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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

THE TRAGIC MUSE

"To wake the soul by tender strokes of art,
To raise the genius, and to mend the heart;
To make mankind, in conscious virtue bold,
Live o'er each scene, and be what they behold:
For this the Tragic Muse first trod the stage."
Alexander Pope (Prologue to Mr. Addison's Cato)

Though I love Shakespeare's satires and comedies, since I first saw "Richard III" when I was a kid of thirteen, my favourite plays have always been the tragedies. "All perform their tragic play, There struts Hamlet, there is Lear..." Yeats.

We have an excellent Shakepearean theatre company here in my city. Every summer "Bard on the Beach" performs the works of Shakespeare in an outdoor venue near the beach. The tents are built in the fashion of the old Shakespearean theatres and the performances run from June to September. There's also a junior Shakespearean company where a friend of mine teaches. How I wish there'd been such an opportunity when I was a kid!

I hope that this Spring I'll get a chance to attend a performance of a Shakespeare play at the New Globe in London.

One of the biggest theatrical thrills I've ever had though, was to see the Greek tragedies performed in their original venues in Greece. I've made it a point to visit as many ancient theatre sites in Greece as possible, and I've seen a great many including the theatres of Epidaurus, Dodoni, Phillipi, Dion, Delos, and Thassos. The thrill of actually watching a tragedy performed at these magnificent venues is something not to be missed. If you're ever in Greece during the Athens Festival (June - Sept) be sure to attend one!

I love the dramas of Euripedes, Sophocles and Aeschylus. As the dramas are performed in Greek, it's a good idea to read the play first so you can follow the text. But the way they are staged it is easy to follow, even if you don't understand the words. My favourite collections of plays to read are "The Oresteian Trilogy" by Aeschyuls, "The Theban Plays" by Sophocles. And "Ten Plays by Euripides" which include: "Medea" and "The Trojan Women". One of my friends is a Classical Scholar who is writing her doctorate thesis on the Greek plays. Whenever we are in Athens, we attend the plays together and she provides all the background information about the how? why? what? of the ancient theatre.
To sit in the marble tiers under the stars at Epidaurus and watch "Oedipus the King" being performed (or others) is a thrill beyond words. The big Roman-era theatre of Herod Atticus ("The Herodian") in Athens is also an magnificent venue. I once saw a breath-taking performance of "Hamlet" there by the Peter Hall company of Britain.

I've also seen a few performances of the Greek tragedies here at home (in English), most recently Euripides " Iphegenia Among the Taurians". The tragedy I love most is "The Trojan Women". In the movie "Troy" I was sorry they left out that part of the story.

I started writing tragedies myself when I was eighteen. My first major play, titled "The Street: A Modern Tragedy" was based on a true-life experience and written as a cautionary tale for my peers.

I'll write later about how it turned out to be a successfully produced play, running for three weeks to excellent reviews in 2000.

"A tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself--with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions." Aristotle.







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