A Game of Chess

I think the view of women in this poem is something to be paid attention to, and this is something I did not get a chance to focus on last Thursday, but something I think is important. Just as a starting point – in the section A Game of Chess, there are three specific allusions to powerful and intelligent women made weak and essentially destroyed due to men. More specifically, these women were torn apart because of their determination to not give themselves wholly to their mens’ missions or to not just be a pawn in their mens’ games of chess…

Beginning with Cleopatra – intelligent woman, relationships with strong men, and independently powerful. She ruled Egypt, you guys. EGYPT. She also committed suicide when she realized she could no longer protect her kingdom from Rome through her seduction of men. Let’s face it – she seduced Caesar, Antony, and when she could not seduce Octavian, she knew her time as ruler was gone and she, supposedly, poisoned herself. Leaving behind her son to be executed and her kingdom made subservient. Woman destroyed in position of power because she was a demigod – but she still could not make it cohere. Lesson: Woman should not be in power? Maybe. Woman should bow down to their male superiors? Perhaps. Woman is incapable of honesty? Hm.

Then Dido, Queen of Carthage. Powerful, supposedly beautiful, strong. Queen of the people that would grow to fight Rome in three different wars. And yet, commits suicide when a man leaves her. She wants him back – she doesn’t fully support him leaving and in her protest of this grieves and kills herself, leaving her queendom without a queen. Lesson: Woman is weak? Maybe. Woman should be subordinate to man’s wishes? Perhaps. Woman should not be in power? Hm.

Philomel, Queen of the King Tereus. Tereus who rapes her sister, Procne, and cuts out Procne’s tongue so that she may never speak of this ill doing. Procne weaves a tapestry telling the story of what happened to her and the sisters team up to get revenge. They kill Itys, Philomel and Tereus’ son, and proceed to cook him in a stew (but they keep his head seperate). They feed this stew to Tereus and after he is done, they show him Itys’ head. He chases them out of the house and the two sisters are changed into birds by the gods, one a nightingale and the other a swallow. Philomel is the nightingale referenced by “Jug Jug”. Lesson: Woman should be blindly subservient to men? Maybe. Woman should not seek revenge? Perhaps. Woman should not be in power? Hm.

These women were intelligent queens. They could be vicious, seductive, and manipulative. They seeked some sort of revenge be it their own tragic death or someone else’s. But in all of these cases, they did not die to protect their king. They did not die fully supporting the decisions that the men made around them. They died fighting in the ways they knew how and in the ways history has given them – one way or another.

And isn’t it so, that in chess, the queen is the most important piece? The fighter, the defender, the offense, the protector… her entire job is to serve the king. I know we talked about the premise of the play that the line is a reference to… but nevertheless.

Just a thought.

And now, just a question: What are you trying to say, Eliot?

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