The main focus is Hecuba, the queen of Troy. Her precious son Hector has been killed in the war as has her king, Priam. Now she awaits her fate. In rapid succession:
- A messenger arrives to tell her that she will now be a slave to Odysseus.
- Her daughter Casandra is told that she will be a slave to Agamemnon. (Casandra is madly thrilled with this because she can foresee that this will tear apart him and his family.)
- Her youngest daughter, Polyxena, is killed at the tomb of Achilles.
- Probably worst of all, her youngest (infant?) son Astyanax will be thrown from a tower of Troy so that he won't grow up and seek revenge.
- She is then confronted with the scheming Helen who was behind the war in the first place.
Which isn't to say that it's not well written. I can easily imagine that the role of Hecuba would be one that a talented actress could really sink her teeth into. It's similar to Lady Macbeth in the amount of passion it must take to perform well.
But this really was a direct challenge to Athens at a time during the Peloponessian war when Athens was doing some awful things. I remain surprised at the amount of anti-war material has made it into this reading list. We've read that warriors are jerks (the Illiad), that war is uncertain folly (The Peloponessian War) and here that the innocent victims of war pay far too high a price.
Not an easy play, but very worth while.