Playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker reimagines Greek myth and tragedy in her version of the Philomela story, originally commissioned for the Royal Shakespeare Company. In The Love of the Nightingale, Philomele is a romantic and infinitely curious young woman. Her sister Procne is more moderate--perhaps why the Thracian king Tereus chose to marry her. But when Procne, lonely and desperate for company, wishes Philomele would join her in Thrace, Tereus is all too eager to make the journey and fetch the young woman. Philomele has no idea of the dark and violent thoughts lurking in Tereus’ mind--and she is never warned by her handmaid Niobe.
In the original myth, Tereus cut out Philomele’s tongue immediately after sexually assaulting her. In Timberlake’s revision, Philomele is able to verbally process the attack, wondering if she is at fault. However, through her use of Athenian reason and rationality, she asserts that she is blameless, and instead Tereus is a weak and cowardly ruler who must use violence to rule. After Philomele is literally and figuratively silenced, she embarks on a journey to find a new way of communication and to reunite with her sister. A profound feminist examination of patriarchal violence and the possibility of overcoming violence through symbolic transformation, Wertenbaker crafts a compelling tale of women’s voices against all odds.
The Love of the Nightingale guide sections