Messalina: A Play in Two Acts
When the Vestal Virgins idea fell through, I decided I still wanted to keep my focus on Roman women. I thought about researching Lucretia or Livia, but I wanted something more original. I was looking for something that hadn't been researched and written about several times. Then I discovered Messalina. Her story has everything: Death, intrigue, wanton sex. The more I researched, the more I came to feel that she had been betrayed by history. It began to believe that she was a brilliant political mind who was way ahead of her time, and for this reason, created enough fear among her contemporaries that she was degraded by rumors of careless sexual actions. Like so many modem politicians, she was destroyed by these archaic sex scandals. Even in reading primary accounts of her life, most of which offered negative perspectives, I found myself continuing to sympathize with her. She was a smart woman who was denied education simply because she was a woman. Young and by all accounts beautiful, she was married off to an old man who many thought was mentally disabled. With so much pent up passion, it does not surprise me that she found an outlet in having affairs with high ranking members of the empire. I came to believe that there was something about her story that just couldn't be expressed in a long, thesis-like paper. There was too much energy and passion within it. I felt writing a paper about her would be a disservice to this passion I found in her story. The men who immortalized her in their histories loathed her more strongly than anyone else who appears in their writings. The attitude they expressed towards her was too powerful and too hateful to be expressed in an historical paper. Too great a piece of it would be lost. At the time I was beginning to think. about writing the actual body of the SIP, I was taking a playwriting class, and it just seemed to fit. A life with so much drama deserved nothing less than a dramatic play about it. After her death, Messalina suffered damnatio memoriae. Every image of her, every record of her name was destroyed. The men who hated her during her life attempted to erase her completely. But tales of her overtly sexual behavior remained, passed down through the generations until she had been reduced to a sex-crazy whore. Even those who probably knew better wrote about her this way, recognizing that her brand of feminism was less threatening when paired with descriptions of her immoral behavior. It is with this in mind that I have crafted this play. While she is in no way a wholly sympathetic or flawless character, Messalina was likely the victim of her own advancement. Her intelligence and zeal directly led to her downfall. Unable to understand the limits she had to adhere to, both as a woman as well as one of noble birth, she pushed these limits too far when she married Silius. Whether it was with Claudius's knowledge or not, the marriage provided those who hated and feared her with the opportunity to destroy her.