General Knowledge

The battle of the Greek tragedies

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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