Presentation on theme: "Euripides: The Bacchae Dionysus, a ‘new’ god born from the union of Zeus and Semele, daughter of Cadmus, comes to Thebes to declare his godhead to mortals."— Presentation transcript:
Euripides: The Bacchae Dionysus, a ‘new’ god born from the union of Zeus and Semele, daughter of Cadmus, comes to Thebes to declare his godhead to mortals and guide them in the ritual dances he requires. Thebes is the first Greek city he visits, and he goes there because Semele’s three sisters refuse to believe that Zeus had fathered Dionysus. They disregard Semele’s shrine and tell people that Semele had simply been impregnated by a mortal. Dionysus therefore starts his visit to Thebes by driving these sisters mad and making all the other women of Thebes leave the city and join them in ecstatic dances on the side of Mount Citheron. Cadmus and Tiresias, although both elderly, join the god’s rituals, but his grandson, Pentheus, now ruler of Thebes, shares his mother’s disbelief and is disgusted by the women’s unruly behaviour.
Pentheus has already imprisoned some of the women, and declares that he will capture his mother and her two sisters, along with the other women, and imprison them for their scandalous behaviour (drunkeness, lechery, etc.). Dionysus appears in disguise before Pentheus and Pentheus, despite the warnings and entreaties of Cadmus, his grandfather, and Tiresias, imprisons the disguised god. Dionysus lets himself out and starts to enmesh Pentheus in a sequence of illusions which end with him dressing as a woman and leaving the city to spy on the women. Once entrapped by the god, Dionysus calls upon the women to destroy Pentheus and this they do, led by his mother Agaue, who believes she is killing a young lion with her bare hands. She returns in triumph to the Palace carrying Pentheus’ head which has been torn from his body. Gradually Cadmus reveals to her the full horror of what she has done. Dionysus re-appears and declares what is to befall Cadmus and his remaining family: he and his wife are to be turned into snakes, while the three sisters are to be exiled from Thebes and must never return.
Sophocles: Antigone Oedipus had two sons as well as his two daughters, Antigone and Ismene. After Oedipus is exiled from Thebes, Creon, their uncle and Jocasta’s brother, takes on the role of regent. Creon proposes that Eteocles and Polyneices should alternate rule of the kingdom. This is agreed – rulership is to last a year – and Eteocles is to start. But when his time is up, Eteocles refuses to cede power over to his brother and civil war breaks out. The period of conflict last some time, but it is ended by the two brothers killing each other in battle beyond the city walls of Thebes. Creon rules that since Eteocles died defending Thebes from ‘rebels’ forces he deserves a state burial; Polyneices is to be left unburied.
When Antigone hears that her brother’s body is to be left unburied as carrion to warn others against any resistance to the power of the state she is outraged at the insult to her brother’s memory and shocked by Creon’s refusal to observe normal human decencies. She tries to enlist her sister to help her bury Polyneices, but Ismene pleads that the correct course of action for a weak woman is always to obey authority. Antigone vows to carry out the burial alone and does so twice. Creon is incensed by her disobedience and orders her to buried alive. His own son, Haemon, and the seer, Tiresias, intervene and tell Creon that what he is enacting is immoral. Creon relents, oversees the burial of Polyneices and then goes to the prison to release Antigone – but by the time he reaches it Antigone is dead, and more follows. Haemon and Antigone were promised to each other in marriage. When Creon agrees to bury Polyneices Haemon rushes to the prison, breaks down the bricked up door, but finds that Antigone has already hung herself. He is still clasping her body in grief as his father arrives, and after a struggle in which his father avoids death at the hands of his own son, Haemon takes his sword and thrusts it into his side, killing himself at Antigone’s feet. On hearing of this tragedy his mother, Eurydice, also kills herself in despair.
One may as well start with a reminder of the familiar interpretations given for these plays. Antigone is usually discussed in terms of her opposition to authority, while the Bacchae has been used to review Pentheus’ opposition to the forces of nature, i.e., human versus the divine, or more recently, human versus nature. But as one goes deeper into the process of interpretation it becomes impossible to make further progress without having regards to the social contexts within which a particular interpretation gains its relevance and its ‘timeliness’ – as is the case with all metaphors. For instance, Anouilh stages his version of Antigone in German-occupied Paris, in French, at a time when the greatest social concern is the loss of patriotism in the face of the pressure to collaborate with German authority and live a relatively quiet life. So Creon=bureacratic collaborator and Antigone=impassioned freedom fighter.
So your own starting point needs to reflect, not only on the two plays, but also on the educational contexts that you find interesting to think about. What you are seeking is a combination of the two sources of reflection such that the educational context/event is illuminated by using one of the two myths as an extended metaphor – as a new ‘frame’ or perspective from which you can see the educational from a new angle, etc. Your subsequent analysis should offer deeper insight and understanding of this context – or at least, by means of the metaphor, identify those aspects of the social reality it reveals which now appear to be promising sites for investigation and further analysis.
In terms of analytical tools we have Zizek’s general comments on desire – here’s a brief summary:- Needs become desires in the Symbolic Register (in language), and they all amount to the demand for love and the recognition of self. Desires are barred to consciousness – we search for ‘mirrors’ that may help us to recognise them. Desire is absolute, and its object is always a lack. Desire reveals itself metonymically – through parts of a larger concealed whole (think of the foot poking out from the person hidden behind the curtain). Fantasy realises desire, and it also creates in disguised form what it attempts to conceal.
We also have Zizek’s ‘seven veils’ to work with:- 1.fantasy mediates between the symbolic and the pre-symbolic, allowing us to live our desires; 2.fantasy allows one to picture what others want from me – the intersubjective, entry into the S.R., or my agalma; 3.fantasy narratives occlude existing contradictions, inserting before and after, winners and loosers; 4.fantasy re-enacts the subject’s entry into the S. R.; 5.fantasy re-configures the S.R. creating a narrative of birth and re-locating the subject; 6.fantasy underpins the S.R. and imposes a system of censorship; 7.item 6 entails the need for empty gestures and unwritten rules.
The Bacchae: possible starting points. In terms of the general comments on desire, Dionysus requires that his divinity is recognised through ritual, but only Cadmus and Tiresias recognise that through such ritual can one maintain/re-gain insight into the desire for divinity – through the fantasy of ritual one may realise the divine within, and through its disguises come to recognise divinity’s true nature. Pentheus repeatedly fails to recognise the ‘metonymic’ clues created by the ‘foreigner’ that hint at his actual status. Dionysus’ demands are, ultimately, absolute – there is, for instance, no possibility of negotiation between him and Cadmus’s remaining family at the end of the play.
In terms of the ‘seven veils’ of fantasy, all are possible, however consider the following in particular:- 1.because ritual allows us to maintain the possibility of living out fundamental aspects of our nature; 3. because the play adopts a starting time after desire/divinity/ritual has been rejected for ‘normal’ explanations of strange events and circumstances; 4. because Dionysus insists on a place for himself within the S.R.; 5. because the god creates a suspension of the S.R. for the theban women – their new birth as maenads; 7. because ritual, although it may seem ‘empty’, conforms to the fantasmatic underpinnings of the S.R.
Antigone: possible starting points. In general, Antigone’s desire to bury her brother corresponds to a human need, and she recognises from the outset of the play that her demand (ultimately, for love and recognition) will be rejected by the state. In later versions, her ‘testing’ of Haemon and Ismene amounts to a search for a truthful mirror of her desire. Her demand that Polyneices be buried remains absolute – despite Creon’s attempts to bring her back to a peaceful life, since he represents for her a state that cannot love or live. Her desire is revealed metonymically by her looks and manner – in a sense she is readied for death – consider also that she will be immured – a living burial. Finally, her fantasy of becoming Haemon’s wife conceals, perhaps, a further aspect of her desire to see Polyneices buried correctly; he should be remembered, like his brother, as the dead but noble brother of a future queen.
As with The Bacchae, all of Zizek’s veils can be applied, but the following seem immediately relevant:- 1.because Creon is so prosaic, so rejecting of fantasy, while Antigone finds herself through fantasy; 2.because of Antigone’s agalma – her apartness from society, and her ‘stubborness’; 3.because Antigone rejects the narrative of domesticity; 4.because Tiresias gets Creon to both bury Polyneices and accept Antigone back within the lawful order; 6. because Antigone’s actions reveal the hollowness of Creon’s rule; Note how both plays feature unequal power-relations – instances of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic.