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How Sweet Are Tears: The Uses of Lamentation in The Trojan Women and Queens of Syria.

Sarah J. Thompson

University of California, Davis

Casey Dué  argues  that  in  tragedy,  generally speaking,  “lament  is  the  only medium through which women have  a  sanctioned public  voice, the  one  weapon they have  with which to defend themselves  in desperate  circumstances”  (16). In  The  Trojan Women, however, lamentation cannot  protect  the  women. While  it  may have  other functions  in other tragedies, Dué claims  that  “there  is  nothing to be  gained by the  use  of  lament  in this  play other than the  pity of the  hearers”  (139). Who are  the  hearers:  the  male  characters, the  other women, the  audience?  I argue  that  while  it  may indeed arouse  pity in any of  these  hearers, lamentation has  other functions  in this  play for the  lamenters  themselves. In this  paper, I examine  movement  and vocalization  in  The  Trojan Women  as  tools  for surviving trauma  and moving through  pain. What does  it  do to the  body to sing or cry out  in grief?  How  might  it  provide  a  link between the  self and the  community?  What  might  it  do in a  theatre  space, between performers, between performers  and  spectators, between spectators?  How  does  this  lamentation build a  bridge between us  —  or does  it? 

In today’s  world,  The  Trojan Women  has  been used as  a  tool  of  lamentation, providing a “sanctioned public  voice”  for refugees. In 2016, a  group of  Syrian refugee  women toured the U.K. with the  production  Queens  of  Syria. This  production wove  together text  from  Euripides’ Trojan Women, translated into Arabic, with the  personal  stories  of  the  performers. I will  examine how  this  production utilized  The  Trojan Women  both as  a  dramatic  text  and as  a  strategic  tool  to make  U.K. spectators  listen  to refugee  women. Promotional  materials  indicated that  this production was  an opportunity for U.K. spectators  to bear witness  to the  experiences  of  the performers, to attend to the  “Syrian crisis”  or the  “refugee  crisis”  in an embodied manner. Talthybius  and his  text  were  absent  from  the  performance. I suggest  that  this  absence  opened up the  possibility for spectators  to occupy the  role  of  Talthybius, the  privileged outsider who witnesses  the  trauma  of  others. Talthybius  thus  provides  a  model  for the  spectator of  what Patrick Duggan has  called  trauma-tragedy. Like  Talthybius, spectators  of  Queens  of  Syria  who did not  share  the  experiences  of  the  performers  might  find themselves  moved.  But  does  this feeling of  being  “moved”  on the  part  of  the  spectator help  the  performers  who have  experienced trauma?  What  does  lamentation do for those  lamenting, and what  does  it  do for those  listening?

Session/Panel Title

Theatre of Displacement

Session/Paper Number

85.5

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