Before the play begins . . .
After he killed his first family and atoned for those murders with the famous twelve labors, the greatest Greek hero Heracles has had a second family with Deianeira. He won her hand in a violent contest with the river god Achelous and later rescued her from the centaur Nessus. Heracles is still in demand, and he is often away for long periods of time to rid Greece from various monsters.
In the play . . .
Deianeira laments how long Heracles has been gone, and the Nurse suggests she send their son Hyllus to find his father, and the Chorus sings a song hopeful of Heracles’ return.
Deianeira reveals a prophecy and receives a Messenger, who gives news of Heracles’ imminent return, which delights the Chorus.
The herald Lichas brings home captives from Heracles’ latest exploits and gives his account of events, but the Messenger calls that account into question. Lichas corrects his story under pressure, and Deianeira makes some decisions.
The Chorus sing about Deianeira’s betrothal, and Deianeira reveals some history, some props, and a plan.
Deianeira gives Lichas the props and some instructions, and the Chorus anticipate Heracles’ glorious return.
Deianeira is raising some concerns about her plan when Hyllus arrives, confirms the disaster, and curses his mother Deianeira.
The Chorus shrewdly interpret events before the Nurse reports the death of Deianeira.
After the Chorus anxiously anticipate his arrival, we finally see the debilitated Heracles, who curses his wife Deianeira until Hyllus makes him hear the truth.