But off-stage characters can have value, a great deal of value, if selectively handled.… Pick them with care, imagine them well, and they can do more for you than they could had they been brought on.
J. van Druten, Playwright at Work (London 1953), 117f.
The study of off-stage characters—by which I mean human characters with a physical presence within the world and setting of the play, but who never actually appear on-stage—is a critical angle seldom applied to Greek tragedy. I hope to show that Euripides' Hecuba particularly repays this unorthodox approach. Its on-stage characters are complemented by crucially important offstage figures, and I shall focus on the four who are of greatest importance for Hecuba: Achilles, Neoptolemus, Cassandra and Helen. My investigation will be structured around the following questions:
• What traditions were associated with these characters before Hecuba, and what resulting preconceptions might Euripides' audience have held about them?
• How are these characters represented by the on-stage characters, and with what effect?
• What is the symbolic effect of the absence of these characters?
Taken together, the answers to these questions will provide a new reading of Hecuba, revealing how Euripides' choices over which characters to feature offstage and how to represent them contribute to the overall themes of the tragedy. My exploration will lead to me engage with many issues of interpretation, both literary and textual. I hope to show that Euripides' decision to keep a character off-stage is as deliberate and strategic as the decision to feature one prominently on-stage.