by Erin Scott Bailey
Euripides’ Trousers was produced from an assignment given to the students of Dr. Bray’s Fall ‘22 Dramatic Writing I course. We were tasked with researching a Greek play on Wikipedia (normally a big no-no) and finding inspiration from what we found there to use for the creation of a 10-minute script. There were two unproven stories that caught my attention surrounding Euripides’ writing of Medeia and its ending. I have forged both into one story that attempts to combine Grecian and Shakespearean dramatic tropes with the genre language of film and television. This one-act play, not postmodern in its subject matter, exists in contemporary times. With a reference to an outdated, stand-up joke in its title, and the use of period costuming against a modern setting, Euripides’ Trousers becomes a pastiche that plays off Greek tragedy.
Greek, 10-minute, comedy, tragedy, drama
EURIPIDES-ancient Grecian playwright
PERDIKKAS II-ruler of Greece
NEOPHRON of SICYON-ancient Grecian playwright, contemporary to Euripedes but not as popular
This scenario is based on two different rumors that say:
- Euripides was bribed a sum of five talents* to change the ending of Medeia to avoid criticizing the city of Corinth.
- The playwright Neophron of Sicyon, a contemporary of Euripides, was considered to have come up with the idea of Medeia ending in filicide.
*1 talent= approximately $1.5 million
(LIGHTS UP on EURIPIDES sitting at his writing desk in his studio. It is a modern-day studio, yet the characters are dressed in period clothing.)
EURIPIDES Ah, I must take a break. Weariness is setting in, but it is so hard to stop when one has the clearest of visions for the entirety of a new work. Alas, I should get some fresh air, stretch my legs…and make some more coffee. (EURIPEDES stands and does some modern day stretches that make him look ridiculous. There is a knock at the door.) Who is bothering me this early? (calls out) Who is it? Come in.
(PERDIKKAS II enters.)
PERDIKKAS II Hello, hello, Eury, am I disturbing you?
EURIPIDES No, no. You caught me at a very good time. I was just about to make a pot of joe. Would you like some?
PERDIKKAS II (laughing) “Pot of joe?” I haven’t heard that in a good minute, not since my grandfather. But, no, thank you. I’ve had my limit. If I drink anymore, I’ll be shaking all the way to the palace. (He laughs then lingers around and peruses the desk while EURIPIDES fiddles with a French press.) You must be in the middle of a new play? It looks like you’ve been scribbling something over here.
EURIPIDES Ah, yes. It is turning out quite good. I’ve been pulling an all-nighter. I really do think this will be one of my best.
PERDIKKAS II Is that so? Well, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us at City Dionysia this year. What is the basic premise? May I ask?
EURIPIDES Sure. I’m adapting a story we all know. It’s the one about Jason divorcing Medeia to marry the Corinthian princess.
PERDIKKAS II And King Creon of Corinth exiles Medeia and orders the soldiers to execute her children.
EURIPIDES Yep, that’s the one.
PERDIKKAS II Hmm…I really don’t like this idea.
PERDIKKAS II No. The story makes Corinth look rather rotten. Rather rotten, indeed. In fact, I will have to insist it does not leave this room.
PERDIKKAS II Yes. I absolutely do not want you to write another word, or I shall find you guilty of treason.
EURIPIDES Treason? Perd, this is ridiculous. It’s no big deal. Sophocles always takes top honors at Dionysia. No one will care for my entry.
PERDIKKAS II No! I will not have it Eury! I cannot have it. I know this is tough to take as an artist, but you’ll just have to find another of our great myths to dramatize. How about Andromeda? That’s a saucy one. (For a moment, they both look offstage in the same direction as if seeing the same fantasy.)
EURIPIDES Indeed. But I won’t do it! I will not! I don’t know why you expect me to suppress my craft. I won’t be censored!
PERDIKKAS II Don’t think of it as censorship. You’ll just be…doing great service to your government.
EURIPIDES This that you would have me do makes me a traitor to myself!
PERDIKKAS II Oh, Eury, don’t be so dramatic!
EURIPIDES But we’re actors!
PERDIKKAS II Actors?!
EURIPIDES On a stage. As we speak. (PERDIKKAS freezes and notices the audience as if he forgot he was performing. He smiles awkwardly at them, then speaks.)
PERDIKKAS II Eury, we’ve known each other since we were boys, but I still am your ruler. I could throw you in prison. Hold your artist’s pride in check. (He has a lightbulb moment.)
Ah, that’s it! A check. Would you change your mind if I wrote you a check…
EURIPIDES A check?
PERDIKKAS II A big fat check…for…I don’t know, one talent?
EURIPIDES A talent. How dare you bribe me?
PERDIKKAS II Two talents.
EURIPIDES Two talents? (He looks interested but turns his back to PERDIKKAS.)
An artist cannot put a price on self-betrayal. I wouldn’t do it for…
PERDIKKAS II Five talents! (EURIPIDES stops, his eyes bulging, then contemplates for a long beat.)
EURIPIDES I will change only the ending.
PERDIKKAS II Only the ending?
EURIPIDES Yes. Something that does not undermine your eminence’s will.
PERDIKKAS II Hm. Just the ending? That…might…work. How would you change it?
EURIPIDES I’m not sure yet, but I’ll come up with something that will work for you and also not compromise me as a playwright.
PERDIKKAS II Yes. Certainly. Good. You had better. Well, I must be off. The King’s duties await. I’ll talk with you soon, Eury. (He stops and turns around as he is about to exit.)
Oh, I will want to see that script before you hire a single actor.
EURIPIDES Of course. (PERDIKKAS exits.) Ahh, that bastard. Who does he think I am? (He goes back to the coffee.) A rich man is who I am about to be. (He pours a cup.)
Now, how do I change this ending? (There is another knock on the door.) Eh, what is this? Did you forget something Perd, you bastard? (Another knock. He calls out.) Come in!
(NEOPHRON OF SICYON enters.)
Ah, mi amigo, Neo. (They fistbump.) Nice surprise. I thought you were Perdikkas coming back because he had left some of his decency behind.
NEOPHRON Yes, I saw him on my way in. He didn’t even acknowledge me.
EURIPIDES That bastard.
NEOPHRON So, for what reason did our king grace you with his presence this fine morning?
EURIPIDES Oh, I guess I was just on his mind. He was just here for a friendly visit, which is what I hope this is.
NEOPHRON Oh, yes, absolutely. I guess I too had you on my mind this morning. Is that fresh coffee?
EURIPIDES Yeah. (NEOPHRON walks to the stove.) Please, help yourself. (NEOPHRON pours a cup.)
NEOPHRON Any cream?
EURIPIDES Only goat’s milk.
NEOPHRON I’ll pass. (He takes a sip and walks back over to EURIPIDES sitting at his desk.)
EURIPIDES Well, Neo, I hope you’ve been working on something since I saw you last.
NEOPHRON I have, I have.
EURIPIDES Well, tell me about it. What is the latest masterpiece from the great Neophron of Sicyon?
NEOPHRON (laughing) I don’t know about all that, but I’ve been working on something pretty cool.
EURIPIDES Ok, ok. What’s it about?
NEOPHRON It’s a retelling of Medea being exiled from Corinth. (EURIPIDES chokes on his coffee. NEOPHRON comes over and pats his back.) You alright there, friend.
EURIPIDES Medea? Really?
NEOPHRON Yeah, what’s wrong with that?
EURIPIDES Nothing, nothing. It’s…a…very…powerful story.
NEOPHRON Yes, I agree.
EURIPIDES You mentioned it was a retelling. So, you’re making changes to it?
NEOPHRON Yes. That’s not what has you in a tizzy izzit?
EURIPIDES A tizzy? I’m in no tizzy. There was no tizzy.
NEOPHRON All is well, Eury, chill out, relax. No, tizzy.
EURIPIDES Sorry. Anyway…how is it that you are changing Medea’s tragedy?
NEOPHRON Well…I’ve added a very controversial ending. I want to have Medea kill her own children and Jason’s new fiancé and then get out of Dodge. Oh, and the king dies by her hand, too. Crazy, huh?
EURIPIDES Whoa, yeah, that’s pretty intense.
NEOPHRON Yeah, I’m just going to go for it.
EURIPIDES Wow, yeah. (to himself) That just might work.
EURIPIDES Oh, uh, that’s just…really…creative and gutsy. Nice work. Not everyone will think it’s appropriate, but…
NEOPHRON Yeah, screw them. (NEOPHRON laughs, then EURIPIDES.)
EURIPIDES Well, I’m glad you stopped by, Neo. I’ve got something I just remembered that I promised to do for Siculus’ grandmother.
NEOPHRON Oh? That’s unfortunate. We hadn’t gotten around to talking about what you’ve been working on. (EURIPIDES starts walking NEOPHRON to the door.)
EURIPIDES Yes, it is rather unfortunate. We’ll just have to discuss me next time, then, my friend. I really must be going.
NEOPHRON Well, good to see you. Next time, then…(his sentence cut short by EURIPIDES escorting him out the door.)
EURIPIDES Eureka! That’s it! That’s how I will change my play to satisfy the king. I must tell him now. (calling out) Messenger! Messenger! (MESSENGER’s voice comes from offstage.)
EURIPIDES I need you to call on the king for me, at once.
MESSENGER The king, sire?
EURIPIDES Yes. Do not worry. He will come.
MESSENGER Aye, sire. (EURIPIDES paces.)
EURIPIDES I wonder if Perd would give me an advance. I’ve really been wanting to get over to Macedonia. And there would be much less of a chance of Neo finding out that I’m stealing his idea. (PERDIKKAS II enters.)
PERDIKKAS II What is all this, Eury? Bothering me. Asking me to walk back up this hill. I told you I would talk to you soon enough. What do you have to say to me that couldn’t wait another day?
EURIPIDES I have an idea for the play. How to end it differently.
PERDIKKAS II That is all! Ha! (He has a seat in EURIPIDES’ chair.) Well, good, good, I’m pleased. What is it, man? Now that I’m here, spill it. I can’t wait.
EURIPIDES Instead of the execution of her children having anything to do with Corinth…Medeia does it herself. She kills her children and Jason’s princess bride and maybe even the King. What d’ya think?
PERDIKKAS II Filicide? But the audience will eat you alive over that.
EURIPIDES Shocking, yes, but I’m not so sure they wouldn’t eat it up. It’s heart-wrenching. It’s tragic. It’s appalling.
Yes, that’s what I’m worried about. (a beat) Well, it does take the blame away from Corinth, and it’s not like Medeia was someone everyone adored. Conniving and violent. It’s believable. Good work, Eury. That will do. (PERDIKKAS II stands as if he is going to leave.)
EURIPIDES Another thing, Perd. Is there any way I could get an advance on that sum we discussed? Like, one talent? (PERDIKKAS II stops, then reaches into his toga and pulls out a checkbook. He turns around and walks back over to the desk. He borrows a pen to write.)
PERDIKKAS II All right, one…talent…to…Euripides. (He hands the check to EURIPIDES.) I know you’ll deliver.
EURIPIDES Of course, Perd, of course.
PERDIKKAS II Well, ‘twas a fruitful visit. Fare thee well, Eury, until next time. (He exits. EURIPIDES kisses the check.)
EURIPIDES Holy cow! One talent! That’s like, over a million U.S.! Haha! (NEOPHRON enters brandishing a knife.)
Look who’s the bastard, now! (EURIPIDES runs to the other side of his desk.)
EURIPIDES What? Neo. What do you mean? Why are you here?
NEOPHRON I know what that check is for. One talent? Is that what it costs to betray a friend?
EURIPIDES I have done nothing.
NEOPHRON I heard you with mine own ears. I heard you call for the messenger. I wondered why you weren’t leaving. My curiosity arose more substantially than I could take, so, I decided to spy and drop down by your eave. I filled myself in on your business. And quite a business it is. Selling other playwright’s ideas as your own? This would get one ousted from our little community.
EURIPIDES But you couldn’t understand my reasoning, Neo. I had to do it. It was life or death.
NEOPHRON I was thinking just death…for you. (He starts to come after EURIPIDES.)
EURIPIDES Wait, Neo, I could split it with you. I’m getting much more when it is done. Just think, you could be rich and not even have to work to achieve it.
NEOPHRON Writing is what I love. It is its own achievement. I now see the thing you love more than your art. I hope you are prepared to die for it, as well. (He lunges into EURIPIDES stabbing him in the stomach. EURIPIDES falls back to the stove. He grabs the coffee and splashes NEOPHRON in the face. NEOPHRON stoops over grabbing his face. EURIPIDES stumbles into NEOPHRON and struggles. All of a sudden, NEOPHRON makes a gesture of being stabbed and then slumps to the ground. EURIPIDES stands up clutching his side where some blood is coming through his toga. He calls out.)
EURIPIDES Messenger! Messenger! Call the doctor, call the archers to come. We need help! Right away! I have killed Neophron. It was self-defense. I swear. (talking to NEOPHRON) Ohhh, it wasn’t to be like this; my friend…dead…by mine own hands…by blind greed. Damn the king’s temptation! Damn the festival! Everything ends…in…tragedy…always. (EURIPIDES slumps to the ground. PERDIKKAS enters quickly.)
PERDIKKAS II What business is this that could have led to my friend Euripides dead after only seeing him earlier this day. What quarrel could have been so devastating to end in death? What a sad tale. Athens has lost one of its greatest playwrights. (He walks over to the desk and takes Euripides’ writing. He looks down at the ground, bends over and comes up with the check in his hand. He tears the check in pieces and tosses it in the air, falling on the bodies. He then exits with a confident stride. LIGHTS OUT. END OF PLAY.)
Acknowledgements to Dr. John Patrick Bray for his guidance through this assignment and process of publication.