Orpheus Descending

Definition

Theater

  • A tragedy by Tennessee Williams. Originally writtenas Battle of Angels in 1940, it was reworked for productionon Broadway in 1957. The play was later made into a heavily bowdlerizedfilm.

    The plot is a loose reworking of the legend of Orpheus, thepoet-musician who descended into the infernal regions to rescue hiswife, Eurydice, but lost her for a second time when he turned to lookback. After his return to earth, he was torn to pieces by a mob ofBacchantes. The play's Orpheus figure is Val Xavier, a drifting guitaristwho runs out of money in a small town in the South. He is taken onat the general store by Lady Torrance, whose husband, Jabe, is dyingof cancer. Val finds several eager admirers amongst the town's womenbut maintains his distance from all except Lady, with whom he beginsa love affair. The sheriff, who wrongly suspects Val of trying toseduce his wife, orders him out of town. Before he can leave, however,Lady discovers that she is pregnant by him - and also that herhusband had helped to murder her father. Lady begs Val to stay untilshe has had revenge on her husband by watching his slow death. Jabe,however, finds them together and kills Lady, before running into thestreet to accuse Val of the murder. The sheriff hunts down Val whois carried away to his death by an angry mob.

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