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Outspoken Women: An Extract from Lumley’s “Iphigenia”

In this extract, Queen Clytemnestra has discovered that her husband Agamemnon intends to sacrifice their daughter Iphigenia to the goddess Diana.

In this article you will watch an extract from Lady Jane Lumley’s play performed by Rose Company Theatre, directed by Emma Rucastle.

The play is set at the beginning of the Trojan war where the Greek army is gathered to recover Helen, the wife of Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus who has been abducted by the Trojan prince, Paris.

The Greek ships are becalmed at Aulis so Agamemnon determines to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, to the goddess Diana so that she will send them wind to send them to Troy. He lures Iphigenia and her mother Clytemnestra to Aulis by pretending that he has arranged a marriage between Iphigenia and the heroic soldier Achilles.

In this extract, Clytemnestra has learned from Achilles that her husband, Agamemnon, has determined to sacrifice their daughter Iphigenia to the goddess Diana and confronts him.

As you are watching, make a note of anything that sounds unconventional for a female character.

Then post a comment about your impressions.

Transcript of the extract performed is below. It is taken from British Library Manuscript MS Royal A ix ‘The Tragedy of Euripides called Iphigenia translated out of Greek into English by Lady Jane Lumley’ (c.1557)

The spelling has been modernised but the modern ideas and tone are Lumley’s.


But now here cometh Agamemnon. Show me, I pray you, therefore what I should answer him if he ask for my daughter, seeing that she maketh such moan.
[Enter Agamemnon]
I am glad that I have met with you, O Clytemnestra, for I have diverse things to talk with you of.
If you have anything to say to me, tell me, I pray you, for I am ready to hear.
First call out my daughter that she may go with me to the temple of the goddess Diana, for I have prepared all things ready for the sacrifice.
[Exit member of Chorus]
You have spoken well, though indeed your doings do not agree with your words.
[Re-enter Iphigenia (& Orestes)]
But go your ways, daughter, with your father, and take with you your brother Orestes.
Why do you weep and lament so daughter?
Alas! How should I suffer this trouble, seeing that all mortal men are vexed both in the beginning, the middest, and the ending of their misery?
What is the cause, that all you are so sorrowful?
I will show you, if you will promise me to tell me one thing, which I will require.
Yes, truly, I will grant you your request, for I did think to have asked it of you.
I hear say that you go about to slay your own child.
What? You have spoken those things which you ought neither to say, nor yet to think!
Answer me, I pray you, to this question, as you promised.
It is not lawful for me to answer you to those things which you ought not to know.
I have not enquired of anything that doth not become me. But take you heed rather, lest you make such an answer as you ought not.
Who hath done you any injury, or who hath given you cause to say so?
Ask you this question of me? As though your craft could not be perceived!
Alas, I am troubled more and more, for all my secret counsel is now openly declared.
Indeed, I have heard of all that which you have prepared for your daughter. Yea, and you yourself have partly confessed it in holding your peace.
I am constrained to hold my peace, because I have told you so manifest a lie that I can not deny it.
Hearken now I pray you therefore, for I must needs tell you of your fault. Do you not remember that you married me without the good will of my friends, taking me away with strong hand after that you had slain my other husband, Tantalus, which cruel deeds my brother Castor and Pollux would have revenged, except Tyndarus, my father, delivered you out of that peril? So that, by his means, you did obtain me to be your wife, who after I was married never showed my self disobedient unto you in any thing. And then I happened to have three sons at one birth, and afterward one daughter, and will you now slay her, knowing no just cause why? For if any man should ask of you the cause of the death of your daughter, you would answer “for Helen’s sake”, which can be no lawful cause. For it is not meet that we should slay our own child for a naughty woman’s sake, neither destroy those that by nature we ought to love, for their cause only which are hated of all men. Besides this, if you kill my daughter, what lamentation must I needs make when I shall go home and want the company of her? – considering that she was slain by the hands of her own father. Wherefore if you will not be moved with pity, take heed lest you compel me to speak those things that do not become a good wife, yea, and you yourself do those things that a good man ought not.
But tell me now, I pray you, what good do you obtain by the death of your daughter? Do you look for a fortunate return? Truly you can not by this means get that, for that journey can not end happily which is begun with mischief. Besides this, surely you shall stir up the gods to anger against you, for they do even hate them that are manquellers [i.e. mankillers, murderers]. Again, you can not enjoy the company of your other children when you come home, for they will even fear and abhor you, seeing that willingly you do destroy your daughter. And you shall not only fall into this mischief, but also you shall purchase yourself the name of a cruel tyrant. For you were chosen the captain over the Grecians to execute justice to all men, and not to do both me and also your children such an injury. For it is not meet that your children should be punished for that which pertaineth not to you, neither ought I to lose my daughter for Helena’s cause, who hath never showed herself faithful to her husband.
It is meet, O Agamemnon, that you should follow your wife’s counsel. For it is not lawful that a father should destroy his child.
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