A Short Analysis of Aeschylus’ The Persians

An introduction to a classic play

Michael Billington notes in The 101 Greatest Plays: From Antiquity to the Present that Aeschylus’ classical play The Persians is the oldest surviving work of Western drama. First performed at the City Dionysia in 472 BC, The Persians takes a nuanced approach to the matter of war and conquest. It was a direct inspiration for the French national anthem, ‘La Marseillaise’. Percy Shelley’s drama Hellas was written in response to it. It’s the only play from the classical era that deals with historical events rather than mythological ones. In short, The Persians is a fascinating play and Aeschylus’ handling of war is worthy of closer inspection and analysis.

The real-life historical incident which inspired Aeschylus’ play was the Greeks’ victory over Persian forces at the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC. The Persian King Xerxes attacked the Greeks at Salamis in a sea battle because he wanted vengeance following his defeat at the earlier Battle of Marathon ten years before. Given that Aeschylus’ play was first performed just eight years later, many of the spectators in the original audience of The Persians would have either fought in the conflict or known someone who had. In summary, Aeschylus’ play focuses on the Persian court, where Xerxes’ mother, Atossa, and a chorus of old men, await news of Xerxes’ military attack. Unfortunately, when news arrives, it could hardly be worse: Xerxes’ Persian army has been annihilated by the Greeks.

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A Short Analysis of Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis

An introduction to a classic play

Iphigenia at Aulis (the title is sometimes rendered as Iphigenia in Aulis) has been criticised for its melodrama, but its portrayal of the central character’s decision to agree to renounce her life for the ‘greater good’, and Agamemnon’s ambivalence about sacrificing his own daughter, make it a curious and satisfying play which repays close analysis and discussion. The play is largely (more on that later) by the Greek tragedian Euripides, and was first performed in 405 BC. In the mid-1550s, Iphigenia at Aulis even provided an unlikely claim to fame in English literature: it became the first piece of dramatic writing to be ‘composed’ by an Englishwoman, when Joanna Lumley (alternatively Jane Lumley) translated Euripides’ play into English, thus becoming effectively the first female dramatist in the English language. (We discuss Lumley in our book of literary curiosities, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History.)

Before we go any further, though, a brief summary of the plot of Iphigenia at Aulis. At the port of Aulis (an ancient port in central Greece), the Greek fleet is all ready to sail off to the Trojan War. But Agamemnon, who will lead the fleet, has been told that in order to get calm winds for the journey, he must make a terrible sacrifice to the goddess Artemis: he must kill his own daughter, Iphigenia.

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A Short Analysis of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger

By Dr Oliver Tearle

Looking back at Look Back in Anger, we are likely to gauge and analyse John Osborne’s approach to masculinity and relationships differently from the way original theatregoers and critics did (such as Kenneth Tynan, who enthusiastically promoted the play). The play was the inspiration for not one but two important new phrases in the English language to describe British post-war theatre: the phrase ‘angry young men’ was coined to refer to a group of British writers of the 1950s who shared Osborne’s desire to rail against the Establishment, while the term ‘kitchen-sink drama’ also has its roots in Look Back in Anger. The play also inspired the title of an Oasis single ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’. The play’s influence, it would seem, has spread all over the place. But why is it worth reviving, studying, analysing, discussing, and revisiting?

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Five Fascinating Facts about Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Fun facts about Shakespeare’s play

1. Shakespeare is thought to have based his play The Tempest on a real-life shipwreck.

William Strachey’s A True Reportory of the Wracke and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight, an account of his experience during the wreck of the ship Sea Venture on the island of Bermuda, was written in 1609, and many scholars believe that the Bard read this account and used it as inspiration for The Tempest.

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A Short Analysis of T. S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party

An introduction to Eliot’s greatest play by Dr Oliver Tearle

The Cocktail Party (1949) was T. S. Eliot’s greatest success in the theatre. Loosely based (according to Eliot himself) on EuripidesAlcestis, the play combines autobiographical aspects from Eliot’s own life with ideas derived from his Christian beliefs, as well as aspects of drawing-room comedy, family drama, and psychoanalysis and psychiatry.

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