Issue 4, 2020

Arachne, spider-girl

play by Ursula Dubosarsky adapted from a Roman myth in Ovid’s Metamorphoses , illustrated by Kerry Millard


arachne (a-rak-nee, a poor peasant girl)

idmon (her father, a wool dyer)

nymphs & dryads (children from the vineyards and rivers)

crocus & ilex (two of the nymphs and dryads)

minerva (the goddess of Wisdom, also at one stage disguised as an old woman)

Scene One

arachne is busy weaving. Enter nymphs and dryads running excitedly, led by crocus and ilex.

crocus        Come on, everyone, stop playing! Come and see Arachne!

ilex               You’ve just got to see Arachne weaving!

crocus        It’s amazing! She can turn all these bits of fluffy wool
into the most beautiful pictures.

ilex               It’s like she’s weaving from a cloud.

crocus        (turning to the nymphs and dryads) Shhhh! Be very quiet.

ilex               Yeah, she’s pretty cranky when she’s working.

(They creep close to where arachne is weaving.)

nymphs and dryads        (trying to whisper) Wow! Look at that! She’s
so fast! Look at her fingers! It’s so beautiful! It’s like
magic! How does she do it?

(Enter idmon, carrying wool in bright colours.)

idmon          Ah, Arachne, my dear daughter. If only your mother
were still alive to see your wonderful work. How
proud she would be of you!

arachne     (distracted) What? Oh, thanks Dad. And thanks for
the wool.

(idmon puts the wool into a basket next to arachne and starts
sorting it.
crocus and ilex exchange glances. crocus pushes
ilex forward.)

ilex               Arachne?

arachne     Hmm?

ilex               You know what everyone is saying?

arachne     (concentrating on her weaving) What?

crocus        (coming forward) That your weaving is SO beautiful—

arachne     Hmm?

ilex               —that you must have been taught to weave by the great goddess Minerva herself.

arachne     (stepping back from her weaving in indignation) Minerva!
That’s a joke!

crocus        Everyone’s talking about it.

arachne     Look how poor we are! Do you think a goddess like Minerva would have anything to do with people like us?

ilex               Well that’s what we’ve heard.

arachne     Dad and I have never had any help from anyone! For your information, I taught myself to weave, using my brain.

idmon          (looking up from the wool basket, nodding) That’s true enough.

arachne     If I’m a good weaver, it’s all my own hard work and Dad’s beautiful dyed wool. Nothing to do with any silly goddess, that’s for sure. I can weave better than Minerva, anyway!

idmon          Shhh! Arachne! You mustn’t speak of the gods and goddesses like that!

arachne     I’m just telling the truth, Dad.

idmon          Oh the truth, the truth. Be careful, Arachne. People in our humble position have to be very careful with the truth.

(Enter minerva, disguised as a bent old lady.)

minerva      (in a croaky voice) Hello! Hello there!

idmon          (coming over politely) Can I help you, madam?

minerva      (grabbing onto him) Thank you, sonny. Now, I’m looking for a girl who does a bit of weaving round here. She’s called Rackety or Racky or something funny like that.

idmon          (coughing) Perhaps you mean my daughter, Arachne.

minerva      (cackling) Yes, that’s it! Sorry, sonny, my mind is going. Old age, you know.

idmon          (flinching a little) That’s quite all right.

minerva      So, where is she then, eh, this Racky? I want to see this wonderful weaving all the world’s talking about.

idmon          (leading her) Just over here. Ah, by the way, she’s busy weaving, so if you could just keep your voice down a little—

minerva      (shouting and banging arachne on the arm with her stick) Hallo, dearie!

arachne     Careful! You knocked my hand.

idmon          This, er, lady has come to see your weaving, Arachne dearest.

arachne     (concentrating on her work) Fine, fine, whatever. Just don’t bother me.

minerva      Mind your manners, girlie. I know a thing or two about weaving.

arachne     Yes, well, I’m very busy just now.

minerva      You should listen to me. I’ve heard you’ve been saying some very dangerous things.

arachne     (irritated) What dangerous things?

minerva      You’ve been boasting, haven’t you? You’ve been saying that your weaving is so good, that you weave better than the goddess Minerva herself!

arachne     Well, I do.

minerva      Watch your tongue!

idmon          (in a low voice) Arachne, really.

arachne     (to idmon) What would she know? Anyway, she’s got no right to order me around. She’s not my mother.

idmon          Shhh, darling, she might hear you.

arachne     (to minerva) Look, if Minerva thinks she can weave better than me, why doesn’t she come here and prove it? She’s scared, that’s why.

minerva      Scared, you say?

arachne     Scared as a kitten.

minerva      Ha! We’ll see about that!

(In a fury, minerva wraps herself up in her cloak so her face is hidden.)

crocus        Oooh, I feel all cold and shivery suddenly.

ilex               Me too, like an icy wind just blew into the room.

(There is a crashing sound. minerva throws off her cloak and reveals herself to be the glorious goddess, waving an olive branch. The nymphs and dryads squeal in fear.)

idmon          (shocked) It’s—it’s the great goddess, Minerva!

nymphs and dryads        The great goddess, Minerva!

(Everyone bows low in homage to minerva, except arachne.)

minerva      (angrily to arachne) Why aren’t you on the floor like everyone else?

arachne     Why should I be? I’m not afraid of you.

minerva      Not afraid! Ha! Then why are your cheeks so pink?

arachne     Not because I’m afraid. I’m just annoyed at being tricked.

minerva      Insolent girl! And you dare to say your weaving is better than mine!

arachne     Yes, I dare!

crocus        (cowering) Um, excuse me, Minerva. What’s that thing you’re waving in your hand?

minerva      That’s my olive branch, you fool. It shows my peaceful personality.

ilex               Oh.

arachne     (interrupting) All right, Minerva, since you’re here, let’s settle it once and for all. Let’s hold a contest. Right now. A weaving contest. Then everyone will know for sure who is the greatest weaver.

idmon          (shaking his head) I don’t know, Arachne. This gives me a bad feeling.

arachne     (impatiently) Oh Dad, don’t worry. Just let me do my stuff.
(To minerva) So, do you agree?

minerva      Foolish girl! You’ll be sorry. No-one weaves better than Minerva. Of course I agree!

nymphs and dryads        Hurray! A contest! Go Arachne!

(minerva swings around menacingly with her olive branch.)

nymphs and dryads        (less enthusiastically) Go Minerva too! Yeah, go Minerva …

idmon          (sighing) Well, ladies, if you insist. You can have a loom each here (gesturing), and as much wool as you need.

(minerva and arachne walk towards the looms, eyeing each other off. Slowly they raise their hands in the air, ready to weave.)

idmon          Are you ready?

arachne     I’m ready for anything.

minerva      Oh, do get on with it!

idmon          (closing his eyes, holding his arm up as though he’s starting a race) All right, then. On your marks, get set, go!

(idmon lowers his arm, and they’re off. A frenzy of weaving begins. arachne and minerva move up and down the stage making rapid frantic weaving movements in the air. All the nymphs and dryads and idmon look on in wonder at the creations appearing before them, pointing and gasping
and cheering.)

Scene Two

Time has passed. The light has grown dim. Several of the nymphs and dryads have fallen asleep. arachne and minerva are still weaving, but much more slowly and wearily, wiping the sweat from their brows.

idmon          Ladies, ladies, please. I think it’s time to stop. The sun is going down and it’s getting dark.

crocus        (yawning) Soon you won’t be able to see to weave.

ilex               (stretching) And we won’t be able to see what you’ve woven.

(minerva and arachne stand back from their weaving. They both look exhausted but satisfied.)

minerva      All right, that’s enough. There’s no point going on, anyway. You can all see what I have done, and stand amazed.

(minerva waves her olive branch in front of what she has woven. Everyone moves forward in astonished silence to inspect her work.)

idmon          (nodding) It is truly wonderful.

minerva      (sharply) Of course it is. What did you expect?

crocus        (pointing at something in the tapestry) Who’s that a picture of?

minerva      That’s me, in my helmet.

ilex               (taken aback) Oh!

idmon          (quickly) You look very … um … impressive. It suits you. Definitely.

minerva      (tossing back her head) Yes, that was when I won the battle and they named a city after me.

crocus        Wow!

arachne     (drily) Unbelievable!

idmon          (quickly changing the subject) And who’s that?

minerva      (looking pointedly at arachne) That was when I changed a girl who really annoyed me into a stork.

crocus        Poor thing.

ilex               That’s so sad.

minerva      Ha! She got what she deserved.

idmon          (nervously) Um, who’s that man lying there on the floor, crying his heart out?

minerva      Oh him, what a lot of carry-on. Just because I turned his daughters into a pile of bricks.

idmon          (gulping) Bricks?

minerva      Lot more useful to him that way, I can tell you. I saved him a lifetime of trouble.

crocus        (bored, tugging arachne’s arm) Um, Arachne! Can we see your weaving now?

nymphs and dryads        Yeah, Arachne, show us yours! We want to see it!

arachne     (shrugging) Go ahead.

(arachne stands aside from her tapestry. Everyone comes forward to look at what she has woven. They gasp in awe. The nymphs and dryads cower in fear, grabbing onto one another.)

nymphs and dryads        Aah! Quick! Run! It’s a bull!

crocus        And look at that wave! It’s coming this way!

ilex               Help! We’re all going to drown!

minerva      (annoyed) Oh do calm down, you silly children, there’s no bull; there’s no wave. It’s not real, for heaven’s sake.
It’s just a tapestry.

crocus        (from behind idmon) Are you sure?

ilex               (looking out under her fingers) It looks real.

minerva      I’ll be the judge of that.

arachne     (to minerva) Be my guest. Look for yourself. It’s perfect. Look as hard as you like, you won’t find a single flaw.

(minerva stalks up and down, staring at the tapestry. Finally she comes to a stop. Everyone waits for her judgment in expectant silence.)

minerva      Oh, all right, yes, it’s perfect.

nymphs and dryads        Hurray! It’s perfect! Arachne’s the winner! Hurray!

idmon          (hugging arachne) Darling! I’m so proud of you.

minerva      Wait a minute, all of you. The weaving is perfect, I’ll give you that. (She pauses.) But the subject matter is OUTRAGEOUS!

idmon          Uh-oh …

minerva      (gathering rage) Showing the noble gods, including my own dear father, Jupiter, lying around all day doing nothing but having parties and carrying on like idiots! How dare you?

arachne     (proudly) When I weave, I have to tell the truth.

minerva      The truth!

arachne     (gesturing at her weaving) Isn’t that the truth?

minerva      You call that the truth! Ha!

idmon          (coughing) You know, darling, you can have a bit too much truth sometimes.

minerva      You can say that again.

arachne     What, you want me to show the gods all sitting on golden thrones and doing good deeds all day long? That’s a joke.

minerva      Now just a minute—

arachne     How about cruelly punishing people who don’t do what you say?

minerva      (stamping her feet) You are a wicked girl! I’ll give you enough weaving to last the rest of your life! (She seizes her olive branch and hits arachne on the head with it.) Take that! (arachne gurgles and falls to the ground.) And that! (She hits arachne again, then lays her cloak over the top of her.)

idmon          (rushing over) Arachne! My beloved daughter!

minerva      Daughter! Ha! See how you like your fine daughter now! No more proud Arachne but instead—(She lifts up the cloak and reveals arachne on the ground curled up in a ball)—a spider!

nymphs and dryads        (scattering over the stage) Aaaah! What is it? Run!

(minerva shakes back her head triumphantly and stalks out.)

idmon          (looking around) Arachne? Arachne? Where are you? I can’t see you!

(arachne gets up from the floor, waving her now eight legs about and looking around with her now eight eyes.)

arachne     (in a cheerful spidery voice) Here I am, Dad!

idmon          (in horror) Aaaagh! (Looking closer) Arachne? Can it be you?

(The nymphs and dryads start coming forward.)

arachne     Yep, it’s me, Dad. I’m a spider!

idmon          But—you’re so hairy …

crocus        And you have so many legs …

ilex               (curiously) Are you poisonous?

idmon          (head in his hands) Oh, if your poor mother could see you now!

arachne     (tugging on him with one of her legs) Don’t be sad, Dad! I’m all right. I can still weave and spin, after all. That’s the main thing.

idmon          (looking up) Can you, darling?

arachne     Better than ever, I reckon! You won’t have to close the shop.

idmon          (trying to look on the bright side and hugging her gingerly) Well, I have always been fond of little crawling things, of course. I just never thought we’d have one in the family.

(The nymphs and dryads start to come over to where arachne and her father are standing, moving around and looking at her in fascination.)

crocus        Arachne, will you weave me a blanket?

ilex               Yeah! Me too!

crocus        Only not too sticky, if you know what I mean.

nymphs and dryads        And us! Don’t forget us! Please, Arachne!

arachne     Okay, okay, one at a time. I’ve only got eight legs, remember.

(The nymphs and dryads skip around arachne, dancing and playing as happiness is restored and the curtain falls.)

The End




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