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Rhea/Hera: A Change of Heart

Slightly off-topic, but also relevant; in composing the title of this blog post I noticed that Rhea, Hera, and Hear(t) are all similar re-arrangements of the same letters. Just a cool anagram/mind puzzle, and also slightly fitting considering the character arc that Rhea follows throughout this play.

Having been tasked with developing a single question to help the actor embodying Rhea further craft her character, I've decided to ask to take a look at what specifically causes Glory's story to resonate with Rhea in such a way that her point of view shifts?

From the very onset of the play, Rhea's attitude towards Glory, the living proof of her husband's infidelity, is clear. It's evident to everyone, from the gossiping chorus of Dante and Toni all the way up to Glory himself. Which fits in neatly with the Hera of Greek canon mythology, who was known for being jealous and vengeful towards Zeus's many, many extramarital lovers and offspring. Understandable, considering her own position as the goddess of marriage. One source even quotes her anger at the original Herakles as "never-ending", further fueling her reputation for vehemence.

Hera discovering Zeus with a human lover, Io, who he had transformed into a cow to hide his infidelity. Hera (portrayed as Juno, her Roman form) in revenge sent a gadfly to sting Io and drive her across the world without rest. Image by Pieter Lastman.

Outside of the realm of Hera's mythic wrath, however, it's interesting to note that she's also defined by her role as the goddess of marriage, family, and childbirth - all themes that are present, if briefly mentioned, within the play (Glory's nightmares stem from the disintegration of his family at what he believe to be his own hands). It was also incredibly surprising to me to discover the myth of Hera's own backstory, as in how she became married to Zeus in the first place - after she refused his advances, he had raped her and tricked her into marrying, a fact often omitted when it comes to describing Hera. With that information in hand, the actions of the Hera of myth seem to take on a different sort of light, in that while it does not excuse that measures she takes against those who also suffered from Zeus's indiscretions, it could inform why she does so.

With regards to the character of Rhea in Path of Glory), it becomes evident throughout the course of the play that, unlike her mythological counterpart, she is a character who undergoes fascinating and tremendous change in regard to her attitude and behavior. She transforms, in a way, from a rather bitter and vengeful antagonist to Glory to someone devoted to helping him by getting to the bottom of his nightmares. It sort of makes me wonder if Rhea could even be considered the real hero of the story - after all, it is her actions and choices that fuel the majority of the plot, with her being the driving force behind the eventual resolution of the conflict.

It's also fascinating to explore what drives these changes in Rhea. Her motivation flips completely during the course of scene four in the midst of comforting Glory. Instead of continuing to punish him (which would have been a reasonable to imagine her doing, given her justification of her treatment to Zeus in their previous argument), Rhea chooses instead to comfort and take his word and his side. She describes her own feelings to Glory as resentful, but not hateful, and claims that hearing his screaming "moved" her. Thus, Rhea's depiction in Path of Glory seems a stark divergence from the established character traits of arguably also the biggest driving force in the Herakles myth. Where can Herakles (or Glory) go if Hera (or Rhea) is not eternally pissed off at him? What can he do? Where does he go from there?

So: why the tremendous change? Outside of the external factor of seeing and being moved by Glory, what internal process/background informs the change that we see taking place in Rhea onstage? In a world where much of what she does is impacted by the men in your life (punishing Glory because Zeus messed up, investigating Zeus in order to help Glory), how and why does she feel compelled to take matters into her own hands?

I feel that, even if it described or addressed onstage, understanding where Rhea's change of heart comes from, whether in terms of emotional or socio-economic or even psychological background will be helpful to the actor playing Rhea, in terms of understanding what is setting her up for that transformation to take place. If seeing Glory in pain due to his nightmares is the slight push of wind that pushes the dominoes over and sets off this chain of events, it is my hope that knowing what the dominoes are and how they were set up in the first place will be a valuable and helpful experience that can further enrich the important turning point in the play.

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