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Review: Greek Tragedy

Review: Greek Tragedy

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Review: Greek Tragedy

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  1. Review: Greek Tragedy Tragedy developed in the highly sophisticated and relatively small city-state, in which debates about the relations between the individual and society, man and nature, man and the gods, men and women, and so on, were flourishing, with traditional political, philosophical and social attitudes coming under constant challenge. Tragedy occurs when such attitudes and beliefs conflict with one another. Competing visions from strong characters often result in terrible loss, usually on both sides. But it is the vision of such characters that gives meaning to their struggles, and that can raise a character to the heights of noble spirit. The point to remember is that though the subject of tragedy is usually very serious, and taken from older stories as the point of departure, it is not removed from real life concerns. This was as true of tragedy in ancient times as it is now.

  2. Theatre at Epidaurus Theatre at Epidaurus Although tragedy dealt with stories from the mythic past, one need only read a few plays to realize that the contemporary world and its debates often lie behind how the action and its motivation are depicted. As Walter Nestle comments, "Tragedy is born when myth starts to be considered from the point of view of the citizen. "The active participation of the citizenry in legal and political processes, along with traditional educational practice, produced a society in which the appreciation of rhetorical and performance skills was widespread. Plato remarks in The Laws that 'lack of training in singing, dancing and poetry is associated with a lack of education' (654a). The principal festival at which tragedy was performed, the City Dionysia, included competitions between choruses of fifty men or boys from each of the ten tribes which formed the basis of Athenian social organization. Involvement in these and similar choral performances (often connected with religious or civic occasions) was a major means by which the traditions of the city were handed on and by which young people were inducted into the life of the city. The small, close-knit nature of the Athenian community and its respect for authority also had a strong influence on the portrayal of behaviour and the central concerns of the plays. Within such a confined society there was a clearer sense of society's norms and the expectation that people should obey them. Greek drama (and Greek literature generally) tended to focus more on a person's actions, rather than a study of inner thoughts, because Greek society tended to view a person more from the point of view of the acceptability or non-acceptability of their behaviour, especially behaviour towards family and friends and in public roles. Particularly in the mid-5th Century BC, as the relationships between citizen and state were undergoing re-definition, one finds plays such as Sophocles' Antigone concerned with the negotiation of conflicts between the characters' sense of their own position or family duties and the demands of the state.

  3. The small, close-knit nature of the Athenian community and its respect for authority also had a strong influence on the portrayal of behaviour and the central concerns of the plays. Within such a confined society there was a clearer sense of society's norms and the expectation that people should obey them. Greek drama (and Greek literature generally) tended to focus more on a person's actions, rather than a study of inner thoughts, because Greek society tended to view a person more from the point of view of the acceptability or non-acceptability of their behaviour, especially behaviour towards family and friends and in public roles. Particularly in the mid-5th Century BC, as the relationships between citizen and state were undergoing re-definition, one finds plays such as Sophocles' Antigone concerned with the negotiation of conflicts between the characters' sense of their own position or family duties and the demands of the state.

  4. Tragic Hero and the Greek Tragedy Reference points defines tragic hero simply as "the heroic protagonist of a tragedy." Tragedy is further defined as "a drama focusing on the downfall of the protagonist (due to a flaw in character or a mistake) an unhappy ending. Traditionally the protagonist was of high social status (ie. a god, a queen) but is now often an ordinary person." In Greek or Shakespearean tragedy the tragic hero is the character who falls from nobility, prosperity, or happiness to misfortune and misery due to some error in circumstance, judgment or some tragic flaw in character. In looking at the play Antigone, you have to focus each of these characteristics on Creon as you witness his downfall from mighty ruler to victim of the gods. Contemplate the human qualities which lead to his downfall and try to develop a theme based on his misfortune.

  5. Aristotle on Greek Tragedy The word tragedy literally means "goat song," probably referring to the practice of giving a goat as a sacrifice or a prize at the religious festivals in honor of the god Dionysos. Whatever its origins, tragedy came to signify a dramatic presentation of high seriousness and noble character which examines the major questions of human existence: Why are we here? How can we know the will of the gods? What meaning does life have in the face of death? In tragedy people are tested by great suffering and must face decisions of ultimate consequence. Some meet the challenge with deeds of despicable cruelty, while others demonstrate their ability to confront and surpass adversity, winning our admiration and proving the greatness of human potential.

  6. Structure of Greek Tragedy Sophocles brings vital action to the drama by allowing a third character to take part in the story. Beforehand, two characters were more common. Sophocles also gives us the chorus in a new way. Once the chorus was actually the audience’s reaction in a ritualised response. Sophocles, however, makes the chorus an integral part of the drama. It is given a character within the drama itself. As such it functions as a social conscience, or a body representing the norms and values of the audience, but in a more strategic and consistent way. The structure of the tragedy for Sophocles followed a simple guide. Aristotle defines plot as the combination of incidents of a story. For Sophocles then this plot consists of the exposition, or explanation of the situation which has arisen, the complication, which may cause a reversal in the expectation of the protagonist, and the resolution, or denouement which accounts for all action from the introduction of the complication to the end of the drama.

  7. Elements of Greek Play • Protagonist/Antagonist: the protagonist refers to the main or pivotal character who experiences a change through self-knowledge or their interaction with outside forces. The antagonist is the protagonist's main rival or opponent. • Exposition: the introduction which explains the characters and their situation. • Conflict: the tension and problem which forms the basis for the action of the play. • Rising Action: the introduction of the conflict which needs to be resolved. • Climax: that particular moment in a series of actions when antagonist and protagonist clash for the last time • Denouement: where the resolution takes place and loose ends are tied up

  8. Sophocles • Sophocles’ life spanned the most prosperous time in Greek and some say world history. A citizen born into the Athens of Pericles in 496 B.C., he grew with a democratic form of government through which Athens was to prosper in the ancient world. It was known as the Golden Age of Greece. Sophocles was one of its most honoured citizens and is said to have written more than any other playwright. He lived for ninety years and in that time, he brought new dimensions to tragedy for the Greek stage and for the history of theatre and writing.

  9. Sophocles: Changes to theatre He brought the third character to the stage where plays had been written for only two actors before, and he created new roles for the chorus (see lesson 4) with more impact on the action of the play than had been done before. The days spent in the open-air theatres were the life’s blood of the ritual of theatre for Sophocles and for his thousands of educated fellow citizens. Through him the questioning of government, ideas, and religious issues were brought to focus for people seeing the plays. The plays functioned as a forum for social and political life as well as being the center of ritual practice.

  10. Plot of Oedipus Rex & Colonus • Text History: The Theban Plays • The story begins with Laius, who was son of Labdacus, King of Thebes. Labdacus died while Laius was still an infant and control of Thebes was assumed by the evil ruler Lycus. The baby, Laius is taken to safety to grow up and returns to Thebes as the true ruler. • Later, Laius married Jocasta, daughter of Menoeceus. When the couple were unable to have children, Laius consulted the oracle at Delphi, only to be informed that Jocasta would bear him a son who would grow up to kill his father and marry his mother. When Oedipus was born, Laius had the baby's ankles pierced and gave him to a shepherd to leave him on a mountain. The damage done to his feet, provides the name of Oedipus, which means "swollen foot".

  11. Plot of Oedipus Rex & Colonus • In the case of Oedipus, the shepherd took pity and gave the child to a shepherd from neighbouring Corinth, where the baby was raised as the son of Polybus and Merope, king and queen of Corinth. • Oedipus had heard about the fate the gods had set for him and set out for Delphi to discover the truth. The oracle did not answer Oedipus' question about his parents, but instead told him that he was destined to murder his father and marry his mother. Horrified, Oedipus decided never to return to Corinth. • On leaving Delphi, he encountered Laius at the place where the three roads meet (the roads leading from Corinth, Thebes, and Delphi). A quarrel broke out when one of Laius' men attempted to drive Oedipus from the road. Oedipus killed all of them, including Laius, except for one man (as chance would have it, the very shepherd who had been given the job of displaying the suffering baby Oedipus). • In the meantime, Thebes, the city where Laius had been king, was beset by the evil Sphinx, a winged female monster, usually pictured as a winged dog with a woman's head. The Sphinx would land on the walls of Thebes and pose a riddle to one of its young men; when the youth could not answer the riddle, the Sphinx would eat him. • One version of the riddle: "What goes on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?" The answer: humankind, which crawls at birth, walks on two legs upon reaching maturity, and is reduced to the use of a cane or staff in old age.

  12. Plot of Oedipus Rex & Colonus • Creon, Jocasta's brother and ruler of Thebes in Laius' absence, was desperate: he offered the throne of Thebes and the hand of Jocasta to anyone who could solve the riddle and rid Thebes of the Sphinx. Oedipus came to Thebes, solved the riddle, and married Jocasta, unknowingly fulfilling the oracle’s prediction. • Oedipus and Jocasta had four children, two daughters (Antigone and Ismene) and two sons (Eteocles and Polynieces). When the truth comes out, Oedipus blinds himself. Jocasta commits suicide. Oedipus' two sons, Eteocles and Polynieces, grow up and fall into a dispute over the throne. They finally agree to shar the kingship: Eteocles is to rule for one year, then give the power to Polynieces for the next year, and so on. Predictably, Eteocles refuses to live up to the bargain. As a result, Polynieces gathers together six other heroes and these seven join together in an attack on Thebes. All of Polynieces' six allies are killed in battle; he agrees to a private duel with Eteocles, where the two brothers kill one another. Jocasta's brother Creon then assumes the throne of Thebes. It is at this point that Antigone opens.

  13. Pre- Reading Homework Activity: Create a family tree visual showing the House of Laius ending with Antigone. Within the sketch, provide a note for each of the members of the family, saying what has happened to each to the point where Antigone begins. Additionally, leave space to fill in the outcome of Ismene and Antigone’s story as well as that of Creon, his wife Eurydice, and his son Haemon.

  14. Character & theme: The Nature of Kingship • The nature of Creon’s kingship is based upon a tragic family and its' inability to keep out of fate’s way. That family was formed through the marriage of Oedipus to his mother Jocasta. The children Polyneices, Etocles, Ismene, and Anitgone were children who were caught between the laws of god and the laws of man. • The charge lead by Polyneices upon the seven-gated City of Thebes was prophecized to be doomed, with the result being the brothers’ death. The sisters lives were dominated by the care of their father, whose blindness was self-inflicted because of self-hatred. This self-hatred was the result of Oedipus' quest to find out the truth and the subsequent realization that he was married to his mother. • The surviving uncle, Creon, wants to rule in defiance of all those things which played so huge a role in the immediate history of Thebes. He wants to control every aspect of the state with rules of governance that will leave everyone answerable to him alone. Even the elder statesmen of Thebes are to answer to Creon’s demands for control. • Issues pertaining to matters outside the state will not be heard. Creon will not acknowledge matters of family or religion as concerns of any interest to him. He trusts no one. His rule of law is the funnel through which all things must be driven. As a result his vision of good governance is based upon a very narrow set of state laws.

  15. Character & Theme: The Nature of Kingship • Antigone defends the areas of law that govern values of family, community and of the spiritual realm. She sets herself against the demands of Creon because she will not let her priorities and principles based on the laws of the gods be crushed by his narrow definition of law. • Antigone has a very negative view of Creon’s handling of her dead brother, his own nephew, the defiled Polyneices. Eteocles had refused his elder brother the throne of Thebes and won over a portion of the Theben population. When Polyneices was denied elder brother status as ruler, he left Thebes and gathered a force of seven heroes and returned to storm the seven gates of Thebes, to take his rightful place as king for that year. The two brothers killed each other in a hand to hand combat. • The play opens with Antigone, wracked by grief. She comes to tell their other sister Ismene, about Creon’s order to defile the body and spirit of Polyneices, who still lies on the battlefield. In the meantime the body of Etoecles, is described like this: Etoecles, who fell fighting in defence of the city, Fighting gallantly, is to be honoured with burial And with all the rights due the noble dead. (p.131)

  16. Character & Theme: The Nature of Kingship • Antigone is outraged and devastated by the position Creon has taken. Here are the orders from King Creon, describing how Polyneices is to be viewed. …his brother Polyneices, Who came back from exile intending to burn and destroy His fatherland and the gods of his fatherland, To drink the blood of his kin, to make them slaves- He is to have no grave, no burial, No mourning from anyone; it is forbidden . He is to be left unburied, left to be eaten By dogs and vultures, a horror for all to see. (p.131)

  17. Character & Theme: The Nature of Kingship In fact, Antigone defies Creon’s orders and covers her brother’s body. She has disobeyed the king. Creon has been king for less time than it has taken for Polyneices body to smell. Antigone’s brother has just been king and before that her father. Why should she now accept Creon’s version of the world? Circumstances have brought her uncle to rule, and she sees that fate can change this again. Sustainable law is the law of the gods that the dead shall be honored in burial.

  18. Character & Theme: The Nature of Kingship • This view undercuts Creon’s view that it is within his power to stamp rightness upon an already devastatingly tragic history the house of Labdacus. Creon had once said of Oedipus :The unclean must not remain in the eye of day insulting “the Lord of Life, The Sun above us” (p.65). Although by leaving Polyneices exposed, he has done this. This is one of many examples where Creon is shown to be disingenuous. • Antigone is arrested. She is trying to make meaning where barbarous acts have left all grace and humanity bare.

  19. Activity:ReadAntigone’s speech about law and justice (lines 438-458). Continue reading through the exchange between Antigone and Creon that follows up to line 510. • How is the character of Antigone developed by this part of the play and through the stance she has firmly taken to risk her life? How does it reflect theme, or main idea in this play? • Go to the discussion forum and with other students, create a contemporary situation that would pit two strong characters against one another. Make your issue one based upon your generation fighting for principles with which the older generation strongly disagrees

  20. Activity:ReadAntigone’s speech about law and justice (lines 438-458). Visualise the common ground of both parties, and to highlight the opposing strength of each to the other. Use the Diagram model. Write at least three paragraphs arguing for each position.

  21. Values & Character We will examine: • The relationship between values and character for Haemon • The role of Teiresias, the blind seer, in demonstrating Creon’s character • The use of imagery and other poetic devices in developing thematic significance

  22. The relationship between values and character for Haemon Haemon, son of Creon, and bridegroom of the condemned Antigone speaks to his father about what a good leader needs to be aware of when making rulings over his people. In a strong speech by Haemon to his father Creon, Haemon characterizes his father’s shortcomings as a leader and as a man. In it, Haemon brings out the rashness of leading without mercy and wisdom. He talks about the impossibility of ruling well, without trusting your fellow countrymen. He talks about bad leadership resulting from those who hold a small amount of power tightly in their grip.

  23. The relationship between values and character for Haemon Look again at this speech of Haemon to Creon: Let your first thought not be your only thought. Think if there cannot be some other way. Surely, to think your own wisdom the only wisdom, And yours the only word, the only will, Betrays a shallow spirit, an empty heart. It is no weakness for the wisest man To learn when he is wrong, know when to yield. So, on the margin of a flooded river Trees bending to the torrent live unbroken, While those that strain against it are snapped off. A sailor has to tack and slacken sheets Before the gale, or find himself capsized. So, father, pause and put aside your anger, I think, for what my young opinion’s worth, That, good as it is to have infallible wisdom, Since this is rarely found, the next best thing Is to be willing to listen to wise advice. (p.145)

  24. The relationship between values and character for Haemon An Exploration of Imagery • Imagery is defined as both the pattern of images in a work and all language used to represent objects, actions, feelings, thoughts and so on. The term image is further defined as a picture, in writing, which are words or combinations of words that help the reader form a mental picture. Images can appeal to the sense of smell (olfactory), hearing (auditory), taste (gustatory), and touch (tactile). They can be descriptive (literal) or evocative (metaphorical). Imagery can be jam-packed with description. • When Haemon describes the "the margin of a flooded river/Trees bending to the torrent live unbroken/While those that strain against it are snapped off." He is using figurative language and imagery to describe the rule of his father, Creon. These words are metaphorical in nature and depict an atmosphere of chaos and injustice. As you look through the remainder of his speech consider the senses being appealed to and the nature of the imagery being used.

  25. The relationship between values and character for Haemon • Discuss the following questions in groups of four. Greek tragedy is expressed in terms of the views of the gods and natural order alone. See lines 949 to 982 for Teiresias’ speech to Creon. • Compare the beliefs of Haemon to those of Teiresias – the blind seer. • In what ways are each effective? • What are the values asserted in each? • What common advice do they provide to Creon? • What images are used and how are they effective? • Using the information from formulate a comparison response addressing these issues. • See Comparative Writing next slide

  26. Side By Side & Block Method