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I dig jazz and single-malt scotch.  I write plays; I direct them too. I love STAR WARS more than is healthy. I walk my dogs every day, unless it's raining or terribly cold.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Reason and Unreason in The Bacchae

“…the only true crime against the Greek gods was to dishonour them denying their power.”  David Wiles, Greek Theatre Performance

What is reasonable?  Is it reasonable to assume that a young woman claiming to have been impregnated by Zeus, even though that hardly ever really happens nowadays, might be lying?  Is it reasonable to be suspicious of a new fad that causes women of all public strata to gather together on drunken binges in the woods?  Is it reasonable to question the motives of a new arrival to town, who appears to do no work or have any skills but claims to be the new god?

The Bacchae of Euripides points toward the young king Pentheus being unreasonable, but I don’t think that’s the case.  I think that reason is what got him into such big trouble in the first place.  He reasons that Semele, a resident of Thebes and alleged mother of Dionysus, was lying when she said she had been knock-up by Zeus.  She was done in by a thunderbolt, after all.  His arguments and resistance to the self-proclaiming god seem somewhat reasonable.

Is Agave unreasonable?  As it turns out she spends most of the play sans-reason rather than unreason.  She’s bonkers, driven that way by the god bent on destroying the insolent royal house.

Cadmus is full of reason.  He’s got reason to spare as he sets out to appease the god and tries to talk his grandson Pentheus into doing the same.  Too bad Penteus’ reasoning kept him from listening.

Then there’s the god himself, Dionysus.  He’s pretty unreasonable.  He’s not willing to budge on this issue of worship and respect.  But Dionysus has come late to the table of Olympians.  It’s not just the respect of the human population that he’s had to manage; he’s had to prove himself to the pantheon of Olympus as well.  Because he’s a god, however, I don’t think acts of reason or unreason apply to him.  Because he’s a god he operates on a non-reasonable level. 

Miracles are happening in this kingdom.  Women scratch the ground and up comes milk.  These same women are suckling fawns in the forest and thrusting their thyruses into the ground and producing fountains of wine.  These women are also capable of tearing full grown bulls limb from limb and tearing great trees from the ground.  Miracles are never reasonable occurrences; they exist outside of reason.  Belief in miracles requires faith.

Belief in a new god, acceptance of miracles, these require acts of non-reason.  For that reason, I do not see any of the characters in this play as unreasonable.  I see them as embodying various degrees of reason until the absence of reason that transforms into faith and acceptance (albeit, too late) of the new god.

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