The battle of the Greek tragedies – Melanie Sirof


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Let us welcome you to the final day of
dramatic battle between great tragedians. It is a spring day here in Ancient Greece. Nearly 17,000 patrons are filing
into the Theatre of Dionysus to watch top playwrights, including favorites Aeschylus
and Sophocles duke it out to see whose hero
may be deemed most tragic, whose story most awful. Well Seacrestopolis, in last week’s battle of the choruses, all 50 members of each playwright’s chorus
traveled back and forth across the stage, singing the strophe and antistrophe,
telling misbegotten tales of woe. Today’s first chorus is entering
through the parados, taking their positions in the orchestra
at the bottom of the stage. Mario Lopedokia, this is nothing
we haven’t seen before. All 50 members speaking
from the depths of their souls. Wait, what is this? I’ve not seen this before, Seacrestopolis. There is one actor stepping out
of choral formation, assuming an independent role in this play. Can you make out who it is? That looks like Thespis. It seems he’s changing his mask, and taking on the role
of another character. Incredible. Surely, Thespis will go down
in history as the very first actor. He has changed
the face of theater forever. And that was just the warm-up act. On to the main attraction. Aeschylus will have the stage first. Let’s see what he does. We expect great things. Last competition,
Sophocles beat him by a smidge, but Aeschylus is still considered
the Father of Tragedy. Now, Aeschylus frequently competes
at this festival, the city Dionysia. Though his plays are violent, the bloodshed is never
seen by the audience, which allows the dramatic tension
to take center stage. Let’s see what he does today
to try to win his title back. Here comes Aeschylus’s chorus, but they seem to be missing
quite a few people. What is going on here? Not only are they down a few people. There are two actors taking center stage. This is absolutely unheard of. He has build on Thespis’s idea
and added a second actor to the mix. Aeschylus is relying on
the two individuals to tell the story. The dialogue possible in tragedy
now has taken precedence over the chorus. No wonder he drastically shrunk its size. This applause is well deserved. The crowd has hushed. Sophocles’s actors and chorus are taking the stage for the play,
“Oedipus Rex.” As usual, the chorus
is set up in the orchestra. And what’s this? Sophocles has added a third actor. Will this one-upmanship never end? Three actors, and they are changing their masks
to take on several different roles as they weave the tale of Oedipus, a nice fellow who kills his father
and marries his mother. Kills his father and marries his mother. That sounds pretty tragic to me. It is most tragic, Mario Lopedokia. Call me crazy, but I’m willing to bet
that future generations will hold this play up
as the perfect example of tragedy. Excuse me, Seacrestopolis. Oedipus has left the stage after realizing
Jocasta was his wife and also his mother. Where has he gone? I can’t even imagine. Wait. The messenger has stepped on stage and is telling us
of the great king’s actions. He says that Oedipus, upon finding
his mother, wife, whatever, Jocasta, dead of her own hand
in their incestuous bedroom, took the broaches from her dress
and stabbed his eyes repeatedly. You can’t blame the guy, can you? Bedded his mother, killed his father,
is father and brother to his children. I might do the same. My friend, I do believe we’ve seen it all. Indeed, we have. There is nothing more tragic than Oedipus. And sure enough, the judges who have
been chosen by lot from all over Greece are ready to announce the winner. Oh, folks! This is one
for the history books. Dark horse playwright, Philocles,
has taken first prize. What an upset. What a tragedy. What a night, folks. We have witnessed the laying
of the foundation of modern theater and some great innovations: the shrinking of the chorus, the addition of three actors, and such catharsis. Doesn’t a great tragedy just make you feel
renewed and cleansed? It sure does, but now we are out of time. I’m Seacrestopolis, and I’m Mario Lopedokia. Peace, love and catharsis.

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