A play by Philip Moeller
Tags: librarians broadway Helena's Husband helen of troy
Added: 5 months ago
It's a tale told throughout the ages.
Menelaus, king of Sparta, is married to the most beautiful woman in the world.
But when she runs off with the prince of Troy, he is hesitant to take action.
In order to seek vengeance, he must turn to ... the royal librarian?
a historical comedy in one-act
by Philip Moeller
[From Washington Square Plays. New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1922]
In the temple-like room of Helen of Troy, Paris met and fell in love with the wife of the King of Sparta.
Helena's Husband is a curious little play set in ancient Greece, depicting Helena's departure with Paris for Troy, leaving her husband Menelaus behind.
King Menelaus's librarian, the aged Analytikos, urges Menelaus to vengeance and war in the wake of Helena's faithlessness. The last speech in the play belongs to Analytikos, who rallies the Spartan masses with hatred of the Trojans as the peace-loving Menelaus cringes in a corner at the frenzied cheers of the blood-thirsty crowd.
[ANALYTIKOS comes in from the library.]
ANALYTIKOS. Your Majesty, are we to read no longer to-day?
HELENA. I have something to say to the King. [ANALYTIKOS goes toward the library. MENELAUS anxiously stops him.]
MENELAUS. No. Stay here. You are a wise man and will understand the wisdom of the Queen.
ANALYTIKOS [bowing to HELENA]. Helena is wise as she is beautiful.
MENELAUS. She is attempting to prove to me in a thousand words that she's a silent woman.
ANALYTIKOS. Women are seldom silent. [HELENA resents this.] Their beauty is forever speaking for them.
HELENA. The years have, indeed, taught you wisdom. [TSUMU enters.]
TSUMU. The almond water awaits Your Majesty.
HELENA. I hope you haven't forgotten the chiropodist.
TSUMU. He has been commanded but he's always late. He's so busy.
HELENA [in a purring tone to MENELAUS]. Moo Moo.
[MENELAUS, bored, turns away.]
HELENA [to TSUMU]. I think after all I'll wear my Sicily blue.
[She and TSUMU go into the QUEEN'S apartment.]
ANALYTIKOS. Shall we go back to the library?
MENELAUS. My mind is unhinged again -- that woman with her endless protestations.
ANALYTIKOS. I am sorry the poets no longer divert you.
MENELAUS. A little poetry is always too much.
ANALYTIKOS. To-morrow we will try the historians.
MENELAUS. No! Not the historians. I want the truth for a change.
ANALYTIKOS. The truth!
MENELAUS. Where in books can I find escape from the grim reality of being hitched for life to such a wife? Bah!
ANALYTIKOS. Philosophy teaches ----
MENELAUS. Why have the Gods made woman necessary to man, and made them fools?
ANALYTIKOS. For seventy years I have been resolving the problem of woman and even at my age ----
MENELAUS. Give it up, old man. The answer is -- don't.
ANALYTIKOS. Such endless variety, and yet ----
MENELAUS [with the conviction of finality]. There are only two sorts of women! Those who are failures and those who realize it.
ANALYTIKOS. Is not Penelope, the model wife of your cousin Ulysses, an exception?
MENELAUS. Duty is the refuge of the unbeautiful. She is as commonplace as she is ugly. [And then with deep bitterness.] Why didn't he marry Helen when we all wanted her? He was too wise for that. He is the only man I've ever known who seems able to direct destiny.
ANALYTIKOS. You should not blame the Gods for a lack of will.
MENELAUS [shouting]. Will! Heaven knows I do not lack the will to rid myself of this painted puppet, but where is the instrument ready to my hand?
[At this moment a SHEPHERD of Apollonian beauty leaps across the rail of the balcony and bounds into the room. MENELAUS and ANALYTIKOS start back in amazement.]
ANALYTIKOS. Who are you?
PARIS. An adventurer.
ANALYTIKOS. Then you have reached the end of your story. In a moment you will die.
PARIS. I have no faith in prophets.
ANALYTIKOS. The soldiers of the King will give you faith. Don't you know that it means death for any man to enter the apartments of the Queen?
PARIS [looking from one to the other]. Oh! So you're a couple of eunuchs.
[Though nearly eighty this is too much for ANALYTIKOS to bear. He rushes to call the guards, but MENELAUS stops him.]
PARIS [to ANALYTIKOS]. Thanks.
ANALYTIKOS. You thank me for telling you your doom?
PARIS. No -- for convincing me that I'm where I want to be. It's taken me a long while, but I knew I'd get here. [And then very intimately to MENELAUS.] Where's the Queen?
MENELAUS. Where do you come from?
PARIS. From the hills. I had come down into the market-place to sell my sheep. I had my hood filled with apples. They were golden-red like a thousand sunsets.
MENELAUS [annoyed]. You might skip those bucolic details.
PARIS. At the fair I met three ancient gypsies.
MENELAUS. What have they to do with you coming here?
PARIS. You don't seem very patient. Can't I tell my story in my own way? They asked me for the apple I was eating and I asked them what they'd give for it.
MENELAUS. I'm not interested in market quotations.
PARIS. You take everything so literally. I'm sure you're easily bored.
MENELAUS [with meaning]. I am.
PARIS [going on cheerfully]. The first was to give me all the money she could beg, and the second was to tell me all the truth she could learn by listening, and the third promised me a pretty girl. So I chose ---- [He hesitates.]
ANALYTIKOS. You cannot escape by spinning out your tale.
PARIS. Death is the end of one story and the beginning of another.
MENELAUS. Well! Well! Come to the point. Which did you choose?
PARIS [smiling]. Well, you see I'd been in the hills for a long while, so I picked the girl.
ANALYTIKOS. It would have been better for you if you had chosen wisdom.
PARIS. I knew you'd say that.
ANALYTIKOS. I have spoken truly. In a moment you will die.
PARIS. It is because the old have forgotten life that they preach wisdom.
MENELAUS. So you chose the girl? Well, go on.
PARIS. This made the other cronies angry, and when I tossed her the apple one of the others yelped at me: "You may as well seek the Queen of Sparta: she is the fairest of women." And as I turned away I heard their laughter, but the words had set my heart aflame and though it costs me my life, I'll follow the adventure.
ANALYTIKOS [scandalized]. Haven't we heard enough of this?
MENELAUS [deeply]. No! I want to hear how the story ends. It may amuse the King. [He makes a sign to ANALYTIKOS.]
PARIS. And on the ship at night I looked long at the stars and dreamed of possessing Helen. [ANALYTIKOS makes an involuntary movement toward the balcony but MENELAUS stops him.] Desire has been my guiding Mercury; the Fates are with me, and here I am!
ANALYTIKOS. The wrath of the King will show you no mercy.
PARIS [nonchalantly]. I'm not afraid of the King. He's fat, and -- a fool.
ANALYTIKOS. Shall I call the guards? [MENELAUS stops him.]
MENELAUS [very significantly]. So you would give your life for a glimpse of the Queen?
PARIS [swiftly]. Yes! My immortal soul, and if the fables tell the truth, the sight will be worth the forfeit.
MENELAUS [suddenly jumping up]. It shall be as you wish!
PARIS [buoyantly]. Venus has smiled on me.
MENELAUS. In there beyond the library you will find a room with a bath. Wait there till I call you.
PARIS. Is this some trick to catch me?
MENELAUS. A Spartan cannot lie.
PARIS. What will happen to you if the King hears of this?
MENELAUS. I will answer for the king. Go.
[PARIS exits into the library.]
ANALYTIKOS [rubbing his hands]. Shall I order the boiling oil?
MENELAUS [surprised]. Oil?
ANALYTIKOS. Now that he is being cleaned for the sacrifice.
MENELAUS. His torture will be greater than being boiled alive.
ANALYTIKOS [eagerly]. You'll have him hurled from the walls of the palace to a forest of waiting spears below?
MENELAUS. None is so blind as he who sees too much.
ANALYTIKOS. Your Majesty is subtle in his cruelty.
MENELAUS. Haven't the years taught you the cheapness of revenge?
ANALYTIKOS [mystified]. You do not intend to alter destiny.
MENELAUS. Never before has destiny been so clear to me.
ANALYTIKOS. Then the boy must die.
MENELAUS [with slow determination]. No! He has been sent by the Gods to save me!
ANALYTIKOS. Your majesty! [He is trembling with apprehension.]
MENELAUS [with unbudgeable conviction]. Helena must elope with him!
ANALYTIKOS [falling into a seat]. Ye Gods!
MENELAUS [quickly]. I couldn't divorce the Queen. That would set a bad example.
ANALYTIKOS. Yes, very.
MENELAUS. I couldn't desert her. That would be beneath my honor.
ANALYTIKOS [deeply]. Was there no other way?
MENELAUS [pompously]. The King can do no wrong, and besides I hate the smell of blood. Are you a prophet as well as a scholar? Will she go?
ANALYTIKOS. To-night I will read the stars.
MENELAUS [meaningfully]. By to-night I'll not need you to tell me. [ANALYTIKOS sits deep in thought.] Well?
ANALYTIKOS. Ethics cite no precedent.
MENELAUS. Do you mean to say I'm not justified?
ANALYTIKOS [cogitating]. Who can establish the punctilious ratio between necessity and desire?
MENELAUS [beginning to fume]. This is no time for language. Just put yourself in my place.
ANALYTIKOS. Being you, how can I judge as I?
MENELAUS [losing control]. May you choke on your dialectics! Zeus himself could have stood it no longer.
ANALYTIKOS. Have you given her soul a chance to grow?
MENELAUS. Her soul, indeed! It's shut in her rouge pot. [He has been strutting about. Suddenly he sits down crushing a roll of papyrus. He takes it up and in utter disgust reads.] "The perfect hip, its development and permanence." Bah! [He flings it to the floor.] I've done what I had to do, and Gods grant the bait may be sweet enough to catch the Queen.
ANALYTIKOS. If you had diverted yourself with a war or two you might have forgotten your troubles at home.
MENELAUS [frightened]. I detest dissension of any kind -- my dream was perpetual peace in comfortable domesticity with a womanly woman to warm my sandals.
ANALYTIKOS. Is not the Queen ----?
MENELAUS. No! No! The whole world is but her mirror. And I'm expected to face that woman every morning at breakfast for the rest of my life, and by Venus that's more than even a King can bear!
ANALYTIKOS. Even a King cannot alter destiny. I warn you, whom the Gods have joined together ----
MENELAUS [in an outburst]. Is for man to break asunder!
ANALYTIKOS [deeply shocked]. You talk like an atheist.
MENELAUS. I never allow religion to interfere with life. Go call the victim and see that he be left alone with the Queen. [MENELAUS exits and ANALYTIKOS goes over to the door of the library and summons PARIS, who enters clad in a gorgeous robe.]
PARIS. I found this in there. It looks rather well, doesn't it? Ah! So you're alone. I suppose that stupid friend of yours has gone to tell the King. When do I see the Queen?
ANALYTIKOS. At once. [He goes to the door of the QUEEN'S apartment and claps his hand. TSUMU enters and at the sight of her PARIS recoils the full length of the room.]
PARIS. I thought the Queen was a blonde!
ANALYTIKOS. Tell Her Majesty a stranger awaits her here. [TSUMU exits, her eyes wide on PARIS.] You should thank the Gods for this moment.
PARIS [his eyes on the door]. You do it for me. I can never remember all their names.
[HELENA enters clad in her Sicily blue, crowned with a garland of golden flowers. She and PARIS stand riveted, looking at each other. Their attitude might be described as fatalistic. ANALYTIKOS watches them for a moment and then with hands and head lifted to heaven he goes into the library.]
HELENA [gloriously]. My prince of poetry. My deliverer!
PARIS [divinely]. My queen of love!
[They go out, TSUMU looking after them in speechless amazement. Suddenly she sees the papyrus on the shield, runs over and reads it and then rushes to the door of the library.]
TSUMU [calling]. Analytikos. [She hides the purse in her bosom. ANALYTIKOS enters, scroll in hand.]
ANALYTIKOS. Has the Queen summoned me?
TSUMU [mysteriously]. A terrible thing has happened.
ANALYTIKOS. What's the matter?
TSUMU. Where's the King?
ANALYTIKOS. In the library.
TSUMU. I have news more precious than the gold of Midas.
ANALYTIKOS [giving her a purse]. Well! What is it?
TSUMU [speaking very dramatically and watching the effect of her words]. The Queen has deserted Menelaus.
ANALYTIKOS [receiving the shock philosophically]. Swift are the ways of Nature. The Gods have smiled upon him.
TSUMU. The Gods have forsaken the King to smile upon a prince.
TSUMU. He was a prince.
ANALYTIKOS [apprehensively]. Why do you say that?
TSUMU [clutching her bosom]. I have a good reason to know. [There is a sound of voices below in the courtyard. MENELAUS rushes in expectantly. TSUMU falls prostrate before him.] Oh, King, in thy bottomless agony blame not a blameless negress. The Queen has fled!
MENELAUS [in his delight forgetting himself and flinging her a purse]. Is it true?
TSUMU. Woe! Woe is me!
MENELAUS [storming]. Out of my sight, you eyeless Argus!
ANALYTIKOS [to TSUMU]. Quick, send a messenger. Find out who he was. [TSUMU sticks the third purse in her bosom and runs out.]
MENELAUS [with radiant happiness, kneeling before the bust of Zeus]. Ye Gods, I thank ye. Peace and a happy life at last. [The shouts in the courtyard grow louder.]
ANALYTIKOS. The news has spread through the palace.
MENELAUS [in trepidation, springing up]. No one would dare stop the progress of the Queen.
TSUMU [rushes in and prostrates herself before the KING]. Woe is me! They have gone by the road to the harbor.
MENELAUS [anxiously]. Yes! Yes!
TSUMU. By the King's orders no man has dared gaze upon Her Majesty. They all fell prostrate before her.
MENELAUS. Good! Good! [Attempting to cover his delight.] Go! Go! You garrulous dog. [TSUMU gets up and points to shield. ANALYTIKOS and the KING look toward it. ANALYTIKOS tears off the papyrus and brings it to MENELAUS. TSUMU, watching them, exits.]
MENELAUS [reading]. "I am not a bad woman. I did what I had to do." How Greek to blame fate for what one wants to do. [TSUMU again comes tumbling in.]
TSUMU [again prostrate before the KING]. A rumor flies through the city. He -- he ----
ANALYTIKOS [anxiously]. Well? Well?
TSUMU. He -- he ----
MENELAUS [furiously to ANALYTIKOS]. Rid me of this croaking raven.
TSUMU. Evil has fallen on Sparta. He ----
ANALYTIKOS. Yes -- yes ----
MENELAUS [in a rage]. Out of my sight, perfidious Nubian. [Sounds of confusion in the courtyard. Suddenly she springs to her feet and yells at the top of her voice.]
TSUMU. He was Paris, Prince of Troy!
[They all start back. ANALYTIKOS stumbles into a seat. MENELAUS turns pale. TSUMU leers like a black Nemesis.]
ANALYTIKOS [very ominously]. Who can read the secret of the Fates?
MENELAUS [frightened]. What do you mean?
ANALYTIKOS. He is the son of Priam, King of Troy.
TSUMU [adding fuel]. And of Hecuba, Queen of the Trojans. [She rushes out to spread the news.]
ANALYTIKOS. That makes the matter international.
MENELAUS [quickly]. But we have treaties with Troy.
ANALYTIKOS. Circumstances alter treaties. They will mean nothing.
ANALYTIKOS. No more than a scrap of papyrus. Sparta will fight to regain her Queen.
MENELAUS. But I don't want her back.
ANALYTIKOS. Can you tell that to Sparta? Remember, the King can do no wrong. Last night I dreamed of war.
MENELAUS. No! No! Don't say that. After the scandal I can't be expected to fight to get her back.
ANALYTIKOS. Sparta will see with the eyes of chivalry.
MENELAUS [fuming]. But I don't believe in war.
ANALYTIKOS [still obdurate]. Have you forgotten the oath pledged of old, with Ulysses and Agamemnon? They have sworn, if ever the time came, to fight and defend the Queen.
MENELAUS [bitterly]. I didn't think of the triple alliance.
ANALYTIKOS. Can Sparta ask less of her King?
MENELAUS. Let's hear the other side. We can perhaps arbitrate. Peace at any price.
ANALYTIKOS. Some bargains are too cheap.
MENELAUS [hopelessly]. But I am a pacifist.
ANALYTIKOS. You are Menelaus of Sparta, and Sparta's a nation of soldiers.
MENELAUS [desperately]. I am too proud to fight!
ANALYTIKOS. Here, put on your shield. [A great clamor comes up from the courtyard. ANALYTIKOS steps out on the balcony and is greeted with shouts of "The King! The King!" Addressing the crowd.] People of Sparta, this calamity has been forced upon us.
[MENELAUS winces.] We are a peaceful people. But thanks to our unparalleled efficiency, the military system of Sparta is the most powerful in all Greece and we can mobilize in half an hour.
[Loud acclaims from the people. MENELAUS, the papyrus still in hand, crawls over and attempts to stop ANALYTIKOS.]
ANALYTIKOS [not noticing him]. In the midst of connubial and communal peace the thunderbolt has fallen on the King.[MENELAUS tugs at ANALYTIKOS' robe.] Broken in spirit as he is, he is already pawing the ground like a battle steed. Never will we lay down our arms! We and Jupiter! [Cheers.] Never until the Queen is restored to Menelaus. Never, even if it takes ten years.
[MENELAUS squirms. A loud cheer.]
Even now the King is buckling on his shield.
[More cheers. ANALYTIKOS steps farther forward and then with bursting eloquence.] One hate we have and one alone! [Yells from below.]
Hate by water and hate by land,
Hate of the head and hate of the hand,
Hate of Paris and hate of Troy
That has broken the Queen for a moment's toy.
[The yells grow fiercer.]
Zeus' thunder will shatter the Trojan throne.
We have one hate and one alone!
[MENELAUS sits on the floor dejectedly looking at the papyrus. A thunder of voices from the people.]
We have one hate and one alone. Troy! Troy!
[Helmets and swords are thrown into the air. The cheers grow tumultuous, trumpets are blown, and the curtain falls.]