Women on the Edge: Four Plays by Euripides

Women on the Edge: Four Plays by Euripides

Women on the Edge: Four Plays by Euripides

Women on the Edge: Four Plays by Euripides

Synopsis

Women in tragedy often disrupt "normal" life by their words and actions: they speak out boldly, tell lies, cause public unrest, violate custom, defy orders, even kill. Women on the Edge offers examples of women who support the status quo and women who oppose and disrupt it; sometimes these are the same characters. The translation in this collection help readers locate the plays within their original social, cultural and performance context and mediate between ancient and modern ideologies.

Excerpt

The ancient Greek tragedies that have come down to us are all products of a unique historical moment in a specific place: Athens in the latter part of the fifth century BCE. Yet most nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century classical studies in Europe and the United States took an idealizing, universalizing approach to ancient texts. This approach assumed that later readers could understand the characters and situations of Athenian tragedies because of the basic, eternal truths about human nature they contained, truths which—thanks to the artistic genius of individual playwrights—transcended social and cultural differences. The texts of the plays were studied as literary documents sufficient in themselves, with little attention to the fact that they were scripts for performance in a specific cultural milieu. Studies focused on the large philosophical questions raised by tragic texts, and their aesthetic qualities, such as elegant formal structures and beautiful poetry. The surviving plays by the three Athenian dramatists were often grouped together into an entity called “Greek tragedy,” both in scholarly studies and in performance. Differences between the plays were regarded as results of the different sensibilities of individual playwrights and the development of the tragic form itself (often influenced by Aristotle’s organic metaphor of growth/maturity/decay; Poetics 1449a). Little attention was focused on the context in which this form of drama was actually produced and consumed. The fact that most tragic plays feature heroic characters and mythic settings, with few obvious references to Athens, reinforced the sense that they should be understood as “classics” for all time, rather than as documents produced in a particular social, political, and artistic context. To understand these texts, readers were expected to have a broad understanding of philosophy and literature, rather than specific knowledge of Athenian history and institutions. Once the connection with the original historical, social, and performance context of the works was lost, the text was seen as the essential aspect, “a permanent written formulation distinct from, and seen as somehow possessing a

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