"I Got No Strings To Hold Me Down"
"Agency" in a purely sociological sense is a term used to describe the degree to which individuals have the capacity to act independently and make their own choices. In many mythological narratives, agency is a trick thing to discern, especially when it comes to humans who may or may not be influenced by the will of outside divine forces. Is a hero fulfilling a prophecy doing so out of their own desire, or is it an ultimate inevitability that renders the individual's own will futile?
I imagine the question would not be entirely pressing in the Ancient Grecian world, where the course of one's life was thought to be indisputably subject to the will of the gods. Socrates, of course, is famous for his argument that no person does wrong willingly, but it's usually taken as to mean that wrongdoing occurs as a result of ignorance to the right course of action, rather than a fully realized choice. The gods of antiquity, however, were thought to have some knowledge of future events, and prone to using that knowledge to coerce/encourage mortals into doing their bidding. The amount of freedom and personal agency for the average ancient Greek hero, then, would presumably be only as much as the powerful gods would allow.
So if a hero has little to no agency or power of choice over the course of their story, then how responsible are they for whatever occurs as a result of their choices that aren't so much choices at all?
It's interesting then to consider the role of agency in this story. The question posed to me was:
To what degree do Rhea and Glory have agency in this story? Are they bound by the pattern of drug tests and races, or do they have some control over how and when the cycle ends?
In the world of this play, the gods of antiquity do not exist. There is no (objectively) omniscient force watching and determining events through supernatural means. It seems that if the characters are trapped in a series of events, it's a little more of their own making, though whether fully remains to be seen.
Glory faces pressure on several sides - external pressure from Rhea and his father in his athletic endeavors, subtle but still present expectations from the community members who look to Glory as an example, as well as his internal guilt and grief over his actions while under the influence. All are motivating factors in the choices he makes in the play, but are they so powerful that they prevent him from acting differently?
Drugs (or the insistence of the lack of them, to the point of potentially going overboard with the tests) is an interesting presence throughout the play. This is also fascinating due to how addiction is viewed and treated today versus in the past. While still loaded with a heavy stigma (particularly for people of color), it has been argued that addiction is a disease rather than a choice - a cocktail of genetic predisposition and environmental triggers that can be managed and controlled, but not cured. According to the Center on Addiction, continual drug use changes the chemistry of the brain in a way that impairs choice and willpower. A defining symptom of addiction is loss of control over substance use. That is not to say that current or recovered addicts lack free will or agency, per se. It is, however, an interesting parallel between Glory and Herakles, in terms of lack of control due to an outside influence that may have had devastating consequences.
The pressure from Rhea in regards to Glory's athletic career and sobriety, too, implies a lack of control over his own life, even as he makes strides (physical and metaphorical) to atone for his past actions. Even the ones he could have had no way of influencing, such as the circumstances of his birth due to his father's infidelity. Glory's many motivations are tied to circumstances that are either out of his control or that he carries questionable or unclear responsibility for. Even in the nightmares of the violence he believes himself to have performed while under the influence, it's never quite clear that Glory is completely responsible for the death of Chantal and her baby, or if the dreams are a product of Glory's imagination.
Rhea herself carries a bit more power, just in terms of status and influence over Glory (similar to that of Hera, who as Olympic god would not have been as subject to the whims of fate and supernatural beings the way that the mortals of myth would have been). Her choices are motivated by resentment of Glory, a sentiment that she appears to be taking tenuous steps to resolve by the last scene of the play. While there are extenuating circumstances that impact how Rhea views her stepson and her own situation, the choice to provide comfort to Glory is conscious and all her own. There may be other circumstances that influence Rhea's actions (the mention of the wine bottles in their garbage was a fascinating detail) but overall she comes across a character who definitely holds more power and therefore more agency and responsibility.