Script: Arachne - The Story of the First Spider

Written by Mavis Thorpe Clark in 1934

Play based on a Greek myth

Characters

Arachne
Father
Minerva
Voice

A long time ago, there was a little girl named Arachne, who lived in a village on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Arachne’s father was a very poor fisherman and sometimes there was scarcely enough food in the house but, even so, Arachne never thought of helping her parents. She did nothing but spin fine threads and weave pretty tapestry pictures, and never forgot to grumble when things didn’t please her.

Arachne. (Complaining) "Father – I do wish I could get some new colours for my threads – I’m tired of the same old blues and reds and greens. You’ll just have to work harder and buy me some new dyes."

Father. (Sadly) "I can’t work any harder, daughter. Every hour of the day and night that the weather permits me, I am out in the little boat, dragging my nets."

Arachne. "I don’t think you’re as good a fisherman as you used to be."

Father. "Maybe not, daughter – but, look, I did bring you home something different to-day. Look!"

Arachne. (Wonderingly) "Shell-fish – bright purple shell-fish. But what can I do with these? – they don’t even look eatable."

Father. "They’re not meant to be eaten, Arachne. When I went down onto the beach this morning, I found great piles of them at the water’s edge. I’ve never seen shell-fish like this before. While I was looking at them, an unseen voice whispered in my ear and said: (Minerva’s voice) ‘Take these shell-fish home and make them into a new dye for your daughter’s threads!’"

Arachne. (Laughing scornfully.) "Invisible voice indeed! – you’ll tell me next that it was Minerva, the goddess of weaving and spinning who spoke to you."

Father. (Slowly) "Well, maybe it was – who knows!"

Arachne. "Such nonsense! Anyway, let’s get busy and see if we can make some dye. If we could make a colour the same as the shell-fish, it would certainly be new and very beautiful." (Speaking as though to a servant) "Get the cooking-pot, father – and a pitcher of water."

Father. "Here they are, Arachne."

Arachne. "Now we’ll put the water into the pot and then add the shell-fish." (Noise of water being poured) You stir the mixture, father – stir it slowly."

Father. (Delighted.) "Look. The shell-fish are dissolving – like purple clouds – into the water"

Arachne. (Warningly) "Carefully! – stir carefully. You’re right! The water is thickening into a beautiful purple colour. I can see it will make a wonderful dye! I’ll call it ‘royal purple’."

Father. (Humbly) "It is certainly fit for a queen!"

Arachne. "And I shall be the queen! This new colour will make me both wealthy and famous!"

Father. "I believe it will, Arachne."

Arachne. (Graciously.) "If it does, I shall buy you a new fishing-boat and some new fishing-nets. (Cunningly) But of course, father, you must not tell anybody how you found the tiny shell-fish, or the voice you heard telling you to make the dye."

Father. "But my child…"

Arachne. "You must do as I say, father."

Announcer. "Arachne certainly became very famous and wealthy and people journeyed from far and near to buy her tapestries. There was always a crowd of people around her loom, watching her nimble fingers."

(Noise of crowd.)

Voice. "Arachne – do tell us where you learned to spin and weave so beautifully and where you got that wonderful ‘royal purple’ colour. Is it Minerva, the goddess of spinning and weaving, who guides your hand?"

Arachne. (Disdainfully) "Oh, dear, no – I don’t owe my skill to Minerva – or my beautiful ‘royal purple’, either. I was clever enough to think of making the dye myself."

Voice. "You certainly are clever, Arachne – only the goddess herself could do better."

Arachne. (Scornfully) "So you think Minerva could do better! Well I don’t. I think my tapestries are every bit as good as hers!"

Father. (Fearfully.) "Oh, Arachne, don’t boast so!"

Arachne. "Boast, indeed! I’d like to have a weaving match with Minerva and then we’d soon see who did the best work."

(Tap-tap at door)

Father. "There’s another visitor at the door, Arachne – and old woman."

Arachne. (Crossly) "What does she want here? She doesn’t look as though she could afford any of MY tapestries. What do you want, old woman?"

Woman. (Old voice) "I have come to give you some advice, Arachne. You must ask Minerva’s pardon for your ungrateful words. If you are truly sorry, she will forgive you."

Arachne. (Angrily) "Don’t advise me, you silly old woman."

Woman. "Careful, Arachne!"

Arachne. "I owe nothing to Minerva. Go home and advise your own children. I shall do and say as I please!"

Father. (Fearfully.) "Arachne! Arachne! Stop! Look at the old woman! Look at the change in her!"

Arachne. (Awe-struck) "Yes – yes – she is changing…"

Father. (In awed whisper.) "Her shabby coat has become a cloak of cloth-of-gold – her stick a shining lance – her face has altered to that of a proud queen."

Arachne. "It is Minerva..!"

Minerva. "Yes… it is Minerva! You ungrateful, boastful child!"

Arachne. (Sulkily) "Well, I still think I can weave and spin as well as you. I would still like to have a weaving match!"

Minerva. "All right, I am willing. I see you have two looms. Let us begin at once."

(Murmuring of crowd and just a very few bars of music.)

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Typed script that was submitted for publishing.

Arachne - page 1

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Arachne - page 2

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Arachne - page 3

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Arachne - page 4

Father. "Oh, Arachne, don’t go on! You are weaving a picture that pokes spiteful fun at the gods and goddesses. Please don’t go on with it – please..!"

Minerva. (Severely) "That will do, Arachne. I can see that your pride has become too great indeed. You must be punished for making fun of the gods and goddesses."

Father. (Despairing) "I feared some thing like this would happen..!"

Minerva. "But, first, Arachne – listen. It was I who whispered to your father that the purple shell-fish would make a beautiful dye for your threads. I wanted to help you so that you, in turn, would help your parents. But now your vanity has spoilt my gift."

Arachne. (Sulkily) "Well, how was I to know!"

Minerva. (Solemnly) "I’m going to touch your brow, Arachne, with my lance. There..!"

Arachne. "Oh, I’m shrinking – I’m getting smaller and smaller. I’m no bigger than a man’s thumb and instead of arms and legs I’ve got feelers."

Minerva. "Since you think yourself so very skilful in spinning and weaving, you shall do nothing else all your life. You will earn your living my spinning webs to catch flies and insects. You will be known as the Spider. Now, off you go into the first dark corner you can find and begin your new life."

* * *

And that was how Arachne became the first spider.