Out of the Wings

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Las voces de Penélope (1996-1997), Itziar Pascual Ortiz

English title: Penelope's Voices
Date written: from 1996 to 1997
First publication date: 1998
First production date: June 1996
Keywords: identity > gender, love, women > marginalisation of, love > relationships, history
Title information

The ‘Penelope’ of the title refers to the mythical Penelope, wife of the King of Ithaca, Ulysses (Odysseus).


Penelope, wife of Ulysses, waits in the royal palace in Ithaca for her husband’s return from the Trojan Wars. In a modern-day Ithaca, two more women struggle with the absence of their men. Las voces de Penélope re-imagines Homer’s Odyssey from a female perspective. It exposes and challenges the myth, which continues in our time, that a woman’s identity is dependent on the attentions of a man. Gradually, each woman in the play learns that waiting can lead to empowerment and self-discovery.


Las voces de Penélope (Penelope’s Voices) is divided up into twenty short excerpts (scene 19 is divided into two). It features three women dealing with the absence of their men. The women in question are: Penelope, wife of Ulysses;  The Woman Who Waits, a modern-day Penelope who aches at the absence of her lover; and The Friend of Penelope, a down-to-earth woman (also modern) who is betrayed by her boyfriend. The women’s stories are interwoven, as the text shifts our perspective from one woman’s experience to another.

The play begins with a farewell. Ulysses is leaving for war, and Penelope bids him goodbye. In the course of the scenes in which she features after this farewell, Penelope experiences a range of emotions. After the initial pain of separation, she becomes jealous, thinking of the women her husband will meet on his journey. She later descends into a deep depression. With Ulysses’ continuing absence, suitors begin pressurising her to remarry. Just like in the myth, however, Penelope uses the Loom, a constant presence on stage throughout, to weave blue thread – the colour of hope – into a shroud. She claims that, when she is finished her weaving, she will take a suitor. However, every night she secretly unravels her weaving. In this way, the shroud is never finished and she can remain faithful to her husband. In scene 15 Penelope addresses an unseen stranger. As the play nears its conclusion, she reveals to the Loom her suspicions that the stranger, though poorly dressed, was strangely regal. This episode again reflects the myth, in which Ulysses appears disguised as a beggar to secretly ascertain the faithfulness of his wife. The Loom tempts Penelope into ending her wait for her husband, stating that it could be turned into a male by the goddess Athena. However, after all this time, Penelope has resigned herself to her waiting, and refuses.

The experience of The Woman Who Waits is a modern-day reflection of Penelope’s long wait for Ulysses. Like Penelope, The Woman Who Waits also goes through a series of emotions caused by her lover’s absence. She first appears in scene 2, where she explains how the shadow of her absent lover haunts her. The Friend of Penelope tries to bring her out of her sorrow. In scene 5, for example, she takes The Woman Who Waits shopping. Such distractions, however, are only temporary, as The Woman Who Waits sits by her answering machine, lamenting the lack of messages from her lover. Her monologues reveal the physical sense of pain caused by her lover’s absence.

In contrast to Penelope and The Woman Who Waits, The Friend of Penelope is initially happy in her relationship with her lover, Carlos. She first appears in scene 3, engaged in a phone conversation with a friend whose boyfriend has evidently left her, yet again. The Friend of Penelope claims that she would never put up with such behaviour from a man. Nevertheless, she does put up with being Carlos’s on-call nursemaid when he is ill, suggesting that her own love-life is not perfect. In fact, by scene 11, The Friend of Penelope’s relationship with Carlos is over. She recounts the shock of seeing Carlos with another woman in a bar. Consequently, The Friend of Penelope joins The Woman Who Waits and Penelope on an emotional rollercoaster as she attempts to deal with Carlos’s betrayal. Initially, she is angry and uses alcohol to numb her pain. Later, her anger against Carlos is replaced by concern for her former lover. She has been in touch with the blonde bombshell who is now with Carlos, eager to make sure this new woman is taking care of her ex-boyfriend’s little aches and pains.

Each woman, then, undergoes a painful emotional journey as they try to reconcile themselves with the absence of their lovers. Finally, in the two sections of scene 19, their experiences converge. In the first section, The Woman Who Waits (in this part called The Woman Who Waited) tells us that her lover returned. Despite this, his absence enabled her to see his flaws clearly and she ultimately made the decision to leave him. Penelope begins the second section. She explains the ‘real story’ of Ulysses’ return, twenty years after his departure. Her husband may have returned, but Penelope’s voyage of self-discovery has been the most important aspect of her wait for him. The Friend of Penelope experiences a similar realisation. After working through the pain of Carlos’s betrayal, the two got back together, only to break up again. The Friend of Penelope has learnt to live with or without a man: in an uncertain independence. The Woman Who Waits ends the play. She addresses Ulysses directly. She thanks him for his absence, which enabled her to spread her wings and fly. The mythical Penelope and the two modern women embrace, and leave the stage together.


Homer’s Odyssey

Las voces de Penélope (Penelope’s Voices) looks at the Greek myth of Ulysses and Penelope from a female perspective. In Homer’s Odyssey, Penelope is the wife of the King of Ithaca, Ulysses (Odysseus). When he goes off to fight the Trojan war, Penelope is courted by a long line of suitors who believe that she should consider Ulysses dead and remarry. In order to avoid this fate, Penelope resolves to make a shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes. She declares that once the shroud is complete, she will chose a suitor and remarry. Every day she weaves the shroud, only to undo the work at night. In this way, the shroud is never finished and, as a consequence, she avoids having to remarry. She waits 20 years to see her husband again. When Ulysses does return, he first does so disguised as an old beggar. He learns of her loyalty to him when he speaks to her in disguise. Because of the way she warded off possible suitors while she awaited her husband's return, Penelope is often seen as a symbol of faithfulness.

Names in scene 19: María Dolores Pradera / Ana Magnani

In the second section of scene 19, The Friend of Penelope states that while dealing with the pain of her breakup, she bought the compete back catalogue of María Dolores Pradera (b. 1924). Pradera is a popular Spanish singer of classic romantic songs. The Friend of Penelope also recalls that she went through a period of hating men, during which she frequented bars decorated with pictures of Ana Magnani (1908-1973). Magnani was an Italian actress often described as Italy's Edith Piaf.

Critical response


Las voces de Penélope (Penelope’s Voices) has been the subject of a number of academic studies, focusing particularly on how the play exposes and interrogates gender roles and how it challenges the idea of female passivity as opposed to male proactivity (see for example Harris 2003).

  • Pascual, Itziar. 1998. ‘Las voces de Penélope’ in Marqués de Bradomín 1997: Concurso de Textos Teatrales para Jóvenes Autores, pp. 101-35. Madrid, Instituto de la Juventud

  • Pascual, Itziar. 2002. Las voces de Penélope in AAVV: Ni Ariadnas ni Penélopes (Quince escritoras españolas para el siglo XXI), ed. Carmen Estévez, pp. 295-332. Madrid, Castalia-Biblioteca de escritoras

Information about the editions

In her essay on the play, Carolyn Harris notes:

In the staged version of Las voces de Penélope, the concluding scene is abbreviated and it is the mythic Penélope who pronounces the final words. She brings the play to a close by reviewing her ‘verdadera historia’ (real story) her path to independence, and how she learned to wait not for another but for herself. (Harris 2003)

Carolyn Harris does not specify whether this is the case for allstaged versions or not.

Useful readings and websites
  • Harris, Carolyn J. 2003. ‘Myth, Role and Resistance in Itzíar Pascual’s Las voces de Penélope’, Gestos, 36, 91-101, http://parnaseo.uv.es/Ars/Autores/Pascual/voces/indvoz.htm [accessed January 2010] (in Spanish)

  • Pérez, Janet and Ihrie, Maureen. 2002. 'Drama by Spanish Women Writers 1970-2000'. In The Feminist Encyclopedia of Spanish Literature A-M, p. 197. Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press

  • Sanz, Elisa. n.d. ‘Las voces de Penélope de Itziar Pascual: Revisión contemporánea de un mito’, http://parnaseo.uv.es/Ars/Autores/Pascual/voces/antx.htm [accessed December 2009] (Online Publication) (in Spanish)

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 13 November 2010.

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