Isaac Flagg.

Circe : a dramatic fantasy online

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Dramatic Fantasy



With a Frontispiece

Bernard Maybeck


By Isaac Flagg

Acting Rights Reserved


Rarest of enchantment deem
The beginning and the end :

At life s morning in the dream.
At life s evening in the friend.




OMER relates that Ulysses, king of
Ithaca in Greece, sailing homeward after
the capture of Troy, drifted into unknown
seas in consequence of the wrath of
Neptune ; and after losing all but one
of his twelve ships, landed with the sole
remaining vessel upon the island of the
enchantress Circe, who transformed one-half of his ship s
company, twenty-two in number, into swine. He relates
further that Ulysses, apprised by Mercury of the fate of his
companions, and furnished by the god with an antidote for
the spells of the sorceress, compelled her to restore his men
to their human shape. Thereupon, at the invitation of Circe
the rest of the crew join their mates at her palace, where all
spend a year in festivity and merry-making before pro
ceeding on their way with precise instructions from the
Enchantress regarding the homeward voyage.
The experiences of Ulysses and his followers, as described in
the Odyssey, immediately previous to their arrival at the
Isle of Circe, had been of an extraordinary and alarming
character. A number of men had been devoured by Poly
phemus the Cyclops in his cave, where he had entrapped a
party, the survivors escaping by riding out, clasped under
the bellies of his sheep, after they had made the monster
drunk and blinded his one eye with a fiery stake. Later,
they came to the domain of ^Eolus, king of the winds, who

presented Ulysses with a number of bags holding the adverse
winds in confinement. But during the sleep of their com
mander, when already near their native shore, some of the
men through curiosity untying the bags, the winds broke
loose and swept them back to JSolus, who drove them all
forth with contempt. They next encountered the Laestry-
gones, a race of man-eating giants. Being shown the way to
the town by a daughter of the giant king, some men were
seized and devoured on the spot ; while from an attack
made upon the ships collected in the harbor only one vessel
succeeded in escaping.

No mention is made of Penelope, the wife of Ulysses, at any
point in the story of Circe ; but we read that Ulysses lingered
in the enchanted island, until his men were finally compelled,
seizing an opportunity when Circe was away, to remonstrate
with their chief and rouse him to thoughts of a return to his

Homer says that the attendants of the Enchantress in her
palace were nymphs, such as derive their being from the
fountains, the groves, and the rivers flowing to the sea.

The First Act of the play brings Ulysses and his companions
into Circe s palace; the Second Act takes them out of it.


Dramatic Fantasy


CIRCE, the Enchantress


,,, Nymphs, companions and attend-


-, ants to Circe


THRATTIS, the lute-girl

GRAEA, the dumb swine-maiden

Other nymphs attending Circe

MIKKOS, an ape

ULYSSES, a Commander

EURYLOCHUS, his mate

THERON, the ship s cook

ELPENOR, a feeble-minded youth, the cook s


T, > Sailors



Other members of Ulysses ship s-company
MERCURY, Messenger of the Immortals and Luck-
bringer to men

THE PLACE : A small woody island, inhabited only by the
Enchantress and her Nymphs, who dwell in a palace at the
centre and summit of the isle.



PRELIMINARY scene of mute action.
The front of CIRCE S palace at the hour
just after sunset. The edifice is of vari
ously tinted stone, a combination of
several architectural masses. The win
dows of the building are tall and very
narrow, overshadowed with creeping
plants. Its main entrance, at the Left of the Centre, is from
a massive porch with gargoyles of serpents at the corners of
its roof. The porch is reached by a flight of wide, low steps ;
the doorway itself, low and wide, deeply receding and dark
ened by the ample foliage of overhanging vines. The palace
faces eastward upon a smooth open court-yard enclosed by
a wall of stone with spacious gateway at the Right. The
entrance to the court at the Left corner of the building is
inconspicuous. At the main gateway there is artificial repre
sentation of wolves and leopards as if tame and serving as
watchdogs. Behind the court-yard wall rise large trees throw
ing deep shadows in the twilight. A fountain, dragon-shaped,
with circular basin, is centrally placed in the court, that is
just at the Right of the porch steps.

As the curtain rises, a humming sound as of a swiftly
turned spinning-wheel is heard behind the scenes ; and



presently the music of CIRCE S song (the words of which are
sung in a later Scene) is played upon flute and violin. The
fountain is playing, and its spray, rising and falling inter
mittently, gleams with a golden light, occasionally changing
to a faint blue, and then becoming golden again. Some of the
serpentine gargoyles are seen to sway and writhe like living
snakes. A large ape emerges from a small window above the
porch, stands upon its roof at first erect like a man, then
poses upon all fours at the edge, trying to look underneath
into the doorway, and remains in this position. A glimpse
also is caught of the Swine-maiden, a tall, gaunt, witch-like
figure robed in gray, trailing behind her a very long cowhide
whip. Appearing suddenly from some place of concealment
she passes furtively and silently, with long strides, across
the Left corner and disappears behind the palace.


Interior. The banquet-hall of CIRCE S palace. A long, low
apartment, clearly but not brilliantly illuminated by torch-
wood burning upon cressets in the rear, Right and Left. The
walls and ceiling of the room are of neutral tint, light shades,
but nowhere white ; the decorations, of simple Grecian type.
Two wide entrances at the rear afford glimpses of a back
corridor dimly lighted ; between these doors a large spinning-
wheel of fantastic pattern stands near the wall. On the
Right a curtained opening leads to the boudoir of CIRCE ;
and another door is situated further back on this side. On
the Left, directly opposite the boudoir, is an entrance from
an alcove or passage-way communicating with the porch ;



in front of it a dais or platform, raised one step higher than
the floor of the apartment. Near another door far back on
the Left stands a large sideboard or buffet showing the usual
garniture. Between the boudoir and the dais, thus centrally
placed but a little forward, are two large, low tables nearly
square, standing end to end, but far enough apart to allow
free passage between them, and showing clearly the spinning-
wheel behind. Three tall armchairs or thrones stand, one at
the end of the table on the Left, in front of the dais ; another
at the opposite end of the other table, by the entrance of the
boudoir ; the third at the left hand of the second throne,
behind the table. There are numerous other small Greek
chairs without backs. Each table is spread with a light
brown cloth. Upon the table at the Right are several pieces
of plate and a low spreading vase of flowers near its centre ;
a flagon and goblets upon the other table. As the curtain rises
the music ceases, but the humming of the wheel is continued.
CIRCE is seen seated upon the throne at the head of the table
by her boudoir. Her slender golden wand is carelessly thrown
upon the table before her. Her black robe she has pushed
away from her shoulders over the back of her chair ; but she
wears her coronal of pearls confining massy black hair, with
long, light, pearly veil depending from the diadem behind.
Her tunic is of canary-colored silk ; she wears crimson sandals,
and a golden serpent bracelet encircles her left wrist.
PHILINNA, a blonde, of beauty comparable to that of CIRCE
herself, but of the opposite type, in dress and in all other
respects forming a contrast to the Enchantress, stands behind
the throne at her mistress left hand.



The place of THERMIA, a nymph of elegant figure and win
some expression, is behind the table on the Left, near the
throne at its head by the dais.

MYBTO, who has dark hair like CIRCE, but is of small stature
and not marked by especial beauty, sits facing the Enchant
ress by the spinning-wheel, which, as she swiftly turns it,
gives forth the melodious hum that fills the air when the
curtain rises.

The predominant color of PHILINNA S dress is mauve ; of
THERMIA S, azure ; of MYRTO S, dark green. Other nymphs
are drest in light gauzy material, never pure white. All wear
Grecian costume.

As CIRCE turns toward her with a slight gesture,
MYRTO stops the wheel.


Hush, Myrto ; prithee stay
Thy busy wheel awhile ; I fain would listen
To the mere silence if that be silence, when
Naught save the light-wing d evening zephyr


His soft sea-voices through the piny boughs
And the broad vine-leaf tinkles at the porch.
No footfalls patter now ; our thirsty questioners,
After the sunset shadow falls, come not.
Truly t were vain, save by the day s bright beam,
To seek my mansion on this bowery summit



Through tangled briery paths and copse- wood dim
For the first time.


Thou knowest well, dear lady,
No second coming, save in four-footed guise,
Thy hand vouchsafes them.


Ay, not twice the cup

For the same drinker need we pour. And, Myrto,
Remembered st thou to cull the herbs I named,
Wolf s-bane and hemlock and the rest ?


Yes, lady.

And stored and sorted all?


By the full moon

Each kind I pluck d ; then, crosswise laid, I dried



On the black adder-stone what hour no cloud
The noonday welkin streak d.


T is well. Right soon
I shall bruise more and brew their potions.

[After a brief pause] Ah !

Myrto ; hast thou aught seen this season yet
Of moly plant?


No sprig, since we dug forth
Those three and to their root put fire.


O Circe,

What mortal can know moly? or, if found,
Might guess that straightening salutary force
Which its pale blossom suckles?


Little indeed
Know they or seem to reck, who find my door,



By the four winds or vague desire impell d.
Not of the herbs alone, wherewith I work
Transforming magic, and of their antidotes
Is saving knowledge to human sense denied ;
But the mere man in equal measure lacks
Perception of all that inner occult domain
Which on my mystic vision rises clear
And blends harmonious with material scenes.
Therefore, what mortals know I know more surely,
Crowning their wisdom with profounder lore.
How oft do they who come, while at this board
They swill and gloat, ere yet the damning cup
I proffer, boast large deeds and prate of what
They call experience in the same breath imploring
Guidance, which I with gracious hand might lend,
Seem d they but worthy. [PHILINNA nods assent.]


Stands some one, Circe,
At the porch door.


Throw open ; no mortal visitor
Descends so deftly on us.



[The door at the Left is opened by THERMIA, showing
a golden-gleaming light in the passage-way behind
it. Immediately MERCURY enters, standing as he
first speaks upon the dais. His winged serpent-
twined wand is brilliant with inlaid mother-of-pearl.
Dewdrops glisten upon the wings of his cap and
sandals. The mutual demeanor of MERCURY and
CIRCE is friendly, but not familiar. Neither makes
show of deference toward the other. MERCURY does
not remove his cap. He takes no notice whatever of
the nymphs.]


All-potent Circe,


Hail to thee, sir messenger ! Be welcome ;
Tarry and taste our cheer.

[MERCURY seats himself upon the throne at the head
of the table near which he stands. THERMIA takes his
wand and lays it upon the table.]


The nectar, Thermia.



[THERMIA serves him from the sideboard and remains
standing in attendance.]

Bring st from the Olympian conclave, Mercury,
Tidings to us?


Nay, nay ; I do but pause
On my mid-errand s flight a restful moment
At thy fair island-dome. Weary sometime
Falls even the airy stride of winged feet,
When at a stern omnipotent behest
They spurn the mountain s serried brow, plunge


Skimming innumerable waves, and ride
From land to land the brindled ocean s back.
But, Mistress Circe, this enchanted isle,
Topp d by thy mansion, doth like a stepping-stone
Betwixt the shores of dawn and vesper lie,
At the convergent centre of all streams.
What roving bark shall miss it?


Sooner or later

T is true each wanderer this way passes ; nor,
Our gate once spied and hospitable song
Heard trilling, turns he back.




I am reminded,

Whereof I once made mention, again to speak.
Fail not to pour thy strongest draught, fair Circe,
When sage Ulysses heeds the languorous strain.


So said st thou ; I recall it. And some potions
Do stronger flow an hundred-fold than others.


Even so one human counsel another o er-tops
By infinite measure. But t is time to speed
And set a finish on this world-spanning errand.

[THERMIA hands MERCURY his wand as he rises
from the throne and steps upon the dais.]

Now for the star-strewn roadways of the sky,
By the dun cloud-edge, where fork d lightnings fly.
Farewell !

Farewell, sir messenger ! [Exit MERCURY.]


[After a pause] Dear lady Circe,
Wherefore for us at eve dost thou ne er lift



Thy voice in sweetest song, like that whose spell
Binds the doom d callers at the moaning porch?
So might we taste the charm and spare the bane.

O sit, Philinna, and mark you !

[PHILINNA seats herself in the throne near CIRCE.
At the same time THERMIA takes her seat upon one
of the chairs at the other table, resting her left arm
on the table.]


T is not at will those tuneful notes upwelling

Burst from this bosom s prison, when once the joy

Of fierce enslaving mastery sets them free.

I see not his approach who draweth nigh,

Like the limed bird in cruel toils to stick,

And whom the poison d chalice straight transforms

To brutal shape : I do not see them come ;

But by a sudden thrill inspired to sing,

With a strange consciousness of quicken d power,

Then know I, and need not look. Hath e er one

Fail d of response, Philinna?




Not one ; O, never !

How could it otherwise befall?


There be

Others in whom by native hap are planted
Some powers of vulgar sorcery : whom it profits
On magic wheel to lash the skewer d wryneck ;
Who their unlovely droning measures vaunt
To burst the clammy serpent in the mead,
Or from her seat pull down the horned moon.
But to their sordid craft my arts compare
As sunbeams to a sputtering pitchy torch.
When we the human prowler quell and tame,
We work illumination !


Yet sometimes

They shine with princely mien. Even as Mercury
In face and stature were those two comely youths
Thou once didst change to wolves.




T was their true shape !

The godlike figure hath to mankind been lent,
Which they abuse to cloak an inner core
Of bestial motive. Therefore it is to scatter
Light over darkness, when my cunning drugs
Make the shell match the kernel. No longer then,
Once the true emblem on his visage stamp d,
Doth the pretender with mock daring flourish :
Unmask d, he slinks and cowers. The most,


Are of mere swinish habit ; and for them
The pointed snout suffices and rough hide.
But some [With mock seriousness] Thou dream st

not, sweet Philinna,

How cruelly those same youths, but for my spell,
Had rent us both !


[Gravely] Ay, true ; didst thou not mark,
Philinna, what hungry looks they bent upon
The lady Circe, even while they drank? T was not
The fragrant wine-cup drew them, but o er its rim
Her neck they scann d and watch d the hand and



That reach d the potion. So had they gazed on thee,
If Circe sat not by.


Ah, Myrto ; how

Could I the right herb choose and guide the beaker?
Or wield the magic wand !

[Holding up her hands] O simple, simple !


[Warmly] Thy beauty and my love for thee,


Are of a piece ; both do transcend the limit
Of usual quality. For, without thee, I
Should seem to hover in a stale vacant world ;
Whilst thou, arm d with no wand or secret drug,
Unconscious and unskill d, canst oft divert
The most admiring, ardent, rapt regards
Away from the famed Circe deem d forsooth
To win by her sheer woman s charm not less
Than by shrewd arts. It is perchance the reason
Why thou art dear, because no studied guile



Can in thy breast find lodgement. Oft we crave
That in a friend which our own temper lacks ;
And the two mingle to a more perfect being
Than either by itself.

[Laying her left hand upon PHILINNA S right arm]

T is pure simplicity
Framed as a smiling goddess at my elbow.

[Gravely] Dear lady Circe, may the gods preserve


Shouldst thou in turn e er fail at her right hand
To sit with guardian thoughts.


Nay, Myrto !

Stand we not all in like need of that shelter
And sweet assurement which no other hand
Than Circe s can dispense? T is the good spell
Her bright superior spirit weaves round us, lends
Fragrance and bloom to our sequester d lives.
What, but for that enrichment, would import
Fair skies and shady bowers? But these mock



Are but the flounce and garnish of our pastime.
Your mighty men I find more vain than valiant.
Didst thou fear Mikkos, Myrto, in his former,
Native habiliment?

[Laughing] O Thermia, he was terrible !


And that sleek scrivener, who serves now as one
Of our gate leopards was it a peril when he,
Before his lips touch d the transforming potion,
Offer d me marriage?

But what is marriage, Thermia?


It is as if a clever craftsman built
A cage round Circe and yourself, then lock d
Its door upon you both and flung the key
Under the fountain.


[Springing from her chair and drawing back behind



Holy Diana !

I should break out and fly like Circe s peacock
Into the beech-tree by the spring.


[Laughing] O children, children !
How will ye all most learnedly discourse,
Where ye know least? There lurks indeed small


To your fair persons, but the danger hits
Your unsophisticated silly souls.
Some men there be, whose fervid, flattering words
Would fluster and bedazzle you, till all
This tranquil sweet companionship should vanish,
As the light puffy thistle-down dispell d,
Leaving a weary lone unrest behind it.
It is my swift preventing magic catches
And tangles their approach. We are too quick
For them ; nor shall they soon outspeed us. Yet
My brother, the great magician, told me once,
That if a drug e er fail d me and work d not
For any cause its proper due effects,
Then we stood liable to some counter-spell
Of similar assignment. And he cited
My cousin Medea s strange unhappy story.



[To PHILINNA, playfully] So ;
When the poor Circe faints, Philinna, thou
Wouldst fly off and desert her?


O no ! not
Without the cage.


[Laughing] No ; I am sure
Whate er befalls, Philinna will be faithful.

[Seriously] She will indeed, my lady !


Of faith and love there is no dearth among us,
Though scant occasion offer which might put
A true friend s temper to the test. For here
The spirit of petty jangling sits aloof
And common pastime smooths the tripping hours.
Its spice is in the hazard. It were indeed
A dull domain on Circe s isle, flow d not
The petulant human throng up to our door.
For fail d we to suppress them, we ourselves
Might share that wearisome slow life which men



Owe to their fleeting, vain, unsteady loves.
O verily they should thank us !

[CiRCE leans back in her chair, playing with the wand
that lies on the table. Then straightening up and
looking across the room she claps her hands twice.
Directly the lute-girl THRATTIS enters at the Left
corner. She stands leaning against the sideboard and
strikes chords upon her instrument as prelude.]

O Circe, may Mikkos dance to-night?

Yes, child. Poor Mikkos ! His dancing days were


When first he sought us and became our patient.
Now they begin anew.

[She signs to THRATTIS, who begins a dancing tune.
Other music is heard in accord with the lute. PHI-
LINNA and THERMIA dance, not as partners, but
singly, with Grecian or Turkish movement, passing
round alternately between the tables and in front and
behind them. CIRCE leans back and looks on with
evident pleasure, beating time informally with her



wand. Immediately when the dancing begins, MYRTO
runs out at the Right centre for Mikkos ; but at the
same time Mikkos darts in at the Left centre, drops
into MYRTO S seat, and begins to turn her wheel.
The ape wears a handsome collar with about four
feet of light brass chain hanging from it. MYRTO
follows laughing, seizes the chain, and pulling
Mikkos to his feet the girl and the ape dance, con
fining themselves to the back part of the room. MYRTO S
dancing is similar to that of the other two nymphs,
except that she does not display the same arm move
ments. Mikkos dances only as an ordinary trained
simian might succeed in doing. Next, GRAEA the
swine-maiden enters at the Right centre and joins in
the performance. Her dancing, which she confines to
the corner of the room opposite THRATTIS, consists in
snaky, gyratory movements, stooping and with long
steps trailing her great whip slowly in circles upon
the floor. Presently CIRCE, drawing her black robe
over her shoulders, still holding the wand, rises from
her throne. The music ceases. THRATTIS, Mikkos,
and GRAEA disappear, and the three nymphs come
to a standstill at about their usual places in the room .


[To her nymphs] Thus merry our lives, through the

whole endless round

Of blithe days and the placid restful nights
That top their radiance. How ye are blest, forsooth
Ye cannot know, because that bliss transcends
All ken and inquisition. It is some part
Of the vast natural world instill d and moulded
In your fair forms divine, whereto small fleck
Of human taint hath fallen ; but an ethereal
Kinship of cloud and fountain and wild wood
Thrills the translucent ichor in your veins.
O sweet immortal sisterhood !


A mighty willow guards the meadow s brink,
Where daisies shine and finches pause to drink :
Each year its lissome branches droop anew,
And on the straightest, smoothest shoot I grew.


Deep in the forest shade black water ran :
Beneath its tide my babyhood began ;
And while for strength these tiny knees did lack,
A bullfrog bore me on his bright green back.




Down a sheer sunny cliff wild waters whirl
In tinted gleams of amethyst and pearl :
And where that dangling riband dots the sky,
From one soft gauzy filament sprang I.

[The curtains of CIRCE S bower are drawn away,
revealing some part of its interior and a nymph
standing on either side. CIRCE moves slowly back
ward to the bower entrance; and her three nymphs
move backward toward the several exits.]

[To the audience] There is a sleep that hath no

need of dreams :

When of each waking hour the passage seems
A bird-flight under lovelier skies than those
Which dreamland fancy to the slumberer shows.

[The music of CIRCE S song is again heard, and the
drop-curtain falls while all are just disappearing.
PHILINNA goes out at Right 2; THERMIA at Left 2;
MYRTO at Left centre.}



A camp by the seashore just before sunrise. The ground
rises at the back and Right, rough with shrubbery and rocks.
A galley of antique build has been drawn upon the sand
crosswise at the Left and there are glimpses of the sea on
this side. The mast has been unstepped and a few long oars
lean against the side of the vessel. There are other signs of a
recent disembarcation. Articles of nautical and warlike use
lie on the ground or hang upon bushes and rocks ; wine- jars,

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