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  • Writer's pictureSam Baldwin

The First Cosmic Connection!

Mad Meg, or Dull Gret, is a woman depicted in a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who draws together an army of women and a group of demons pouring from the mouth of hell. She is also one of the characters who arrive for a dinner party in Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls. This particular character ties back to Iphigenia among the Taurians for me in a couple ways. First off, there is a general fear of feminine power—we see quite a bit of this in Brian’s piece highlighted through the use of blood through sacrifice as well as menstruation. One of the key moments in Top Girls that relates directly to the importance of bleeding shows Angie and her friend Kitty talking in the backyard when Angie sticks her fingers under her dress to show her friend her blood as a means of intimidation—which Kitty then licks from her fingers and calls herself a cannibal. Whether spilling the blood of demons or of sacrificial men, it makes feminine power more threatening and brutal. These aren’t Shakespearean heroines that disguise themselves as men to win over a lover—they are women who go headfirst into the mouth of hell to beat, stab, and kill for the sake of some god or another, for the sake of attaining some kind of otherworldly power. The other piece that I see highlighted through the use of Mad Meg is the notion of sacrifice. It is mentioned in Dull Gret’s only substantial monologue that her two children were murdered by soldiers and from there went on with other women to go in to the mouth of hell to confront the evil that had wandered into their streets. Perhaps this is more relevant in a contextual way, but the family of Agamemnon as a whole knows entirely about sacrifice and the loss of children. We see Clytemnestra, like Gret, avenge the death of Iphigenia by killing Agamemnon. We see the son of Clytemnestra, Orestes, take it upon himself to avenge his father’s death by murdering his mother. This constant battle through hell to make the deaths of those that we love right again, and when the only way that death can be made right is through more death, where can we break that circle of madness? The priestesses recognize that they are alive, they cut themselves and the bodies of men to show and gain power, but it is through escape and forgiveness that Orestes and Iphigenia are able to find new and innocent life beyond the mouth of hell. The questions I have are as follows: in what ways to we see feminine powers at play in both texts? At what point does the power of blood becomes less about appeasing the gods and more about fulfilling a need for control? For me personally, the first question can be answered in a variety of ways, especially in Brian’s piece where the priestesses and Iphigenia have complete control over who lives and who dies—they are both the brains and the brawn and take a liking to the act of over-killing. It is the second question that may need to be dug for.

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