I can’t get Enda Walsh’s Penelope out of my head. It’s the sort of play that makes you believe in love all over again; love as a tangible, compelling reason to live for, not some cynical abstraction. For me, this mainly down to Fitz’s & Burns’ monologues. Fitz, the oldest of the suitors, and on first sight the least likely, gives what you couldn’t call a speech of intense romance. It’s far, far too much to expect from his confused, drug addled brain. You’d probably think that this condition would kill any proclamations dead: too scattered to be touching, too dispersed to make for compelling rhetoric. But my, my does it play on you (apologies for the long quotation…but I marvel at it all).
FITZ: When I think of my youth and what I have sold and what I have gathered and what I have lost and what I have gained and what little effect my youth has had on any existence! I am a blemish, Penelope! A tampering twit who’s used life, tossed it aside, rolled it in my fingertips, placed it in an ashtray, pushed it down the back of the couch, flicked life across a tabletop! But I will forget my past, forget the real world, sit in my nothingness and begin with a new idea…an idea…of…(He clears his head and the word forms.) you.
I put aside all the stories I’ve ever made about you, all the dreams I’ve ever dreamt, of which there are millions…what use are they when they are nothing of you. But still I must begin somewhere with some idea of you. And I do (Slight pause.) The idea arrives not as a physical thing or a smell or a scent of any sort but this tiny feeling. And it begins in my stomach because it’s stomach-felt and it bleeds into my heart and it holds the heartbeat.
And it grows in an uncharted place this feeling but in a world of nothing it is the only thing I have and I help it grow inside me and I allow it to claim my small world, my whole self. It takes everything that I am, that I want to be and it will lead me to you in time.
And lead me through the tedious detail of the island that I have spoken and dreamt into extinction. Lead me to opening my door, to taking a chance. I long for love! For this all-consuming love as you must long for it. And in truth it is nothing of you, the physical you but it is everything that this feeling is! Do you understand this?! How it holds my heart and how I know after all these years of longing for your husband it must hold yours too…! Can you see in me a possibility? A possibility to keep love faceless…and just love the love itself?
We are two souls longing for a love to grow from a glorious nothing! Throw open your door and let us start with care…!
This plea turns Penelope’s head when nothing else in 20 years has. She looks at him with, if not love, an affection, and you completely buy that she would give him that…you want it for him.
Burns’ impassioned speech, in the dying moments of the play is cut through with a similar desperation, but not out of fear for his life, or desire to win, but rather for Penelope’s belief in a fulfilling love, something none of the four men can give her. Knowing that only Odysseus can truly end her misery, he urges her to welcome her husband home, embrace him and revel in the joy that she (and everyone) deserves. She seems to heed his words. “Love is saved” cries Burns as the set bursts with flames. And you believe it.