Wong Phui Nam & Sophocles


CHORUS (A hanger-on speaking out of Maniaka’s hearing)

For giving a compliant ear to words sown in his mind

as ready and fertile ground for heated imaginings

of Wira’s couplings with the women, Tuanku has set in train

a sequence of violence and the taking of life.

He has been made ill by suspicion, shame and fear –

demons that he drew into his mind from the first word

breathed into his ear about Wira. Sirat and the woman

he condemned fed them further. They are now a plague

he means to scotch by striking down that wretched woman,

and this he carries out by a pusillanimous use of law.

When the woman dies, what fearful consequence will ensue

Nadim enters from the right.

Here comes Nadim.


Ah, Nadim. You will have heard of my judgement.

I hope you have not come to whine and wring your hands

and plead with me like a love-sick puppy to let the woman go.

You know I have to uphold the law. When you are king

you will understand no woman is more important

than defence of the law. Be the king you will be, forget her.

As the saying goes, there are in the garden many blooms.


My first duty, Father, is to help you uphold all just laws.

I have never considered that love of a woman and thoughts

of the marriage bed should take up all of a ruler’s mind.

Your house does not shelter a love-struck fool

who thinks it his daily duty is to send for her maids

to bring me word of every little thing their mistress does

and to pine away the hours fondling her shawl

or sniffing my sleeves for the perfume she leaves behind.


Well said, my son. You well understand that our bonds

are made fast by your obedience to my will.

I have no need of a fool for a son, especially

a fool besotted with love who, for being a fool,

makes me, the father, a bigger fool, a butt of jokes

everywhere in the city. I will be relieved,

when you cleanse your heart of all trace of feeling

for this woman. You will find no pleasure in her.

She defies me and will in time defy you.

A bride from a viper’s hole, she will make a vile nest

of your bed, and worse, pollute with poisoned graft

our royal line. Surely our people deserve rulers

of good, untainted blood. Be thankful, son,

for release from her hateful coils. When she dies,

the chance of her hatching a brood of rebellious offspring

dies with her. We will be spared trouble for our realm.


As I have told you, Father, I am no such fool.


Even if you have not asked me yet,

I have to warn you that I cannot spare her.

I know she will appeal to your soft nature, your love,

wet you with tears, sobbing on your neck

until she has you whispering promises in her ear

you will plead for her. Even if you plead as a son

to me for mercy on her behalf, I cannot be moved.

You will not ask me to break a law I myself have made.

The people will see me as a weak and pliable ruler

unfit to be king. I cannot make a law one moment,

then change my mind, and in the next moment break it.

CHORUS (A hanger-on)

Tuanku is right to be firm. The people must first see him

keep a firm hand on his own household, for then they know

he will be able to keep a firm hand on the state.

MANIAKA (Addressing all present)

We are chosen to govern and therefore we must be obeyed.

We have the absolute right to pass laws, and we decide

the purposes which they are to serve. The people

must abide by our laws to the very last letter.

Critics and other mischief makers, who tell the people

that our laws are cruel, that they are unjust,

such dangerous vermin must be put down.

They teach the people disobedience. Disobedience spreading,

leads to disorder, which is the beginning of anarchy.

This is an evil we will not have. We will not have

the disaffected incite the people to riot and rebellion,

set torches to houses to make a bonfire of our city.

We will not have thieves, riff raff and robbers running free

in our streets, kidnap for ransom our city’s rich.

Without a code of laws, even our fighters will,

from small provocations, turn their kerises on one another,

but in the face of the enemy scatter in confusion

like a tribe of quarrelling monkeys, chattering

and screaming at the lone tiger on their scent.

Our land will be laid open to pirates and plunderers

who leave our city smouldering street by street in ruin,

our orchards and our fields growing a virulent green

with the untrammeled fury of fat voracious weeds.

We will be kings of a land emptied of people

who leave us for subjects monitor lizards, snakes and ghosts.

Rule must therefore be an iron rule, and that means

laws must be upheld and lawmakers hedged

with unquestioned authority.

Turns to Nadim.

I cannot be moved.

I cannot be seduced by a woman.

If I give way, better it be to a man.

CHORUS (A hanger-on)

What Tuanku has said has been said with dignity

and to the point. He has made clear to us,

and surely to you, Nadim, what issues are at stake.


It is not my place, Father, to question your reasoning.

As always it is so well knit I do not even try

to pick at it to tease out loose unraveling strands.

But here I see running across the weave dark threads

that work the dye of passion, as it were, into the fabric.

Father, you bear a hatred for Anike beyond reason.

In your words it shows. The people see it in her punishment.

(Earnestly) Many talk in whispers and mutter, ‘What she has done

is only to cover a brother’s shame, to keep his body

from being picked clean by crows or snatched at

by stray dogs roaming our markets. Is that a crime?’

‘No woman has ever been so unjustly punished.’

‘Our Raja must hate her.’ ‘Things are not right at the palace.’

You do not hear these things closed off from the people

in your palace as you are. Those around you

who hear them will not speak as they cower in terror

at your temper. They cower at the thought of what you will do

to them if they tell you the people talk and shake their heads,

that some whisper in groups as if in deep conspiracy

and some even ask, ‘Is our Raja sane?’

I intend all this not as a pleading for Anike

but for you, Father, to save you from evil consequences

we cannot foresee. Relent, Father, before it is too late.


There is much reason too in what Nadim says, Tuanku.

Surely he speaks as a filial, loving son.

MANIAKA (After a few moments’ thought)

So, I am now to be taught reason by a boy.

Is it reasonable that I am to be schooled by one

whose experience is as sparse as the fuzz that covers his cheeks?


I talk of things that elude the grasp of reason.

We just know that to punish a woman who should be honoured

for what she has done though she broke your law is wrong.


It is wrong to punish those who break the law?


Not at all. I have no regard at all for criminals.


That woman is not a criminal?


The people say that she is not. They do not see

that she has broken any just laws. If allowed

to speak out in the open, every man and woman

in our city will say Anike is not a criminal.


Now the people would presume to instruct me

on how to frame our laws, they would presume

to teach me how to rule.


Who is the boy now,

a great wise king of long experience talking like this?


Know that mine is the sole authority, the sole voice

that speaks for the city. Only I have the divine right

to issue edicts and the edicts I proclaim

will be law, and it is not subject to question.

My laws shall be deemed just for they are my laws.


This then is no city but a prison.


It is a well ordered state.

It has to be so because, as Raja, I am the state.


It is a state barren as a desert and peopled by ghosts.


Ah, now I see that the boy has sold out to that woman.


I speak as I do only out of concern for you – and for me.


You show your concern with a public brawl with your father?


And you show yours with a public brawl with justice?


I, starting a brawl? With justice? My laws mean justice.

Justice means my laws. By divine right,

I am the source of laws. I am therefore the source of justice.

I, fight with justice?


You have defiled your right.

MANIAKA (Losing control)

Fool! Fool! You young, unthinking fool!

You have been taken in by that… that vile creature.


I have never been taken in by anything vile.


You speak only for her, you infatuated fool.


I speak for you, for me, for the good of our royal house.


I will see to it that you will never marry her.


She is to die then. Her death will be followed by another.


Another? Are you threatening me?


There is no threat.

I cannot threaten a nothing king with no mind, no heart.


You will not take that superior tone you with me, boy.

You… you who are nothing but a besotted fool.


If I did not know you, Father, I would have thought

you seek perversely to twist my words back at me


You love-struck fool, now you play at words with me.


I see you prefer silence. (Shrugging his shoulders nonchalantly) Well, sorry.

MANIAKA (Almost speechless with fury)

You… You… I swear by all our gods,

you watch it. You had better watch it.

(To guards) Bring the woman out! She will die –

right here, this instant, with her bridegroom by her side.


No! No! She will not die. Not here. Not now.

If she dies, Father, you will never see my face again.

You go on shouting while you still have these hangers-on

around you here to watch your fine performance.

Nadim rushes out to the right.


Gone. Stomping out like that.

We fear for that hysterical young man.

What will he not do in such a fit.


Let him go. Nothing he does will save these girls.


Girls, Tuanku? You mean you sentence them both to die?


No. Only the wretch who set her face against me will die.


You will have her run through with a keris?


No, I have quite something else in mind.

There are caves in a limestone outcrop not far from here.

I will have her taken there and thrown into one

most richly infested with centipedes and snakes

and stop up the entrance with a little hill of stone.

As with our custom, I will have her provided food.

Her bridal bed will be such slime and bat dung

covered stone ledge as she can find against a wall.

Shut up in there she can pray to her gods in hell

and ask that they lead her quickly out of her airless cell

into the cold and wider gloom of the underworld.

In that desolation she can meet her brother

and cry with him forever with no hope of forgiveness,

of redemption for their crimes against me and the state.

When she passes on, may it be said I have kept the law,

meted out punishment that accords with the rules of our forebears.

Lights down.