An introduction to a classic French play
Tartuffe is one of Molière’s masterpieces. The play was first performed as a three-act comedy in May 1664, and was immediately denounced for supposedly ‘attacking’ religion through its portrayal of the pious titular hypocrite, Tartuffe. The religious zealots who objected to the play eventually persuaded King Louis XIV (who had actually enjoyed the play) to have it banned. Sadly, this was not the last time religious people would take exception to comedy (and comedy that isn’t even poking fun at religion at all, but rather foolish devotion to a charlatan and impostor). Because of this early misinterpretation of Molière’s play, it is worth analysing Tartuffe more closely, to determine precisely what the play is saying about piety, hypocrisy, and gullibility. Read the rest of this entry
An introduction to a classic play
The Frogs is one of Aristophanes’ most curious plays. It’s the only Greek play which we know for a fact was popular enough to have been given a repeat performance. It’s also notable for its discussion of the nature of theatre – an early version of literary theory and analysis, which Aristotle would help to develop in his Poetics nearly a century later. The 1974 Stephen Sondheim musical version of The Frogs was the first musical ever staged in a swimming pool, which, if nothing else, shows that people are continuing to experiment with this most experimental of plays.
The plot of The Frogs can be summarised easily enough. The god Dionysus – in whose name the City Dionysia, incorporating the ancient Greek theatre festival, was held – goes down into the Underworld to find the tragedian, Euripides, who had died a year earlier. He is looking for Euripides because he believes the recently deceased playwright will be able to save the city of Athens from itself. Disguised as his own altogether more tough and heroic half-brother Heracles, so that spirits won’t be tempted to tangle with him, the rather incompetent Dionysus gets ferried by Charon across the lake leading to the Underworld, debating with a chorus of frogs as he makes his journey. Read the rest of this entry
An introduction to a classic revenge tragedy
The Spanish Tragedy is one of the lesser-known gems among surviving Elizabethan drama – at least, it’s less well-known than the works of Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. Its influence on later plays in the ‘revenge tragedy’ genre was considerable – most notably, on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Indeeed, Kyd, who died shortly after being tortured for information about his friend Kit Marlowe, is the leading candidate for the authorship of the ‘Ur–Hamlet’, which served as the prototype for Shakespeare’s play. (We discuss the ‘two Hamlets’ in our book, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History.) What follows is a short introduction to the play, and an analysis of some of its themes and features. Those who wish to avoid spoilers of the play are advised to skip the next couple of paragraphs! Read the rest of this entry