MEDEA

A new version in English of Euripedes’ Medea, Jean-Claude van Itallie directed a staged reading at Amherst College, Amherst Massachusetts with Nancy Cooperstein Charney as Medea, George Reinholt as Jason, Rosemary Quinn as the Nurse, and van Itallie as the Messenger. This version of Medea received its first production at Kent State University, Kent, Ohio (1981?).

EXCERPT MEDEA

I've been waiting,

And now it comes.

I see the messenger running,

A servant of Jason's, out of breath.

      MESSENGER

Run, outlaw, run.

Take a chariot, fly, sail, escape, Woman.

MEDEA

What has happened? Tell me.

What is there to escape from?

MESSENGER

The princess is dead, The King is dead,

And by your poison.

MEDEA

You speak wonderful words to me.

Now and forever you are my friend.

MESSENGER

Do you know what you're saying? Are you crazy?

You've killed the King, you've killed the princess,

And this makes you happy?

You're not frightened?

MEDEA

Tell me how they died,

And take your time, my friend.

Did they suffer much?

It will please me more if they did.

Tell me everything.

MESSENGER

When your children came to the house we were happy,

We servants who had been through so much with you and Jason.

We had heard that now you and your husband were friends again.

And we kissed your children's hands, and their hair.

And I, because I was so happy, followed them into the women's

   part of the house.

The new mistress was glad to see Jason,

But when she saw your children she turned away.

Jason said: "Don't be an enemy to my children.

Treat them as your own children for my sake.

Accept these gifts,

And persuade your father to allow the children to stay with us."

When the princess saw what you'd sent,

She couldn't resist.

She said she would do as he asked.

As soon as the children and Jason were gone

She put on the crown and the robe

And looked at herself in the mirror.

Then she walked through the house in bare feet,

Pointing her toes this way and that to show off the drapery.

Then something terrible began to happen.

The color of her skin began to change.

She started to move sideways from left to right, from right to left,

Then forward and backward,

Her limbs trembling.

She barely managed to fall into a chair.

An old serving woman thought she was suffering epilepsy.

But when she saw white foam running out of the princess' mouth,

And her eyeballs rolling up in their sockets,

She shrieked for Jason.

The house became noisy with the sound of running feet.

But already the end was near.

The princess woke from her faint screaming horribly.

She was in pain in two places --

The gold crown on her head was sending down a sheet of fire,

And the clinging cloth of your dress was dissolving her flesh.

She jumped out of the chair, burning,

Tossing her hair back and forth,

Trying to rip off the crown.

But it held fast, and shaking her hair only made it burn more.

She fell to the ground, overcome.

Only a parent would have recognized her.

You couldn't tell anymore where her eyes were in her face.

Her features were blurred.

Blood from the top of her head mixed with the fire.

Her flesh peeled off her bones like the bark off pine trees,

Clawed by the invisible hands of the poison.

It was horrible to see.

No one dared to touch the body.

But her poor father, not knowing what had happened,

Came into the room and fell on the corpse, kissing it,

Crying out, "My child, what God has struck you?

Who has orphaned my grave?

Oh, my child, let me die with you."

And, after wailing, when the old man tried to lift his body,

It stuck fast to the corpse.

Like ivy clinging to shoots of laurel,

It clung to the folds of her robe.

And that became a gruesome wrestling match!

He tried to get up on his knees, but she held him back.

He tried force, but she pulled the old flesh from his bones.

And then, in a short time, he stopped breathing.

Then there was no more suffering.

The corpses are lying there still,

The old father and the child,

Which is what he had asked for.

That's all.

I won't be in your way.

I'm sure you'll know how to escape.

I have always known that human life is only a shadow,

That often those who seem to have everything

Die most foolishly.

No life is happy.

One person may be luckier than another, or richer,

But no life is happy.

Unpublished.

2021©  Jean-Claude van Itallie—All rights reserved