Sarah Ruhl, Playwright of EURYDICE
Sarah Ruhl is a fresh, compelling, and versatile playwright. In her play, Eurydice
(2003), written while a graduate student at Brown University, Ruhl adapts a
classic myth to modern times. Written in sparse, contemporary language, the
story is told from the perspective of Eurydice and examines the power of love
between husband and wife, and father and daughter. Original in tone and
setting, Ruhl captures the pain of loss, the lessening of pain over time, and the
necessity of forgetting. The Clean House (2004) is, by turns, humorous,
delirious, and finally, poignant. In this quirky and surreal work, she skillfully
portrays domesticity, love and sisterhood, and the search for humor at death.
Another recent work, Passion Play: A Cycle (2005), is a tour de force in which
Ruhl charts the politics of religion from the Elizabethan age to the Reagan era
and the power across eras of faith, tyranny, and imagination. Additional plays by
this prodigious, young dramatist include Melancholy Play (2002), Dead Man’s
Cell Phone (2005), and Orlando (2003), an adaptation of the Virginia Woolf
novel. This young playwright is emerging as a powerful presence in the
Sarah Ruhl received a B.A. (1997) in English and an M.F.A. (2001) in playwriting
from Brown University and was a Kennedy Center Fellow at the Sundance
Theatre Laboratory (2000). Her plays have been produced throughout the U.S.
and Europe at such venues as the Lincoln Center Theater, New York, the Actor’s
Centre, London, the Goodman Theatre, Chicago, and the Berkeley Repertory
Theatre, among many others.
* This biography is from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, from which Ruhl
received the 2006 Fellowship.
Adaptation and the Story of Orpheus and Eurydice
The story of Orpheus and Eurydice has been told many different ways and in
many different mediums. Below is a list of some of these different adaptations
and one of the original works they frequently stem from.
Metamorphoses by Ovid. This is sometimes referred to as a mock-epic poem
and was written 1 A.C.E. This is the work from which so many other adaptations
have been born. It contains various stories of transformation of Roman and
Greek mythological heroes. The main theme is that of love, as is evident with the
10th and 11th chapters, covering the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Orphée directed by Jean Cocteau. This 1950 French film is a retelling of the
Orpheus myth by renowned playwright, Jean Cocteau. Not rated.
Orfeo Negro (Black Orpheus) directed by Marcel Camus. This 1959 film is
also a retelling of the Orpheus myth and is set during the time of Carnaval in Rio
de Janeiro. Winner of the Golden Globe Award and Academy Award. Rated PG.
Polaroid Stories by Naomi Iizuka. This 1997 play uses stories, characters and
themes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses to tell the stories of street kids living on the
edge in a desolate, urban landscape. Strong language.
Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman. This 2002 stage adaptation of Ovid’s
stories was a huge hit on Broadway. A small ensemble cast played multiple
characters from the myths, around a large onstage pool of water.
After Ovid: New Metamorphoses edited by Michael Hoffman and James
Lasdun. This is an anthology from 1994 that contains contemporary poetry re-
envisioning Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Includes the following poems: “Orpheus and
Eurydice” and “Death of Orpheus” by Seamus Heaney and “Orpheus Dies and
the God Seeks Out Silenus” by Peter Redgrove.
Ovid Metamorphosed edited by Phil Terry. This is a collection of short stories
from 2000 by various writers that re-tell several of Ovid’s fables. Included is
“Eurydice’s Answer” by Suniti Namjoshi.
Gods and Mortals: modern poems on classical myths edited by Nina
Kossman. This is a terrific anthology of poetry from 2001 that not only covers
poems on Eurydice and Orpheus specifically, but also covers several pieces on
the underworld. Some of the better-known writers whose work is featured are
Edna St. Vincent Millay, Rainer Maria Rilke, Margaret Atwood and Thomas
Music and ORPHEUS
According to myth, when Orpheus played music on his lyre, he could make trees
bend and charm rocks and rivers. Upon his death, it is said that the trees shed
their leaves and the rivers were swollen with their own tears. Even the
nightingale was said to sing sweeter at his grave and the lyre was placed among
the constellations as a memorial to Orpheus.
Music has great power in the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Below are some
activities surrounding the theme of music.
1. When Orpheus entered the underworld, he played his music. Describe
3 things that happened to the inhabitants of the underworld when he
2. Several composers have created music inspired by the myth of
Orpheus. After you have read the myth of Orpheus, listen to at least 2
of the three pieces of music below. Describe the story the music tells.
How well does it match your idea of the myth? What specifically in the
music (an instrument, the pace, the style, etc) tells you what is
happening in the story? Which piece of music do you think most
effectively tells the story?
“Orpheus” from Symphonic Poems by Franz Liszt
“Orpheus” by Igor Stravinsky
“Orpheus/Sonnet” from Mythologies: A Song Cycle by Patricia
3. Orpheus was the son of Apollo. Research Apollo and his connection to
music. How did Apollo use music? What other characters in Greek
mythology had musical talent? How did their use of music have an
effect on their surroundings?
4. After viewing either the play, EURYDICE by Sarah Ruhl or the movie
Black Orpheus, describe the music used. Describe the differences
and/or similarities with the music you described in #2 (above)?
(best to do after seeing the play)
The myth of ORPHEUS has been made into a contemporary play by Sarah Ruhl
in which the story is told through the eyes of Orpheus’ wife, Eurydice. Below is a
list of characters commonly found in earlier versions of the myth, followed by a
list of characters from the play, EURYDICE.
Define the characters in the first list and their relationships. Next, look at the list
of characters in the play, EURYDICE. Describe these characters, too. How
similar and how different are these characters from the original myth? Which
characters in Ruhl’s play are totally original to her version of the myth?
In what way do the setting, sound effects and costumes of Ruhl’s play define the
Characters from Original Myth
Characters from the Play
Nasty, Interesting Man
Lord of the Underworld
A Chorus of Stones
People, Places, Things
Below are some of the people, places and things that can be found in the myth of
Orpheus. Match the words below with the correct description.
1. After the overthrow of his father Cronus, he and his brothers, Zeus
and Poseidon drew lots for shares of the world. He drew the worst
lot which made him ruler of the underworld (sometimes referred to
by his name). He is also the God of wealth and is married to
2. He is the god of music and father of Orpheus. One of his daily tasks
is to harness his chariot with horses and drive the sun across the
sky. His wife is the muse, Calliope.
3. This three-headed dog with a dragon tale guards the gate to the
underworld. Its job is to allow the dead to enter, but not to leave.
4. This place lies deeper than Hades and is used as the ultimate of
5. She is the goddess of springtime. Half of her year is spent in the
underworld where she is Queen.
6. The ferryman who takes souls across the Acheron river in the
7. The stringed instrument that was passed from Apollo to his son
8. She is one of the nine muses and mother of Orpheus. Her specialty
is epic poetry.
9. These were three goddesses sometimes referred to as the
Erinnyes or the Eumenides. They punished the crimes of anyone
they believed defied public justice.
10. One of several rivers in the underworld. This is the river of
unbreakable oath by which the gods swear.
11. Son of the water nymph Cyrene, he was a shepherd and bee-
keeper. In one version of the Orpheus myth, this character was
indirectly responsible for Eurydice’s death. He was so taken by her
beauty that he chased after her, causing her to stumble upon the
snake that bit her.
12. Another river of the underworld. This one is known as the river of
forgetfulness. Souls are forced to drink from it so they may forget
13. This character was punished in the underworld for sharing the
secrets of the gods with men. His punishment was the denial of
food and drink. He was forced to stand in a pool of water up to his
chin, but whenever he leaned down to take a sip, the water
14. Another character whose punishment in the underworld is quite
known. He was forced to roll a huge stone up a hill, but no matter
how hard he pushed, it always came rolling back.
15. This character is also punished by Zeus for several misdeeds. In
the underworld, he is bound to a wheel on which he is whirled
through the air for eternity.
16. An area of southeastern Europe that covered parts of Bulgaria,
Greece and Turkey. Orpheus is from this region.
17. A section of the underworld reserved for heroes and the virtuous. It
is sometimes called the Islands of the Blest.
Timeline of Events
(to be done after seeing the play and reading the myth)
Sarah Ruhl’s play Eurydice is a retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
After reading the myth and seeing the play, see if you can note the differences by
completing the timelines below.
Events in the Myth
1. On her wedding day, Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies.
2. Eurydice enters the underworld by ____________________
3. Once there, she meets _____________________________
4. Orpheus gets into Hades by _________________________
5. Next ___________________________________________
6. When Orpheus is leading Eurydice out of Hades, this happens:
Events in the Play
1. On her wedding day, Eurydice dies by ________________________
2. Eurydice enters the underworld by ___________________________
3. Once there, she meets ____________________________________
4. Orpheus gets into Hades by ________________________________
5. Next ___________________________________________________
6. When Orpheus is leading Eurydice out of Hades, this happens:
My Personal Observations about the Differences Between the Myth I
Read and the Play I Saw: