Myth (mythos) means story and they include divine figures. Their purpose is to explain a society, social structures, and the religions through the relation to the supernatural (gods) and heroes. Myths are very adaptable, meaning that each poet or playwright can shape it however they want to. Euripides was one of the three main dramatists of Athens that were able to do this, but his dramas were unique. Dionysus was already considered to be an unusual god, due to his parentage, but Euripides drama made him even more unique. In the Bacchae, he created Dionysus to be both divine and mortal, between male and female, and also to showcase pettiness in achieving what he wants. Euripides’ Bacchae was very ambiguous. Throughout this essay, I will be discussing some of the techniques that Euripides uses in staging his Bacchae. Euripides us of dramatic irony, the theme of epiphany, and his choice of characters in creating his Bacchae represent his uniqueness of creating something more complex and dynamic. It adds to the drama of the tragedy. While addressing these techniques, I will also address what resulted from using them.
To begin with, Euripides used a wide array of dramatic irony. This technique allows the audience to understand the full meaning of the character’s words or actions although it is unknown to the character at the moment. Dramatic irony had both a comedic and empathetic effect on the drama, which I think Euripides was going for. It also adds a sense of suspense to the drama, which helps to create that more complex dynamic that Euripides showcases. One huge way that Euripides displays dramatic irony is with the women of Thebes. His character Dionysus arrives in Thebes with vengeance in his heart for his mother’s sisters and how they claimed that Semele was a liar and he was not the son of Zeus. He uses his power to make the women of Thebes delirious and in a way possessed by him. They become his loyal band of worshippers (Bacchae). Euripides takes this plot and runs with it. By writing the women as becoming possessed by Dionysus’ power it also shows how the women are so out of their mind that they have no idea what they are doing and that once they come out of it they are going to be distraught with their actions. He also uses it in foreshadowing Pentheus’s death. For example, “They would have torn us to pieces, those Bacchae. Instead, they turned bare-handed on our herd of grazing cattle. A single woman pulled a mewling calf in two, while the others clawed apart a full grown heifer” (Euripides 36). Euripides hints at the fact that Pentheus is going to die towards the end, but he also foreshadows how he will die during this phrase. He showcases the delirious women pulling apart cattle, which come to find out, in the end, is also how the group of women also kill Pentheus. Euripides also uses dramatic irony referring to Pentheus’ death again when the stranger (Dionysus) leads Pentheus to the mountain dressed as a woman. Pentheus thinks that he is helping him, but he is just leading him to his death and humiliating him along the way. As Euripides showcases Pentheus being dismembered by his family and his mother going back with his head unknown to what she has done, it leads into the theme of epiphany.
Euripides usage of dramatic irony in a way leads into the theme of epiphany. An epiphany is an eye-opening moment of realization or a revelation. This theme is used mostly when the author is trying to showcase characters recognizing the gods. Euripides leads the audience towards epiphany in the end when Agave has come out of her delirious state to face her horrendous actions, when the House of Cadmus come to terms with their fate, and also when they recognize Dionysus as a god and not the ‘outsider’ they thought he was.
During his time the dramas usually consisted of two main characters to create dialogue, making the plot more complex. Euripides, however, thought that it would make more use to have three main characters in his drama. This created a more complexed plot in the ‘Bacchae’ because it showcased three different opinions and personalities. There was Pentheus (king of Thebes) who is characterized by Euripides as rigid, immature and paranoid. In opposition to Pentheus is Tiresias who is a blind seer that is devoted to the gods; Cadmus’ displays caution and submission to the god even if he doesn’t believe that Dionysus is a god because it would bring his family honor. Not only that, but he also incorporated the chorus into the dialogue as ‘Asian Bacchae’. The chorus is supposed to have an objective view and provide counterpoints to the drama, but Euripides’ chorus takes more of a one-sided position in the matter and provides more direct commentary on events.
To conclude, Euripides staged his Bacchae using dramatic irony that lead to the theme of epiphany and his choice of character. The dramatic irony was used as a way to showcase Agave and Pentheus’ ignorance about their bad fate that their family is destined for.
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