Greek Drama 7.9分
读书笔记 Introduction

Ancient Greek dramas are religious (with gods who were like men in shape and emotions and lived their own lives that were quite apart from thr world of men); rigid in structure; the choregus, poets, and actors are of high status (the poet was regarded as a religious teacher as well as artist, with a status somewhat analogous to that of a prophet in Israe).

All the principal personages must be of heroic stature; the fate of little men may be very sad, but it cannot be tragic.


The world of men and the world of gods were quite apart. Gods were not primarily concerned with regulating men, nor men with emulating gods. Each followed his own nature; for the gods two plus two might equal five. For the men, the fact that two plus two equaled four trip them up with a system that men cannot control or even understand which makes it five, the result is tragedy.


A man whose career has somehow enlarged the horizons of what is possible for humanity and who has therefore, after his death, been deemed worthy of religious commemoration.

It is not expected that a hero is without flaw. A flawless man is not apt to possess the determined energy heroism requires.

After the death of the Great Three there were revivals. Revivals tempt virtuoso actors to "fatten" their parts; to prevent corruption of the text, a magistrate with script in hand stood ready to stop the play if an actor deviated from the official text.


At the first official presentation of drama at Athens (534 b.c.), the prize was won by Thespis, after whom actors are still sometimes called "thespians". Thespis is said to "invented one actor" by impersonating a character in dialogue with the chorus, and so invented true drama. (Solon reproached Thespis for telling the assembly lies.)

Phrynichus wrote The Sack of Miletus which made "the whole theater burst into tears" so the people sentenced him to pay a fine of a thousand drachmas for recalling to them their own misfortunes (the story is about an allied city in Asia Minor which the Athenians failed to save from the Persians). They likewise made a law that no one should ever again exhibit that piece.

Aeschylus (525-456 b.c.) was born in Eleusis (influenced his prfound religious speculations, and he fought for the Athenian democracy in the Persian War (his attachment to democratic values). Aeschylus introduced the second actor, which made true drama, in the sense of conflict of wills, possible. Aeschylus' dramas were 主题先行: It was the problem, more than the personalities of the figures who illustrate it, that was Aeschylus' chief concern. The characters' ultimate function is as a kind of mathematical symbol to make the argument meaningful.

Sophocles (496-406 b.c.) lived a life that coincides with the great period of Athenian glory. He was rich, handsome, and popular, he held high offices of state and won many drama prizes. He also left a son who was a successful playwright. Yet Sophocles' view of life was very somber; he "saw life steadily, and saw it whole" and decided that it was better for man not to have been born. Sohocles' plays are 人物先行: There is usually one stark self-willed characters whose conduct is deplored by the chorus and lesser characters but who marches steadfastly on his course to his ultimate destruction, achieving thereby a heroism which enriches lesser people but of which lesser people are themselves incapable. The greater the hero, the more he is exposed to the forces beyond his control; it is his own heroism which gives dignity and meaning to the precariousness of life. Sophocles introduced the third actor, which multiplied opportunities for intrigue, and of scene painting.

Euripides (485-406 b.c.) instead of representing men as they should be, reprented men as they are (said by Sophocles). He was a very "modern" playwright. The language of the "spoken" parts is almost as simple as colloquial prose, and the choral portions are almost detachable interludes. Euripides' treatment would often lead the story to different endings than the traditional ones; the traditional but illogical ending may then be imposed by a "god out of the machine". By looking at their persons and problems as if they were contemporary, Euripides brings the stark stories of the heroic age down to a bourgeois level, often with happy instead of "tragic" endings. Euripides was also a reforming pampheteer. He was often criticized by conservatives for his shabby heroes and other flouting of established decencies. That's why he was awarded very few victories during his lifetime. After his death, however, audiences found the style and outlook of his plays more sympathetic than those of his older rivals. That's why we have more plays of Euripides than of Aeschylus and Sophocles together (although only 19 survived out of his some hundred plays).


Comedy too had its origin in religious ritual, doubtless as part of a fertility cult. Comedy too aimed to teach, not about the relations of man to external forces but about politics and education and manners. Its form/structure was looser but still regulated. However the content could be more of freestyle.

Aristophanes (445-388 b.c.) is the only representitive of Old Comedy. His three outstanding characteristics - gross obscenity, exquisite lyricism, and a serious concern for decency and morality - a strange combination to the modern reader, accurately reflect the mood of the Dionysiac festivals which entailed release from the restraints of normal behavior. Aristophanes' position was actually consistently conservative. He was tireless in his criticism of Euripides because Euripides envodied all the new outlooks which he deplored. He even attacked Socrates as a typical Sophist in one of his plays.

We know little about Middle Comedy, a transition between Old and New. The great master of New Comedy was Menander (342-291 b.c.).

There were many versions and adaptations of Greek dramas throughout the history, but most adapters learned was form rather than content. The 20th century dramatic treatments for they're less bound by traditional form but often truer reflections of the Greeks in representing the quandary of the individual poised between the competing claims of his own nature and of the external world.

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