch it when I saw.
This thou art witless seeking to possess
Without a following or friends the crown,
A prize that followers and wealth must win.
Attend me. Thou hast spoken, ’tis my turn
To make reply. Then having heard me, judge.
Thou art glib of tongue, but I am slow to learn
Of thee; I know too well thy venomous hate.
First I would argue out this very point.
O argue not that thou art not a rogue.
If thou dost count a virtue stubbornness,
Unschooled by reason, thou art much astray.
If thou dost hold a kinsman may be wronged,
And no pains follow, thou art much to seek.
Therein thou judgest rightly, but this wrong
That thou allegest–tell me what it is.
Didst thou or didst thou not advise that I
Should call the priest?
Yes, and I stand to it.
Tell me how long is it since Laius…
Since Laius…? I follow not thy drift.
By violent hands was spirited away.
In the dim past, a many years agone.
Did the same prophet then pursue his craft?
Yes, skilled as now and in no less repute.
Did he at that time ever glance at me?
Not to my knowledge, not when I was by.
But was no search and inquisition made?
Surely full quest was made, but nothing learnt.
Why failed the seer to tell his story then?
I know not, and not knowing hold my tongue.
This much thou knowest and canst surely tell.
What’s mean’st thou? All I know I will declare.
But for thy prompting never had the seer
Ascribed to me the death of Laius.
If so he thou knowest best; but I
Would put thee to the question in my turn.
Question and prove me murderer if thou canst.
Then let me ask thee, didst thou wed my sister?
A fact so plain I cannot well deny.
And as thy consort queen she shares the throne?
I grant her freely all her heart desires.
And with you twain I share the triple rule?
Yea, and it is that proves thee a false friend.
Not so, if thou wouldst reason with thyself,
As I with myself. First, I bid thee think,
Would any mortal choose a troubled reign
Of terrors rather than secure repose,
If the same power were given him? As for me,
I have no natural craving for the name
Of king, preferring to do kingly deeds,
And so thinks every sober-minded man.
Now all my needs are satisfied through thee,
And I have naught to fear; but were I king,
My acts would oft run counter to my will.
How could a title then have charms for me
Above the sweets of boundless influence?
I am not so infatuate as to grasp
The shadow when I hold the substance fast.
Now all men cry me Godspeed! wish me well,
And every suitor seeks to gain my ear,
If he would hope to win a grace from thee.
Why should I leave the better, choose the worse?
That were sheer madness, and I am not mad.
No such ambition ever tempted me,
Nor would I have a share in such intrigue.
And if thou doubt me, first to Delphi go,
There ascertain if my report was true
Of the god’s answer; next investigate
If with the seer I plotted or conspired,
And if it prove so, sentence me to death,
Not by thy voice alone, but mine and thine.
But O condemn me not, without appeal,
On bare suspicion. ‘Tis not right to adjudge
Bad men at random good, or good men bad.
I would as lief a man should cast away
The thing he counts most precious, his own life,
As spurn a true friend. Thou wilt learn in time
The truth, for time alone reveals the just;
A villain is detected in a day.
To one who walketh warily his words
Commend themselves; swift counsels are not sure.
When with swift strides the stealthy plotter stalks
I must be quick too with my counterplot.
To wait his onset passively, for him
Is sure success, for me assured defeat.
What then’s thy will? To banish me the land?
I would not have thee banished, no, but dead,
That men may mark the wages envy reaps.
I see thou wilt not yield, nor credit me.
None but a fool would credit such as thou.
Thou art not wise.
Wise for myself at least.
Why not for me too?
Why for such a knave?
Suppose thou lackest sense.
Yet kings must rule.
Not if they rule ill.
Oh my Thebans, hear him!
Thy Thebans? am not I a Theban too?
Cease, princes; lo there comes, and none too soon,
Jocasta from the palace. Who so fit
As peacemaker to reconcile your feud?
Misguided princes, why have ye upraised
This wordy wrangle? Are ye not ashamed,
While the whole land lies striken, thus to voice
Your private injuries? Go in, my lord;
Go home, my brother, and forebear to make
A public scandal of a petty grief.
My royal sister, Oedipus, thy lord,
Hath bid me choose (O dread alternative!)
An outlaw’s exile or a felon’s death.
Yes, lady; I have caught him practicing
Against my royal person his vile arts.
May I ne’er speed but die accursed, if I
In any way am guilty of this charge.
Believe him, I adjure thee, Oedipus,
First for his solemn oath’s sake, then for mine,
And for thine elders’ sake who wait on thee.
Hearken, King, reflect, we pray thee, but not stubborn but relent.
Say to what should I consent?
Respect a man whose probity and troth
Are known to all and now confirmed by oath.
Dost know what grace thou cravest?
Yea, I know.
Declare it then and make thy meaning plain.
Brand not a friend whom babbling tongues assail;
Let not suspicion ‘gainst his oath prevail.
Bethink you that in seeking this ye seek
In very sooth my death or banishment?
No, by the leader of the host divine!
Witness, thou Sun, such thought was never mine,
Unblest, unfriended may I perish,
If ever I such wish did cherish!
But O my heart is desolate
Musing on our striken State,
Doubly fall’n should discord grow
Twixt you twain, to crown our woe.
Well, let him go, no matter what it cost me,
Or certain death or shameful banishment,
For your sake I relent, not his; and him,
Where’er he be, my heart shall still abhor.
Thou art as sullen in thy yielding mood
As in thine anger thou wast truculent.
Such tempers justly plague themselves the most.
Leave me in peace and get thee gone.
By thee misjudged, but justified by these.
Lady, lead indoors thy consort; wherefore longer here delay?
Tell me first how rose the fray.
Rumors bred unjust suspicious and injustice rankles sore.
Were both at fault?
What was the tale?
Ask me no more. The land is sore distressed; ‘Twere better sleeping ills to leave at rest.
Strange counsel, friend! I know thou mean’st me well,
And yet would’st mitigate and blunt my zeal.
King, I say it once again,
Witless were I proved, insane,
If I lightly put away
Thee my country’s prop and stay,
Pilot who, in danger sought,
To a quiet haven brought
Our distracted State; and now
Who can guide us right but thou?
Let me too, I adjure thee, know, O king,
What cause has stirred this unrelenting wrath.
I will, for thou art more to me than these.
Lady, the cause is Creon and his plots.
But what provoked the quarrel? make this clear.
He points me out as Laius’ murderer.
Of his own knowledge or upon report?
He is too cunning to commit himself,
And makes a mouthpiece of a knavish seer.
Then thou mayest ease thy conscience on that score.
Listen and I’ll convince thee that no man
Hath scot or lot in the prophetic art.
Here is the proof in brief. An oracle
Once came to Laius (I will not say
‘Twas from the Delphic god himself, but from
His ministers) declaring he was doomed
To perish by the hand of his own son,
A child that should be born to him by me.
Now Laius–so at least report affirmed–
Was murdered on a day by highwaymen,
No natives, at a spot where three roads meet.
As for the child, it was but three days old,
When Laius, its ankles pierced and pinned
Together, gave it to be cast away
By others on the trackless mountain side.
So then Apollo brought it not to pass
The child should be his father’s murderer,
Or the dread terror find accomplishment,
And Laius be slain by his own son.
Such was the prophet’s horoscope. O king,
Regard it not. Whate’er the god deems fit
To search, himself unaided will reveal.
What memories, what wild tumult of the soul
Came o’er me, lady, as I heard thee speak!
What mean’st thou? What has shocked and startled thee?
Methought I heard thee say that Laius
Was murdered at the meeting of three roads.
So ran the story that is current still.
Where did this happen? Dost thou know the place?
Phocis the land is called; the spot is where
Branch roads from Delphi and from Daulis meet.
And how long is it since these things befell?
‘Twas but a brief while were thou wast proclaimed
Our country’s ruler that the news was brought.
O Zeus, what hast thou willed to do with me!
What is it, Oedipus, that moves thee so?
Ask me not yet; tell me the build and height
Of Laius? Was he still in manhood’s prime?
Tall was he, and his hair was lightly strewn
With silver; and not unlike thee in form.
O woe is me! Mehtinks unwittingly
I laid but now a dread curse on myself.
What say’st thou? When I look upon thee, my king,
‘Tis a dread presentiment
That in the end the seer will prove not blind.
One further question to resolve my doubt.
I quail; but ask, and I will answer all.
Had he but few attendants or a train
Of armed retainers with him, like a prince?
They were but five in all, and one of them
A herald; Laius in a mule-car rode.
Alas! ’tis clear as noonday now. But say,
Lady, who carried this report to Thebes?
A serf, the sole survivor who returned.
Haply he is at hand or in the house?
No, for as soon as he returned and found
Thee reigning in the stead of Laius slain,
He clasped my hand and supplicated me
To send him to the alps and pastures, where
He might be farthest from the sight of Thebes.
And so I sent him. ‘Twas an honest slave
And well deserved some better recompense.
Fetch him at once. I fain would see the man.
He shall be brought; but wherefore summon him?
Lady, I fear my tongue has overrun
Discretion; therefore I would question him.
Well, he shall come, but may not I too claim
To share the burden of thy heart, my king?
And thou shalt not be frustrate of thy wish.
Now my imaginings have gone so far.
Who has a higher claim that thou to hear
My tale of dire adventures? Listen then.
My sire was Polybus of Corinth, and
My mother Merope, a Dorian;
And I was held the foremost citizen,
Till a strange thing befell me, strange indeed,
Yet scarce deserving all the heat it stirred.
A roisterer at some banquet, flown with wine,
Shouted “Thou art not true son of thy sire.”
It irked me, but I stomached for the nonce
The insult; on the morrow I sought out
My mother and my sire and questioned them.
They were indignant at the random slur
Cast on my parentage and did their best
To comfort me, but still the venomed barb
Rankled, for still the scandal spread and grew.
So privily without their leave I went
To Delphi, and Apollo sent me back
Baulked of the knowledge that I came to seek.
But other grievous things he prophesied,
Woes, lamentations, mourning, portents dire;
To wit I should defile my mother’s bed
And raise up seed too loathsome to behold,
And slay the father from whose loins I sprang.
Then, lady,–thou shalt hear the very truth–
As I drew near the triple-branching roads,
A herald met me and a man who sat
In a car drawn by colts–as in thy tale–
The man in front and the old man himself
Threatened to thrust me rudely from the path,
Then jostled by the charioteer in wrath
I struck him, and the old man, seeing this,
Watched till I passed and from his car brought down
Full on my head the double-pointed goad.
Yet was I quits with him and more; one stroke
Of my good staff sufficed to fling him clean
Out of the chariot seat and laid him prone.
And so I slew them every one. But if
Betwixt this stranger there was aught in common
With Laius, who more miserable than I,
What mortal could you find more god-abhorred?
Wretch whom no sojourner, no citizen
May harbor or address, whom all are bound
To harry from their homes. And this same curse
Was laid on me, and laid by none but me.
Yea with these hands all gory I pollute
The bed of him I slew. Say, am I vile?
Am I not utterly unclean, a wretch
Doomed to be banished, and in banishment
Forgo the sight of all my dearest ones,
And never tread again my native earth;
Or else to wed my mother and slay my sire,
Polybus, who begat me and upreared?
If one should say, this is the handiwork
Of some inhuman power, who could blame
His judgment? But, ye pure and awful gods,
Forbid, forbid that I should see that day!
May I be blotted out from living men
Ere such a plague spot set on me its brand!
We too, O king, are troubled; but till thou
Hast questioned the survivor, still hope on.
My hope is faint, but still enough survives
To bid me bide the coming of this herd.
Suppose him here, what wouldst thou learn of him?
I’ll tell thee, lady; if his tale agrees
With thine, I shall have ‘scaped calamity.
And what of special import did I say?
In thy report of what the herdsman said
Laius was slain by robbers; now if he
Still speaks of robbers, not a robber, I
Slew him not; “one” with “many” cannot square.
But if he says one lonely wayfarer,
The last link wanting to my guilt is forged.
Well, rest assured, his tale ran thus at first,
Nor can he now retract what then he said;
Not I alone but all our townsfolk heard it.
E’en should he vary somewhat in his story,
He cannot make the death of Laius
In any wise jump with the oracle.
For Loxias said expressly he was doomed
To die by my child’s hand, but he, poor babe,
He shed no blood, but perished first himself.
So much for divination. Henceforth I
Will look for signs neither to right nor left.
Thou reasonest well. Still I would have thee send
And fetch the bondsman hither. See to it.
That will I straightway. Come, let us within.
I would do nothing that my lord mislikes.
Exeunt OEDIPUS and JOCASTA.
My lot be still to lead
The life of innocence and fly
Irreverence in word or deed,
To follow still those laws ordained on high
Whose birthplace is the bright ethereal sky
No mortal birth they own,
Olympus their progenitor alone:
Ne’er shall they slumber in oblivion cold,
The god in them is strong and grows not old.
Of insolence is bred
The tyrant; insolence full blown,
With empty riches surfeited,
Scales the precipitous height and grasps the throne.
Then topples o’er and lies in ruin prone;
No foothold on that dizzy steep.
But O may Heaven the true patriot keep
Who burns with emulous zeal to serve the State.
God is my help and hope, on him I wait.
But the proud sinner, or in word or deed,
That will not Justice heed,
Nor reverence the shrine
Of images divine,
Perdition seize his vain imaginings,
If, urged by greed profane,
He grasps at ill-got gain,
And lays an impious hand on holiest things.
Who when such deeds are done
Can hope heaven’s bolts to shun?
If sin like this to honor can aspire,
Why dance I still and lead the sacred choir?
No more I’ll seek earth’s central oracle,
Or Abae’s hallowed cell,
Nor to Olympia bring
My votive offering.
If before all God’s truth be not bade plain.
O Zeus, reveal thy might,
King, if thou’rt named aright
Omnipotent, all-seeing, as of old;
For Laius is forgot;
His weird, men heed it not;
Apollo is forsook and faith grows cold.
My lords, ye look amazed to see your queen
With wreaths and gifts of incense in her hands.
I had a mind to visit the high shrines,
For Oedipus is overwrought, alarmed
With terrors manifold. He will not use
His past experience, like a man of sense,
To judge the present need, but lends an ear
To any croaker if he augurs ill.
Since then my counsels naught avail, I turn
To thee, our present help in time of trouble,
Apollo, Lord Lycean, and to thee
My prayers and supplications here I bring.
Lighten us, lord, and cleanse us from this curse!
For now we all are cowed like mariners
Who see their helmsman dumbstruck in the storm.
Enter Corinthian MESSENGER.
My masters, tell me where the palace is
Of Oedipus; or better, where’s the king.
Here is the palace and he bides within;
This is his queen the mother of his children.
All happiness attend her and the house,
Blessed is her husband and her marriage-bed.
My greetings to thee, stranger; thy fair words
Deserve a like response. But tell me why
Thou comest–what thy need or what thy news.
Good for thy consort and the royal house.
What may it be? Whose messenger art thou?
The Isthmian commons have resolved to make
Thy husband king–so ’twas reported there.
What! is not aged Polybus still king?
No, verily; he’s dead and in his grave.
What! is he dead, the sire of Oedipus?
If I speak falsely, may I die myself.
Quick, maiden, bear these tidings to my lord.
Ye god-sent oracles, where stand ye now!
This is the man whom Oedipus long shunned,
In dread to prove his murderer; and now
He dies in nature’s course, not by his hand.
My wife, my queen, Jocasta, why hast thou
Summoned me from my palace?
Hear this man,
And as thou hearest judge what has become
Of all those awe-inspiring oracles.
Who is this man, and what his news for me?
He comes from Corinth and his message this:
Thy father Polybus hath passed away.
What? let me have it, stranger, from thy mouth.
If I must first make plain beyond a doubt
My message, know that Polybus is dead.
By treachery, or by sickness visited?
One touch will send an old man to his rest.
So of some malady he died, poor man.
Yes, having measured the full span of years.
Out on it, lady! why should one regard
The Pythian hearth or birds that scream i’ the air?
Did they not point at me as doomed to slay
My father? but he’s dead and in his grave
And here am I who ne’er unsheathed a sword;
Unless the longing for his absent son
Killed him and so I slew him in a sense.
But, as they stand, the oracles are dead–
Dust, ashes, nothing, dead as Polybus.
Say, did not I foretell this long ago?
Thou didst: but I was misled by my fear.
Then let I no more weigh upon thy soul.
Must I not fear my mother’s marriage bed.
Why should a mortal man, the sport of chance,
With no assured foreknowledge, be afraid?
Best live a careless life from hand to mouth.
This wedlock with thy mother fear not thou.
How oft it chances that in dreams a man
Has wed his mother! He who least regards
Such brainsick phantasies lives most at ease.
I should have shared in full thy confidence,
Were not my mother living; since she lives
Though half convinced I still must live in dread.
And yet thy sire’s death lights out darkness much.
Much, but my fear is touching her who lives.
Who may this woman be whom thus you fear?
Merope, stranger, wife of Polybus.
And what of her can cause you any fear?
A heaven-sent oracle of dread import.
A mystery, or may a stranger hear it?
Aye, ’tis no secret. Loxias once foretold
That I should mate with mine own mother, and shed
With my own hands the blood of my own sire.
Hence Corinth was for many a year to me
A home distant; and I trove abroad,
But missed the sweetest sight, my parents’ face.
Was this the fear that exiled thee from home?
Yea, and the dread of slaying my own sire.
Why, since I came to give thee pleasure, King,
Have I not rid thee of this second fear?
Well, thou shalt have due guerdon for thy pains.
Well, I confess what chiefly made me come
Was hope to profit by thy coming home.
Nay, I will ne’er go near my parents more.
My son, ’tis plain, thou know’st not what thou doest.
How so, old man? For heaven’s sake tell me all.
If this is why thou dreadest to return.
Yea, lest the god’s word be fulfilled in me.
Lest through thy parents thou shouldst be accursed?
This and none other is my constant dread.
Dost thou not know thy fears are baseless all?
How baseless, if I am their very son?
Since Polybus was naught to thee in blood.
What say’st thou? was not Polybus my sire?
As much thy sire as I am, and no more.
My sire no more to me than one who is naught?
Since I begat thee not, no more did he.
What reason had he then to call me son?
Know that he took thee from my hands, a gift.
Yet, if no child of his, he loved me well.
A childless man till then, he warmed to thee.
A foundling or a purchased slave, this child?
I found thee in Cithaeron’s wooded glens.
What led thee to explore those upland glades?
My business was to tend the mountain flocks.
A vagrant shepherd journeying for hire?
True, but thy savior in that hour, my son.
My savior? from what harm? what ailed me then?
Those ankle joints are evidence enow.
Ah, why remind me of that ancient sore?
I loosed the pin that riveted thy feet.
Yes, from my cradle that dread brand I bore.
Whence thou deriv’st the name that still is thine.
Who did it? I adjure thee, tell me who
Say, was it father, mother?
I know not.
The man from whom I had thee may know more.
What, did another find me, not thyself?
Not I; another shepherd gave thee me.
Who was he? Would’st thou know again the man?
He passed indeed for one of Laius’ house.
The king who ruled the country long ago?
The same: he was a herdsman of the king.
And is he living still for me to see him?
His fellow-countrymen should best know that.
Doth any bystander among you know
The herd he speaks of, or by seeing him
Afield or in the city? answer straight!
The hour hath come to clear this business up.
Methinks he means none other than the hind
Whom thou anon wert fain to see; but that
Our queen Jocasta best of all could tell.
Madam, dost know the man we sent to fetch?
Is the same of whom the stranger speaks?
Who is the man? What matter? Let it be.
‘Twere waste of thought to weigh such idle words.
No, with such guiding clues I cannot fail
To bring to light the secret of my birth.
Oh, as thou carest for thy life, give o’er
This quest. Enough the anguish I endure.
Be of good cheer; though I be proved the son
Of a bondwoman, aye, through three descents
Triply a slave, thy honor is unsmirched.
Yet humor me, I pray thee; do not this.
I cannot; I must probe this matter home.
‘Tis for thy sake I advise thee for the best.
I grow impatient of this best advice.
Ah mayst thou ne’er discover who thou art!
Go, fetch me here the herd, and leave yon woman
To glory in her pride of ancestry.
O woe is thee, poor wretch! With that last word
I leave thee, henceforth silent evermore.
Why, Oedipus, why stung with passionate grief
Hath the queen thus departed? Much I fear
From this dead calm will burst a storm of woes.
Let the storm burst, my fixed resolve still holds,
To learn my lineage, be it ne’er so low.
It may be she with all a woman’s pride
Thinks scorn of my base parentage. But I
Who rank myself as Fortune’s favorite child,
The giver of good gifts, shall not be shamed.
She is my mother and the changing moons
My brethren, and with them I wax and wane.
Thus sprung why should I fear to trace my birth?
Nothing can make me other than I am.
If my soul prophetic err not, if my wisdom aught avail,
Thee, Cithaeron, I shall hail,
As the nurse and foster-mother of our Oedipus shall greet
Ere tomorrow’s full moon rises, and exalt thee as is meet.
Dance and song shall hymn thy praises, lover of our royal race.
Phoebus, may my words find grace!
Child, who bare thee, nymph or goddess? sure thy sure was more than man,
Haply the hill-roamer Pan.
Of did Loxias beget thee, for he haunts the upland wold;
Or Cyllene’s lord, or Bacchus, dweller on the hilltops cold?
Did some Heliconian Oread give him thee, a new-born joy?
Nymphs with whom he love to toy?
Elders, if I, who never yet before
Have met the man, may make a guess, methinks
I see the herdsman who we long have sought;
His time-worn aspect matches with the years
Of yonder aged messenger; besides
I seem to recognize the men who bring him
As servants of my own. But you, perchance,
Having in past days known or seen the herd,
May better by sure knowledge my surmise.
I recognize him; one of Laius’ house;
A simple hind, but true as any man.
Corinthian, stranger, I address thee first,
Is this the man thou meanest!
This is he.
And now old man, look up and answer all
I ask thee. Wast thou once of Laius’ house?
I was, a thrall, not purchased but home-bred.
What was thy business? how wast thou employed?
The best part of my life I tended sheep.
What were the pastures thou didst most frequent?
Cithaeron and the neighboring alps.
Thou must have known yon man, at least by fame?
Yon man? in what way? what man dost thou mean?
The man here, having met him in past times…
Off-hand I cannot call him well to mind.
No wonder, master. But I will revive
His blunted memories. Sure he can recall
What time together both we drove our flocks,
He two, I one, on the Cithaeron range,
For three long summers; I his mate from spring
Till rose Arcturus; then in winter time
I led mine home, he h
a play in one-act
by Susan Glaspell
The following one-act play is reprinted from Trifles. Susan Glaspell. New York: Frank Shay, 1916. It is now in the public domain and may therefore be performed without royalties.
[The kitchen in the now abandoned farmhouse of JOHN WRIGHT, a gloomy kitchen, and left without having been put in order—unwashed pans under the sink, a loaf of bread outside the bread-box, a dish-towel on the table—other signs of incompleted work. At the rear the outer door opens and the SHERIFF comes in followed by the COUNTY ATTORNEY and HALE. The SHERIFF and HALE are men in middle life, the COUNTY ATTORNEY is a young man; all are much bundled up and go at once to the stove. They are followed by the two women—the SHERIFF’s wife first; she is a slight wiry woman, a thin nervous face. MRS HALE is larger and would ordinarily be called more comfortable looking, but she is disturbed now and looks fearfully about as she enters. The women have come in slowly, and stand close together near the door.]
COUNTY ATTORNEY: (rubbing his hands) This feels good. Come up to the fire, ladies.
MRS PETERS: (after taking a step forward) I’m not—cold.
SHERIFF: (unbuttoning his overcoat and stepping away from the stove as if to mark the beginning of official business) Now, Mr Hale, before we move things about, you explain to Mr Henderson just what you saw when you came here yesterday morning.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: By the way, has anything been moved? Are things just as you left them yesterday?
SHERIFF: (looking about) It’s just the same. When it dropped below zero last night I thought I’d better send Frank out this morning to make a fire for us—no use getting pneumonia with a big case on, but I told him not to touch anything except the stove—and you know Frank.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: Somebody should have been left here yesterday.
SHERIFF: Oh—yesterday. When I had to send Frank to Morris Center for that man who went crazy—I want you to know I had my hands full yesterday. I knew you could get back from Omaha by today and as long as I went over everything here myself—
COUNTY ATTORNEY: Well, Mr Hale, tell just what happened when you came here yesterday morning.
HALE: Harry and I had started to town with a load of potatoes. We came along the road from my place and as I got here I said, I’m going to see if I can’t get John Wright to go in with me on a party telephone.’ I spoke to Wright about it once before and he put me off, saying folks talked too much anyway, and all he asked was peace and quiet—I guess you know about how much he talked himself; but I thought maybe if I went to the house and talked about it before his wife, though I said to Harry that I didn’t know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John—
COUNTY ATTORNEY: Let’s talk about that later, Mr Hale. I do want to talk about that, but tell now just what happened when you got to the house.
HALE: I didn’t hear or see anything; I knocked at the door, and still it was all quiet inside. I knew they must be up, it was past eight o’clock. So I knocked again, and I thought I heard somebody say, ‘Come in.’ I wasn’t sure, I’m not sure yet, but I opened the door—this door (indicating the door by which the two women are still standing) and there in that rocker—(pointing to it) sat Mrs Wright.
[They all look at the rocker.]
COUNTY ATTORNEY: What—was she doing?
HALE: She was rockin’ back and forth. She had her apron in her hand and was kind of—pleating it.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: And how did she—look?
HALE: Well, she looked queer.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: How do you mean—queer?
HALE: Well, as if she didn’t know what she was going to do next. And kind of done up.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: How did she seem to feel about your coming?
HALE: Why, I don’t think she minded—one way or other. She didn’t pay much attention. I said, ‘How do, Mrs Wright it’s cold, ain’t it?’ And she said, ‘Is it?’—and went on kind of pleating at her apron. Well, I was surprised; she didn’t ask me to come up to the stove, or to set down, but just sat there, not even looking at me, so I said, ‘I want to see John.’ And then she—laughed. I guess you would call it a laugh. I thought of Harry and the team outside, so I said a little sharp: ‘Can’t I see John?’ ‘No’, she says, kind o’ dull like. ‘Ain’t he home?’ says I. ‘Yes’, says she, ‘he’s home’. ‘Then why can’t I see him?’ I asked her, out of patience. ”Cause he’s dead’, says she. ‘Dead?’ says I. She just nodded her head, not getting a bit excited, but rockin’ back and forth. ‘Why—where is he?’ says I, not knowing what to say. She just pointed upstairs—like that (himself pointing to the room above) I got up, with the idea of going up there. I walked from there to here—then I says, ‘Why, what did he die of?’ ‘He died of a rope round his neck’, says she, and just went on pleatin’ at her apron. Well, I went out and called Harry. I thought I might—need help. We went upstairs and there he was lyin’—
COUNTY ATTORNEY: I think I’d rather have you go into that upstairs, where you can point it all out. Just go on now with the rest of the story.
HALE: Well, my first thought was to get that rope off. It looked … (stops, his face twitches) … but Harry, he went up to him, and he said, ‘No, he’s dead all right, and we’d better not touch anything.’ So we went back down stairs. She was still sitting that same way. ‘Has anybody been notified?’ I asked. ‘No’, says she unconcerned. ‘Who did this, Mrs Wright?’ said Harry. He said it business-like—and she stopped pleatin’ of her apron. ‘I don’t know’, she says. ‘You don’t know?’ says Harry. ‘No’, says she. ‘Weren’t you sleepin’ in the bed with him?’ says Harry. ‘Yes’, says she, ‘but I was on the inside’. ‘Somebody slipped a rope round his neck and strangled him and you didn’t wake up?’ says Harry. ‘I didn’t wake up’, she said after him. We must ‘a looked as if we didn’t see how that could be, for after a minute she said, ‘I sleep sound’. Harry was going to ask her more questions but I said maybe we ought to let her tell her story first to the coroner, or the sheriff, so Harry went fast as he could to Rivers’ place, where there’s a telephone.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: And what did Mrs Wright do when she knew that you had gone for the coroner?
HALE: She moved from that chair to this one over here (pointing to a small chair in the corner) and just sat there with her hands held together and looking down. I got a feeling that I ought to make some conversation, so I said I had come in to see if John wanted to put in a telephone, and at that she started to laugh, and then she stopped and looked at me—scared, (the COUNTY ATTORNEY, who has had his notebook out, makes a note) I dunno, maybe it wasn’t scared. I wouldn’t like to say it was. Soon Harry got back, and then Dr Lloyd came, and you, Mr Peters, and so I guess that’s all I know that you don’t.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: (looking around) I guess we’ll go upstairs first—and then out to the barn and around there, (to the SHERIFF) You’re convinced that there was nothing important here—nothing that would point to any motive.
SHERIFF: Nothing here but kitchen things.
[The COUNTY ATTORNEY, after again looking around the kitchen, opens the door of a cupboard closet. He gets up on a chair and looks on a shelf. Pulls his hand away, sticky.]
COUNTY ATTORNEY: Here’s a nice mess.
[The women draw nearer.]
MRS PETERS: (to the other woman) Oh, her fruit; it did freeze, (to the LAWYER) She worried about that when it turned so cold. She said the fire’d go out and her jars would break.
SHERIFF: Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin’ about her preserves.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: I guess before we’re through she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about.
HALE: Well, women are used to worrying over trifles.
[The two women move a little closer together.]
COUNTY ATTORNEY: (with the gallantry of a young politician) And yet, for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies? (the women do not unbend. He goes to the sink, takes a dipperful of water from the pail and pouring it into a basin, washes his hands. Starts to wipe them on the roller-towel, turns it for a cleaner place) Dirty towels! (kicks his foot against the pans under the sink) Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?
MRS HALE: (stiffly) There’s a great deal of work to be done on a farm.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: To be sure. And yet (with a little bow to her) I know there are some Dickson county farmhouses which do not have such roller towels. (He gives it a pull to expose its length again.)
MRS HALE: Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men’s hands aren’t always as clean as they might be.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: Ah, loyal to your sex, I see. But you and Mrs Wright were neighbors. I suppose you were friends, too.
MRS HALE: (shaking her head) I’ve not seen much of her of late years. I’ve not been in this house—it’s more than a year.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: And why was that? You didn’t like her?
MRS HALE: I liked her all well enough. Farmers’ wives have their hands full, Mr Henderson. And then—
COUNTY ATTORNEY: Yes—?
MRS HALE: (looking about) It never seemed a very cheerful place.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: No—it’s not cheerful. I shouldn’t say she had the homemaking instinct.
MRS HALE: Well, I don’t know as Wright had, either.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: You mean that they didn’t get on very well?
MRS HALE: No, I don’t mean anything. But I don’t think a place’d be any cheerfuller for John Wright’s being in it.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: I’d like to talk more of that a little later. I want to get the lay of things upstairs now. (He goes to the left, where three steps lead to a stair door.)
SHERIFF: I suppose anything Mrs Peters does’ll be all right. She was to take in some clothes for her, you know, and a few little things. We left in such a hurry yesterday.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: Yes, but I would like to see what you take, Mrs Peters, and keep an eye out for anything that might be of use to us.
MRS PETERS: Yes, Mr Henderson.
[The women listen to the men’s steps on the stairs, then look about the kitchen.]
MRS HALE: I’d hate to have men coming into my kitchen, snooping around and criticising.
[She arranges the pans under sink which the LAWYER had shoved out of place.]
MRS PETERS: Of course it’s no more than their duty.
MRS HALE: Duty’s all right, but I guess that deputy sheriff that came out to make the fire might have got a little of this on. (gives the roller towel a pull) Wish I’d thought of that sooner. Seems mean to talk about her for not having things slicked up when she had to come away in such a hurry.
MRS PETERS: (who has gone to a small table in the left rear corner of the room, and lifted one end of a towel that covers a pan) She had bread set. (Stands still.)
MRS HALE: (eyes fixed on a loaf of bread beside the bread-box, which is on a low shelf at the other side of the room. Moves slowly toward it) She was going to put this in there, (picks up loaf, then abruptly drops it. In a manner of returning to familiar things) It’s a shame about her fruit. I wonder if it’s all gone. (gets up on the chair and looks) I think there’s some here that’s all right, Mrs Peters. Yes—here; (holding it toward the window)this is cherries, too. (looking again) I declare I believe that’s the only one. (gets down, bottle in her hand. Goes to the sink and wipes it off on the outside) She’ll feel awful bad after all her hard work in the hot weather. I remember the afternoon I put up my cherries last summer.
[She puts the bottle on the big kitchen table, center of the room. With a sigh, is about to sit down in the rocking-chair. Before she is seated realizes what chair it is; with a slow look at it, steps back. The chair which she has touched rocks back and forth.]
MRS PETERS: Well, I must get those things from the front room closet, (she goes to the door at the right, but after looking into the other room, steps back) You coming with me, Mrs Hale? You could help me carry them.
[They go in the other room; reappear, MRS PETERS carrying a dress and skirt, MRS HALE following with a pair of shoes.]
MRS PETERS: My, it’s cold in there.
[She puts the clothes on the big table, and hurries to the stove.]
MRS HALE: (examining the skirt) Wright was close. I think maybe that’s why she kept so much to herself. She didn’t even belong to the Ladies Aid. I suppose she felt she couldn’t do her part, and then you don’t enjoy things when you feel shabby. She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls singing in the choir. But that—oh, that was thirty years ago. This all you was to take in?
MRS PETERS: She said she wanted an apron. Funny thing to want, for there isn’t much to get you dirty in jail, goodness knows. But I suppose just to make her feel more natural. She said they was in the top drawer in this cupboard. Yes, here. And then her little shawl that always hung behind the door. (opens stair door and looks) Yes, here it is.
[Quickly shuts door leading upstairs.]
MRS HALE: (abruptly moving toward her) Mrs Peters?
MRS PETERS: Yes, Mrs Hale?
MRS HALE: Do you think she did it?
MRS PETERS: (in a frightened voice) Oh, I don’t know.
MRS HALE: Well, I don’t think she did. Asking for an apron and her little shawl. Worrying about her fruit.
MRS PETERS: (starts to speak, glances up, where footsteps are heard in the room above. In a low voice) Mr Peters says it looks bad for her. Mr Henderson is awful sarcastic in a speech and he’ll make fun of her sayin’ she didn’t wake up.
MRS HALE: Well, I guess John Wright didn’t wake when they was slipping that rope under his neck.
MRS PETERS: No, it’s strange. It must have been done awful crafty and still. They say it was such a—funny way to kill a man, rigging it all up like that.
MRS HALE: That’s just what Mr Hale said. There was a gun in the house. He says that’s what he can’t understand.
MRS PETERS: Mr Henderson said coming out that what was needed for the case was a motive; something to show anger, or—sudden feeling.
MRS HALE: (who is standing by the table) Well, I don’t see any signs of anger around here, (she puts her hand on the dish towel which lies on the table, stands looking down at table, one half of which is clean, the other half messy) It’s wiped to here, (makes a move as if to finish work, then turns and looks at loaf of bread outside the breadbox. Drops towel. In that voice of coming back to familiar things.) Wonder how they are finding things upstairs. I hope she had it a little more red-up up there. You know, it seems kind of sneaking. Locking her up in town and then coming out here and trying to get her own house to turn against her!
MRS PETERS: But Mrs Hale, the law is the law.
MRS HALE: I s’pose ’tis, (unbuttoning her coat) Better loosen up your things, Mrs Peters. You won’t feel them when you go out.
[MRS PETERS takes off her fur tippet, goes to hang it on hook at back of room, stands looking at the under part of the small corner table.]
MRS PETERS: She was piecing a quilt.
[She brings the large sewing basket and they look at the bright pieces.]
MRS HALE: It’s log cabin pattern. Pretty, isn’t it? I wonder if she was goin’ to quilt it or just knot it?
[Footsteps have been heard coming down the stairs. The SHERIFF enters followed by HALE and the COUNTY ATTORNEY.]
SHERIFF: They wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it!
[The men laugh, the women look abashed.]
COUNTY ATTORNEY: (rubbing his hands over the stove) Frank’s fire didn’t do much up there, did it? Well, let’s go out to the barn and get that cleared up. (The men go outside.)
MRS HALE: (resentfully) I don’t know as there’s anything so strange, our takin’ up our time with little things while we’re waiting for them to get the evidence. (she sits down at the big table smoothing out a block with decision) I don’t see as it’s anything to laugh about.
MRS PETERS: (apologetically) Of course they’ve got awful important things on their minds.
[Pulls up a chair and joins MRS HALE at the table.]
MRS HALE: (examining another block) Mrs Peters, look at this one. Here, this is the one she was working on, and look at the sewing! All the rest of it has been so nice and even. And look at this! It’s all over the place! Why, it looks as if she didn’t know what she was about!
[After she has said this they look at each other, then start to glance back at the door. After an instant MRS HALE has pulled at a knot and ripped the sewing.]
MRS PETERS: Oh, what are you doing, Mrs Hale?
MRS HALE: (mildly) Just pulling out a stitch or two that’s not sewed very good. (threading a needle) Bad sewing always made me fidgety.
MRS PETERS: (nervously) I don’t think we ought to touch things.
MRS HALE: I’ll just finish up this end. (suddenly stopping and leaning forward) Mrs Peters?
MRS PETERS: Yes, Mrs Hale?
MRS HALE: What do you suppose she was so nervous about?
MRS PETERS: Oh—I don’t know. I don’t know as she was nervous. I sometimes sew awful queer when I’m just tired. (MRS HALE starts to say something, looks at MRS PETERS, then goes on sewing) Well I must get these things wrapped up. They may be through sooner than we think, (putting apron and other things together) I wonder where I can find a piece of paper, and string.
MRS HALE: In that cupboard, maybe.
MRS PETERS: (looking in cupboard) Why, here’s a bird-cage, (holds it up) Did she have a bird, Mrs Hale?
MRS HALE: Why, I don’t know whether she did or not—I’ve not been here for so long. There was a man around last year selling canaries cheap, but I don’t know as she took one; maybe she did. She used to sing real pretty herself.
MRS PETERS: (glancing around) Seems funny to think of a bird here. But she must have had one, or why would she have a cage? I wonder what happened to it.
MRS HALE: I s’pose maybe the cat got it.
MRS PETERS: No, she didn’t have a cat. She’s got that feeling some people have about cats—being afraid of them. My cat got in her room and she was real upset and asked me to take it out.
MRS HALE: My sister Bessie was like that. Queer, ain’t it?
MRS PETERS: (examining the cage) Why, look at this door. It’s broke. One hinge is pulled apart.
MRS HALE: (looking too) Looks as if someone must have been rough with it.
MRS PETERS: Why, yes.
[She brings the cage forward and puts it on the table.]
MRS HALE: I wish if they’re going to find any evidence they’d be about it. I don’t like this place.
MRS PETERS: But I’m awful glad you came with me, Mrs Hale. It would be lonesome for me sitting here alone.
MRS HALE: It would, wouldn’t it? (dropping her sewing) But I tell you what I do wish, Mrs Peters. I wish I had come over sometimes when she was here. I—(looking around the room)—wish I had.
MRS PETERS: But of course you were awful busy, Mrs Hale—your house and your children.
MRS HALE: I could’ve come. I stayed away because it weren’t cheerful—and that’s why I ought to have come. I—I’ve never liked this place. Maybe because it’s down in a hollow and you don’t see the road. I dunno what it is, but it’s a lonesome place and always was. I wish I had come over to see Minnie Foster sometimes. I can see now—(shakes her head)
MRS PETERS: Well, you mustn’t reproach yourself, Mrs Hale. Somehow we just don’t see how it is with other folks until—something comes up.
MRS HALE: Not having children makes less work—but it makes a quiet house, and Wright out to work all day, and no company when he did come in. Did you know John Wright, Mrs Peters?
MRS PETERS: Not to know him; I’ve seen him in town. They say he was a good man.
MRS HALE: Yes—good; he didn’t drink, and kept his word as well as most, I guess, and paid his debts. But he was a hard man, Mrs Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him—(shivers) Like a raw wind that gets to the bone, (pauses, her eye falling on the cage) I should think she would ‘a wanted a bird. But what do you suppose went with it?
MRS PETERS: I don’t know, unless it got sick and died.
[She reaches over and swings the broken door, swings it again, both women watch it.]
MRS HALE: You weren’t raised round here, were you? (MRS PETERS shakes her head)You didn’t know—her?
MRS PETERS: Not till they brought her yesterday.
MRS HALE: She—come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself—real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and—fluttery. How—she—did—change. (silence; then as if struck by a happy thought and relieved to get back to everyday things) Tell you what, Mrs Peters, why don’t you take the quilt in with you? It might take up her mind.
MRS PETERS: Why, I think that’s a real nice idea, Mrs Hale. There couldn’t possibly be any objection to it, could there? Now, just what would I take? I wonder if her patches are in here—and her things.
[They look in the sewing basket.]
MRS HALE: Here’s some red. I expect this has got sewing things in it. (brings out a fancy box) What a pretty box. Looks like something somebody would give you. Maybe her scissors are in here. (Opens box. Suddenly puts her hand to her nose) Why—(MRS PETERS bends nearer, then turns her face away) There’s something wrapped up in this piece of silk.
MRS PETERS: Why, this isn’t her scissors.
MRS HALE: (lifting the silk) Oh, Mrs Peters—it’s—
[MRS PETERS bends closer.]
MRS PETERS: It’s the bird.
MRS HALE: (jumping up) But, Mrs Peters—look at it! It’s neck! Look at its neck! It’s all—other side to.
MRS PETERS: Somebody—wrung—its—neck.
[Their eyes meet. A look of growing comprehension, of horror. Steps are heard outside. MRS HALE slips box under quilt pieces, and sinks into her chair. Enter SHERIFF and COUNTY ATTORNEY. MRS PETERS rises.]
COUNTY ATTORNEY: (as one turning from serious things to little pleasantries) Well ladies, have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it?
MRS PETERS: We think she was going to—knot it.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: Well, that’s interesting, I’m sure. (seeing the birdcage) Has the bird flown?
MRS HALE: (putting more quilt pieces over the box) We think the—cat got it.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: (preoccupied) Is there a cat?
[MRS HALE glances in a quick covert way at MRS PETERS.]
MRS PETERS: Well, not now. They’re superstitious, you know. They leave.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: (to SHERIFF PETERS, continuing an interrupted conversation)No sign at all of anyone having come from the outside. Their own rope. Now let’s go up again and go over it piece by piece. (they start upstairs) It would have to have been someone who knew just the—
[MRS PETERS sits down. The two women sit there not looking at one another, but as if peering into something and at the same time holding back. When they talk now it is in the manner of feeling their way over strange ground, as if afraid of what they are saying, but as if they can not help saying it.]
MRS HALE: She liked the bird. She was going to bury it in that pretty box.
MRS PETERS: (in a whisper) When I was a girl—my kitten—there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes—and before I could get there—(covers her face an instant)If they hadn’t held me back I would have—(catches herself, looks upstairs where steps are heard, falters weakly)—hurt him.
MRS HALE: (with a slow look around her) I wonder how it would seem never to have had any children around, (pause) No, Wright wouldn’t like the bird—a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too.
MRS PETERS: (moving uneasily) We don’t know who killed the bird.
MRS HALE: I knew John Wright.
MRS PETERS: It was an awful thing was done in this house that night, Mrs Hale. Killing a man while he slept, slipping a rope around his neck that choked the life out of him.
MRS HALE: His neck. Choked the life out of him.
[Her hand goes out and rests on the bird-cage.]
MRS PETERS: (with rising voice) We don’t know who killed him. We don’t know.
MRS HALE: (her own feeling not interrupted) If there’d been years and years of nothing, then a bird to sing to you, it would be awful—still, after the bird was still.
MRS PETERS: (something within her speaking) I know what stillness is. When we homesteaded in Dakota, and my first baby died—after he was two years old, and me with no other then—
MRS HALE: (moving) How soon do you suppose they’ll be through, looking for the evidence?
MRS PETERS: I know what stillness is. (pulling herself back) The law has got to punish crime, Mrs Hale.
MRS HALE: (not as if answering that) I wish you’d seen Minnie Foster when she wore a white dress with blue ribbons and stood up there in the choir and sang. (a look around the room) Oh, I wish I’d come over here once in a while! That was a crime! That was a crime! Who’s going to punish that?
MRS PETERS: (looking upstairs) We mustn’t—take on.
MRS HALE: I might have known she needed help! I know how things can be—for women. I tell you, it’s queer, Mrs Peters. We live close together and we live far apart. We all go through the same things—it’s all just a different kind of the same thing, (brushes her eyes, noticing the bottle of fruit, reaches out for it) If I was you, I wouldn’t tell her her fruit was gone. Tell her it ain’t. Tell her it’s all right. Take this in to prove it to her. She—she may never know whether it was broke or not.
MRS PETERS: (takes the bottle, looks about for something to wrap it in; takes petticoat from the clothes brought from the other room, very nervously begins winding this around the bottle. In a false voice) My, it’s a good thing the men couldn’t hear us. Wouldn’t they just laugh! Getting all stirred up over a little thing like a—dead canary. As if that could have anything to do with—with—wouldn’t they laugh!
[The men are heard coming down stairs.]
MRS HALE: (under her breath) Maybe they would—maybe they wouldn’t.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: No, Peters, it’s all perfectly clear except a reason for doing it. But you know juries when it comes to women. If there was some definite thing. Something to show—something to make a story about—a thing that would connect up with this strange way of doing it—
[The women’s eyes meet for an instant. Enter HALE from outer door.]
HALE: Well, I’ve got the team around. Pretty cold out there.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: I’m going to stay here a while by myself, (to the SHERIFF) You can send Frank out for me, can’t you? I want to go over everything. I’m not satisfied that we can’t do better.
SHERIFF: Do you want to see what Mrs Peters is going to take in?
[The LAWYER goes to the table, picks up the apron, laughs.]
COUNTY ATTORNEY: Oh, I guess they’re not very dangerous things the ladies have picked out. (Moves a few things about, disturbing the quilt pieces which cover the box. Steps back) No, Mrs Peters doesn’t need supervising. For that matter, a sheriff’s wife is married to the law. Ever think of it that way, Mrs Peters?
MRS PETERS: Not—just that way.
SHERIFF: (chuckling) Married to the law. (moves toward the other room) I just want you to come in here a minute, George. We ought to take a look at these windows.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: (scoffingly) Oh, windows!
SHERIFF: We’ll be right out, Mr Hale.
[HALE goes outside. The SHERIFF follows the COUNTY ATTORNEY into the other room. Then MRS HALE rises, hands tight together, looking intensely at MRS PETERS, whose eyes make a slow turn, finally meeting MRS HALE’s. A moment MRS HALE holds her, then her own eyes point the way to where the box is concealed. Suddenly MRS PETERS throws back quilt pieces and tries to put the box in the bag she is wearing. It is too big. She opens box, starts to take bird out, cannot touch it, goes to pieces, stands there helpless. Sound of a knob turning in the other room. MRS HALE snatches the box and puts it in the pocket of her big coat. Enter COUNTY ATTORNEY and SHERIFF.]
COUNTY ATTORNEY: (facetiously) Well, Henry, at least we found out that she was not going to quilt it. She was going to—what is it you call it, ladies?
MRS HALE: (her hand against her pocket) We call it—knot it, Mr Henderson.