Sarah J. Thompson
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?
Theatre of Displacement