Tuesday, July 5, 1994

Euripides V: Electra, The Phoenician Women, The Bacchae

by Euripides
405-410 BC
translated by Emily Townsend Vermeule, Elizabeth Wyckoff, William Arrowsmith

"Electra": Very good, though not as good as Sophocles' work. I thought Electra was a self-pitying, hypocritical whiner, and apparently that's just what Euripides wanted me to think. Orestes wasn't so bright either. The intro really clued me in to Electra's sexual frustrations, envy of Clytemnestra and jealousy/hatred of her mother's lover Aegisthus. Electra & Orestes' shock at everything still being bad, even after killing their mother, was well done – it brought the point home dramatically: No one's in the right, no one's all bad or good, and violence rarely solves things, even in god-sanctioned "justice." A powerful piece.

"The Phoenecian Women": It was very good, holding my interest despite my familiarity with the plot. The character development, again, didn't quite hold up to Sophoclean standards, but the drama and dialogue were superb. The ending (when Creon takes charge) was especially gripping. Oedipus played a minor role, but his lines were pure poetry, with quite a bit of clever use of "light" and "dark" metaphor (he being blind and all).

"The Bacchae": Before I read the insightful intro by W. Arrowsmith, I was going to pan the play, but now I see the meaning and message of the play that I missed (although I still think character development is lacking). I now see the conflict between Pentheus and Dionysius is central as person vs. person, not merely hubris vs. a god. And what I thought was disorder and sloppiness – Dionysius' transformation from the traditional Olympian in disguise to something like a force of nature – I now see is intentional. I did like the way, minutes after the reader's sympathy has shifted from Dionysius to the torn-apart Pentheus and Agave, the Chorus also shows its humanity by ceasing its ecstatic reveling at Pentheus' death and pitying Agave, gently helping her regain her sanity. A good play, and even though this is my second read, perhaps it bears even further investigation.

[read twice]

four stars

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