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The Dramas of Euripides: Complete Surviving…

The Dramas of Euripides: Complete Surviving Works, 19 Plays (Forgotten…

by Euripides

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Euripides' is one of only three Ancient Greek tragedians with surviving plays. The plays by the earliest, Aeschylus, remind me of a ancient frieze--not stilted exactly, but still stylized, very formal. The plays by Sophocles, in the middle chronologically are less so--he was credited with adding a third actor onstage, deemphasizing the chorus and allowing for more conflict. But it's the last of the three, Euripides, who to me seems the most natural, the most modern. Only 19 of some ninety-odd plays by Euripides still remain in existence.

Reading over these plays made him ultimately my favorite Ancient Greek playwright. It might have helped that not only have I studied two of his plays in school (though the same is true of Aeschylus and Sophocles), but have actually seen his most famous play, Medea, in a Broadway production--the one with Zoe Caldwell, I think, though the drama is so playable it has gone through several Broadway productions in my lifetime. Medea was one of the plays assigned me in school--the other one was Bacchae, a play that still has the power to shock. And mind you--look at Medea--a play where a mother murders her own young children. Euripides makes Sophocles and Aeschylus look staid with the rawness and wildness of what he presents onstage.

His women are more real to me too. There's a lot of debate about whether Euripides was misogynist or proto-feminist. Certainly Ancient Athens would not be a place where you'd find a sympathetic hearing for feminism, and I've read at least one critic allege that any feminist subtext we find in these plays are an overlay from our modern sensibilities--and another allege that actually his portrayal of woman was savage and satirical. I can only tell you that I felt Euripides wrote women with sympathy and understanding, and at least in his surviving plays, it's striking to me how many of the title protagonists are women. Maybe it's simply that he was too great a playwright to make complete caricatures of them, with enough layers to allow different reads. As with Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, which was Hitler's favorite play, but one also memorable for its soaring cry of common humanity in its, "Doth not a Jew bleed?" There's a passage that reminds me of that in Medea, where the chorus complains of how poets have depicted women, and hope for a day when women will sing out and the old portraits "of frail brides and faithless shall be shriveled as with fire." His portrait of the suffering of women in war in The Trojan Women is notable in it's empathy. Read Euripides and decide for yourself--he's definitely worth knowing. ( )
  LisaMaria_C | May 21, 2013 |
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