Monday October 15, 2012 .docx

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University of Toronto St. George
Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies
Alan Ackerman

Monday October 15, 2012 – DRAMA LECTURE THE BACCHAE CONTINUED: God Dionysus = presiding diety of the Bacchae. Dionysus has qualities that are both masculine and feminine = gender confusion. This mixture is one of the emblems of his paradoxical role. He is a foreigner but also a foreigner from Thebes. He disrupts normal social categories (this is what wine does to you as well – makes you transgress normal social categories like rules, hierarchies especially that of the masculine world and he re- introduces and dramatizes a set of conflicts). Dionysus is also a god of the theatre – these plays were produced for a festival to honor the god Dionysus. His identification with the theatre gives him a power – feminized men are countered by masculinized women. Athenian society is very male centered. The self in Greek society is a masculine self. The woman represents the other. Women are central to the play (we can’t say Euripides or Sophocles were feminists), they serve as anti-models. There is something very disturbing but fascinating about Pentheus who is dressing up as a women. Pentheus is flirting with Dionysus. Dionysus breaches the physical integrity of Pentheus (which is so dear to a man) and prepares him for the terrible sequel. Pentheus’ body becomes the focus for the women’s hands -> the play is very much about the body. Pentheus = the body that can be breached, violated. We depict the women as they undo the body. Initially, Pentheus was opposed to anything that was feminine. After, the women (represented as a subversive threat to men’s authority, they represent rationality vs. irrationality, body vs. mind…) rip the body apart, we can’t even find all the pieces. Pentheus’ larger demands for mastery over the house collapse when Dionysus sends an earthquake to shake the house to its foundations. Pentheus erects barriers around himself, against the invasion of Dionysus, even as he struggles to maintain the integrity of his house. Tragedy continually calls into question what we know, how we think, how we think we know it. Tragedy confronts rational thought with psychological necessities that can’t be denied. We will see tensions between the inside and outside. For example, Hamlet shows us that the outside does not reveal the inside. Cat and mouse scene between Dionysus and Pentheus is very degrading, very disturbing. When we see the 2 characters together, they look a lot alike (they are antagonists but are also alike – how?) Both men are young, look similar, are first cousins and share a family likeness (each is deeply jealous of his own personal honor, each is ruthless, each is intolerant of opposition to his will). Ultimately, Dionysus will destroy Pentheus. If you don’t appreciate the horror of this play (when mother holds her son’s head in her hands) you don’t find the power. We have already seen in Oedipus the tension between Creon (who is very orderly, he is about decorum, is about rules and orders) and Oedipus (who is very rash) -> the tension/clash between order and chaos is central to the play. There is a balance to be achieved. The foundations of Pentheus’ order are rational. Dionysus is no more irrational than an earthquake is irrational -> he is a force of nature and is indifferent about anything he will destroy. Entrances and exits are a significant way to structure a play. In the Bacchae, entrances and exits sum up the play, they frame it. The tragedy concentrates on the royal house of Thebes -> Pentheus will be punished at the end of the play but those who survive (like Cadmus who seems to have been honoring the God, or his wife) have a burden than seems heavier than being relieved by death. Dionysus implies he has stage-managed the entire story at the end of the play, he appears to be the director of the play. The final exit becomes a classic device for centuries after (the deus ex machina = something that comes in and swoops everything, changes everything. Ex: In Medea, a chariot comes in and swoops up Medea). Aristotle does not approve of the deus ex machina because he thinks it shows that something is not quite right -> a problem is quickly solved by something, it is an easy way out (ex: p. 211 at bottom in Bacchae). Dionysus has an epiphany to be revealed. Dionysus says at the end of the play that Pentheus got the death he revealed -> people have wondered if this isn’t a bit over the top. This is a very extreme conclusion to the play. Aristotle usually deals with the unraveling of the plot, he says it should flow naturally. He says it should be kept from an unrational ending. We need boundaries, without them idea of transgression, entering doesn’t make any sense. Dionysus’ nature is ambivalent. His greatest gift is wine (=product of civilization, of the earth, product of celebration, is also potentially dangerous -> can make men lose control). Dionysus is also potentially dangerous, like his gift. Play is very dangerous, we don’t have a clear moral at the end. Dionysus leaves us very troubled. We wonder if the punishment is too extreme, is it just? It challenges us to think about the notions of justice, of the ways in which certain actions are governed beyond us. COMEDY: In Lysistrata, references made to Euripides (bottom of 147). We have talked about tragedy (tragedy gets all the laurels, great works are tragic works). When we talked about tragedy, we have asked basic questions: What is its function? Why do we have tragedy? Why do we like to go see horrible things happen to people (Pentheus, Oedipus)? What value does this have? We think about Aristotle who said that tragedy has to be defined by catharsis (the experience of the tragic pleasure which involves pity and fear). That question leads us to ask: What is the function of comedy? How could we begin to define comedy? Comedy provides us with an outlet, a way to let off steam. It is a release valve. The Golden Age of Hollywood begins during the Great Depression (people blew off steam through comedy). There was a comic convention in the Elizabethan theatre. Aristophanes is the great satirist of the Greek theatre. A comedy is often associated with a carnival -> celebration of the life of the body. Aristotle doesn’t necessarily believe that tragedy has to have a bad ending and comedy has to have a good ending. We have to think about the nature of the ending, what makes a play a tragedy or a comedy. Many people think that the comedy or satire serves as a corrector of people’s vices. Laughter very important part of comedy. Bergson says: “What makes us laugh?” He
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