A Critique of Peter Hall’s The Eumenides (1981)
Tragedy is a type of drama, based on human suffering, which evokes in the audience a complementary catharsis (Banham 1118). Athenian tragedy, also known as Greek tragedy (Taxidou 104), was created and performed in Greece almost 2500 years ago. They were performed at religious festivals in an open-air arena. Choral groups sang and danced, and the composition was in a variety of meters. All of the actors were male and wore masks throughout the performance. There are only a small number of the hundreds of tragedies that were performed still extant today, and only one complete trilogy of tragedies–the Oresteia of Aeschylus. Aeschylus is often referred to as the father of tragedy (Freeman 243). Teachings of tragedy often begin with his work (Lattimore 4). The Oresteia, originally performed in Athens in 458BC, is composed of three individual plays. The first play leads into the second play, and the second into the third–but any of the three could be viewed as a separate entity. Although each play has its own chorus and a discrete cast of characters, there are underlying themes that resonate throughout, and that reach their full resolution at the end of the third play, The Eumenides. After killing his mother, Orestes goes to Delphi to seek refuge at the Temple of Apollo. The Furies, upset that Clytaemnestra has been killed, are taunting him. Orestes does not feel he should be held accountable for her death as he was simply avenging the death of his father. Apollo sends him, along with Hermes, to Athena. Soon after, the ghost of Clytaemnestra shows herself to the Furies. She calls for vengeance. Athena hears Orestes’ pleas, but acknowledges that the Furies’ discord with the killing of his mother is warranted. She creates a court to weigh Orestes’ innocence or guilt, using twelve male Athenians as her jury. After hearing from both Orestes and the Furies once more, Athena also allows Apollo to testify. When the citizens are...
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