March 10, 2004
At first glance Alcestis has all the makings of a tragedy, but in retrospect, it could in fact pass for a comedy. Though tragic elements certainly exist, the helplessness of the catch-22 Admetus finds himself in and the happy ending indicates the makings of a comedy. Tragedy is a type of drama or literary work that is most well renowned for the suffering its protagonists are forced to endure and an acute lack of a happy ending. Alcestis has no shortage of agony, to be sure. The play begins with a monologue delivered by Apollo explaining the events that have led up to the current situation. Alcestis is near death and King Admetus is grieving. The audience knows only that the King of Thessaly had been saved by Apollo while the latter was serving penance for slaying the Cyclopes. The audience knows only that Apollo was able to convince the Fates to give Admetus a chance to switch any willing person for himself in death. His wife being the only person willing to do so, the situation appears rather bleak.
The catch-22 that Admetus finds himself in is humorous right off the bat. All of the characters in the play tell Admetus he has the greatest wife of all time, but the only evidence to support this claim that the play offers is the fact that she will die for him. Therefore, he is relegated to choosing between death and the perfect wife, who is perfect because she’ll die for him, effectively making the perfect wife impossible to obtain.
While Euripides uses a language that appeals in a very direct way to the audience’s emotion, these same lines, after the play’s happy resolution, come across as rather up-played, seemingly to the point of satire. He depicts Alcestis weeping at Death’s approach: “And when she was fulfilled of many tears, drooping she rose from her bed and made as if to go, and many times she turned to go and many times turned back, and flung herself once more upon the bed.” However, she does not weep...