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Authors: Helen Macinnes

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BOOK: Home is the Hunter
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(He pauses for a second.)

Why! That’s not bad, not bad at all. I’ll try to remember that one. It isn’t in my meter, though. Pity... Ah well... Penelope, haven’t you ever dreamed of such an island? Most of us want a magic island, just now and again.

PENELOPE

(Bursting into tears, and throwing herself on his breast)

Oh, Homer, I’m so miserable!

(He tries to comfort her, clasping her awkwardly.)

You don’t know what it’s like to wait and wait and wonder if your husband will ever come back to you. Or, when he does, if he still loves you.

HOMER

He loves you. He’s coming home, isn’t he?

PENELOPE

(Drawing away, and in control of herself again)

Is he coming home because he loves me? Or is he tired of seeing the world and wouldn’t it be nice to relax with quiet, sweet, gentle, kind Penelope for a while? That’s not good enough!

HOMER

Penelope!

PENELOPE

You don’t believe me? Oh, Homer, how blind you are!

(She begins to laugh.)

HOMER

(Sharply)

This is no laughing matter. Do you know what you’re doing? You’re ruining
The Odyssey.

(He strides angrily to the frame.)

Yes, I’ve composed one of the best passages I’ve ever done— about you, sitting here, day by day, weaving at your loom. And you took up embroidery, instead. Oh, I should never have made a poem about a woman.

PENELOPE

(Subdued)

I didn’t mean to ruin anything.

HOMER

You know I pride myself on the accuracy of my details—whether it’s the wine-red sea at sunset; the mountain lion crouching on a jagged crag; or Helen, on the ramparts of Troy, walking in beauty like the night... And
you
had to go and embroider!

PENELOPE

(Helpfully)

But you could change—

HOMER

Change what I have composed? Not one word, not one image!

PENELOPE

Well—if anyone ever says you’ve been inaccurate about me, just blame it on your pupils who don’t copy you correctly.

(Pause)

Homer, where’s your sense of humour? Lost it? And I always loved it most of all.

(
HOMER
,
who has been frowning at the ground, looks up

startled, as
PENELOPE
’s voice changes to unhappiness and entreaty.)

Oh, I’m so
tired
of doing what everyone expects me to do... You’ve made
me
a prisoner, all of you. You’ve all got your fixed ideas of what I ought to be. Clia believes that Ulysses’ wife must be brave and eternally hopeful. Telemachus thinks it is quite natural that I should live a dull, dreary life—mothers aren’t supposed to be young or human! Even Amaryllis takes it for granted that I’m too old to envy the laughter and singing that I can hear from the Hall, night after night. “Noble Penelope,” you all say, “sweet Penelope. Of course we can depend on you.” Flattering? Yes. And there’s no snare so insidious as that of flattery. Little by little, I’ve become a prisoner of my own vanity, with all of you looking at me admiringly as you tighten the knots around me. But I want to be free. I want to be Penelope again, before she is completely trapped.

(Silence complete)

HOMER

(Coming to
PENELOPE
,
putting his arm around her shoulder)

My dear Penelope.

PENELOPE

(Dejectedly)

Now I
have
ruined
The Odyssey.

HOMER

(Gently)

No... No... You’ve altered nothing, nothing that is essential.

PENELOPE

But I’ve so little patience; and I’m frightened and heartsick. And I’m so bad at weaving—that’s really why I changed to embroidery.

HOMER

Trivia, trivia—all of them. The main thing is: you love Odysseus.

PENELOPE

Yes, but I can’t help that.

HOMER

And you’ve been loyal to him.

PENELOPE

Because I’m in love with him. That isn’t being noble... that’s just being logical.

HOMER

(Smiling)

Is it?... Then it’s such strong logic that all those little things you worry about don’t really matter very much. They are only bitterness that comes from lonely nights. The moment you see Odysseus—you’ll forget all that. And what then remains? The simple truths of loyalty and love—the essentials that make you what you really are.

PENELOPE

I still feel I’ve got into your poem under false pretences.

HOMER

Do you think I judge a man or a woman by the little things? There’s more to a human being than words and arguments, laughter and tears. A man with high courage can know fear. A man who loves may know bitterness. A man who keeps faith can have moments of doubts. Do we add up the fears, the bitterness, the doubts, and make them our answer? Or do we see the courage, the faith, the love that has kept him—in spite of every attack—from being a coward and traitor? Penelope, Penelope... what do you admire in a tree? Only the pretty leaves? Leaves wither and fall. Or do you praise the branches and admire their strength? They too can fall. But what about the roots? If they are good, the tree will ride out every storm, and bloom each new spring.

PENELOPE

(Shaking her head)

You make me seem better than I am. You ought to have chosen a heroine who wouldn’t have disappointed you.

HOMER

Where would I have found her? I wanted a symbol of loyalty and love. I chose you.

(He begins to pick up his cloak, his harp.)

Your story is what I needed. I needed? It is what we all need.

(He touches her shoulder, and leaves abruptly.)

PENELOPE

(Walking slowly downstage, and wiping away a little tear)

So, I’m a symbol.

(She half smiles.)

Why couldn’t he have left me just a woman? But no—I’m a symbol... Well, what is a symbol supposed to do now?

(Suddenly angry)

Welcome her wandering husband with a smile? A
symbolic
smile?

(As suddenly miserable)

Athena! Help me... In the name of Reason, what should I do?

(The goddess
ATHENA
comes through the wall and stands watching
PENELOPE
.
She remains invisible to all the mortals in this story, but when she addresses them, her voice speaks in their minds. And so now,
PENELOPE
is not aware of
ATHENA
,
and her answers to
ATHENA
are spoken as a monologue rather than as replies to
ATHENA
’s interruptions.
ATHENA
,
in flowing white, is calm and cool. She speaks with wry humour in her voice.)

ATHENA

It’s about time you called me.

PENELOPE

I need advice.

ATHENA

Delighted as always... But if I give it, will you take it?

PENELOPE

Hear me, Athena! I’ve prayed to you all these years...

ATHENA

I’ve brought your husband back to Ithaca, haven’t I?

PENELOPE

And now Ulysses is here; and Homer expects me to be the sweet, understanding wife. No tears. No questions. That’s hard to do... Is it even fair?

ATHENA

Let’s just call it reasonable.

PENELOPE

It
isn’t
reasonable. It’s the last straw. That’s all.

ATHENA

Hold on there! Who’s the expert on Reason, anyway? You or I?

PENELOPE

Or is it reasonable?... After all, I
want
Ulysses. Tears and reproaches might drive him away.

ATHENA

He never found them fascinating.

PENELOPE

But boredom could also drive him away.

ATHENA

He doesn’t plan to be bored, my sweet.

PENELOPE

Why—Homer’s picture of Penelope bored even me!

ATHENA

Look, you’re arguing in circles. Do you love Ulysses or don’t you?

PENELOPE

Ulysses is all my life. If he has come home only from a sense of duty, of decency, of pity—I think I’d die.

ATHENA

Will you stop being so emotional? Or you’ll drive
me
away. As you did this morning when you enticed those men to stay.

PENELOPE

Oh...

ATHENA

And don’t blame me. Reason had nothing to do with you this morning. Impulse, instinct, that’s what it was. Why
did
you do it? To punish Ulysses? For what?

PENELOPE

Taking all these years to travel home... Calypso and her silly island... And when he does get here, he slinks ashore and hides. Why? Doesn’t he trust me?... That hurts. That hurts deeply. And yet—athena

(Turning to the audience)

This is known as woman’s logic. Interesting, isn’t it?

PENELOPE

—and yet—I don’t want to hurt him. All I want him to prove is that he is willing to fight for me, because he loves me.

ATHENA

And you never thought of punishing him, just a little? You never thought of making him jealous? Now, Penelope, be quite frank with yourself!

PENELOPE

(Stamping her foot)

Did he expect to walk into our Hall, and I was to say, “Ulysses, darling! You’re late for dinner; shall I scramble you some eggs”?

ATHENA

So instead, you prepared eleven swords to point at his throat.

PENELOPE

No, no, no... I have other ideas. He won’t even have to fight those men! I’ll arrange a contest, a contest that Ulysses is bound to win. I want him to remember this home-coming forever. I want this day to be the climax of all his adventures.

ATHENA

He was always a man for a climax. Good, Penelope. Very good. Now I’m with you. Jealousy is a mean, emotional business that I leave to Venus when she’s spited. But to teach a man the reality of true values—yes, there I’m with you. Teaching is my favourite profession, even if it’s underpaid.

PENELOPE

Ulysses will stay here... never leave me again...

ATHENA

Certainly, he’d never risk another home-coming like this one. Only, be sure you plan your contest well. Plan
very
well. And I’ll do my part: I’ll get him here, today.

PENELOPE

(Sighing)

Homer would never approve of all this. But I did try to tell him I wasn’t really a heroine. I’m just a woman who’s married to a hero, that’s all. It frightens me, when I think of it. The greatest hero of the whole Trojan War, and he’s married to Penelope!... Now stop this, Penelope, stop it! He’s coming home, isn’t he? So keep him.

(She moves quickly upstage toward the bedroom.)

What dress shall I wear? Shall I braid my hair, or leave it loose?

(Her voice fades as she enters the bedroom, leaving the door slightly ajar.)

ATHENA

Call me when you make up your mind.

(To the audience)

I do get so tired hovering around while you human beings decide—will you, won’t you, will you, perhaps, maybe. I feel like an equation, waiting to be solved.

(She is walking round the room as she speaks, and now she stops to look at the embroidery on the frame.)

Hm! You probably can’t see this from where you’re sitting, but I think that’s just as well. Frankly, it’s terrible!

(She shudders and comes well downstage.)

Poor Penelope, she really
has
suffered—whoever told her she could embroider? It certainly wasn’t the Goddess of Reason.

(
PENELOPE
is heard singing “Mrs. Porter.”
ATHENA
,
hand on hip, taps her foot.)

She’s got five dresses out now, wondering which to choose. As if Ulysses will look at the dress! Why don’t we give her ten minutes to change her mind several times? Then we can get on with Act Two.

(
ATHENA
,
now downstage centre, looks around the audience.)

Ten minutes?

(She smiles and nods agreement. She gestures to the wings, and the curtains close obediently.)

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