Specimens of Greek Tragedy

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Author: Goldwin Smith
Language: English
Wordcount: 43,572 / 133 pg
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 53.4
LoC Category: PN
Downloads: 908
mnybks.net#: 6499
Genre: Criticism
Excerpt

not in date. He belongs to a full-blown democracy, and is evidently the dramatic poet of the people. To please the people he lays dignity and stateliness aside, brings heroic characters down to a common level, and introduces characters which are unheroic. He gives the people plenty of passion, especially of feminine passion, without being nice as to its sources, or rejecting such stories as those of Phaedra and Medea, which would have been alien to the taste, not only of Aeschylus, but of Sophocles. He gives them plenty of politics, plenty of rhetoric, plenty of discussion, political and moral, plenty of speculation, which in those days was novel, now and then a little scepticism. His "Alcestis" is melodrama verging on sentimental comedy, and heralding the sentimental comedy of Menander known to us in the versions of Terence. The chord of pathos he can touch well. His degradation, as the old school thought it, of the drama of Aeschylus and Sophocles, and what they deemed his pandering to vulgar taste, brought upon him the bitter satire of Aristophanes. Yet he did not win many prizes. Perhaps the vast theatre and the grand choric accompaniments harmonised ill with his unheroic style. He is clearly connected with the Sophists, and with the generation the morality of which had been unsettled by the violence of faction and the fury of the Peloponnesian war. Still there is no reason for saying that he preached moral scepticism or impiety. Probably he did not intend to preach anything, but to please his popular audience and to win the prize. The line quoted against him, "My lips have sworn, but my mind is unsworn," read in its place, has nothing in it immoral. Perhaps he had his moods: he was religious when he wrote "The Bacchae." As little ground is there for dubbing him a woman-hater. If he has his Phaedra and Medea, he has also his Alcestis and Electra. He seems to have prided himself on his choric odes. Some of them have beauty in themselves, but they are little relevant to the play.

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