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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The closest thing we have to a Greek satyr play, 28 July 2004
Lawrance Bernabo (The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Euripides' Alcestis: In a Version by Ted Hughes (Paperback)
"Alcestis" is the oldest surviving play of Euripides, although he had been writing tragedies for almost twenty years when it was written. Apparently it ws the fourth play in a tetralogy, taking the place of the ribald satyr play which traditionally followed a series of three tragedies. Consequently, this play has more of a burlesque tone, best represented in the drunken speech of Heracles to the butler and his teasing of Admetus at the end. So while "Alcestis" is a tragedy, it does offer up an unusal happy ending.
In Greek mythology Alcestis was the daughter of Pelias and wife of Admetus, an Argonaut and the king of Pherae. In Western literature Alcestis is the model wife, for when her husband is to die she alone agrees to die in his place. However, the key in this drama is how Admetus finds this sacrifice totally acceptable. Admetus is represented as a good and honorable man, but then his ethos is established in this play by the god Apollo in the opening scene, and even though it was written later it is hard not to remember the expose Euripides did on the god of truth in "Ion." Euripides adds a key twist in that Alcestis agrees to the sacrifice before she fully understands that her husband will suffer without her. She is brought back from the underworld by Heracles and restored to her relieved husband, but the play clearly characterizes Admetus as a selfish man and it is this view that other writers have imitated every since.
The story of Alcestis has been addressed by more modern writers from Chaucer and Milton to Browning and Eliot. The sacrifice of Alcestis has also been the subject of several operas. "Alcestis" is not a first rate play by Euripides, but it does represent both his cynicism and his attempt to make the audience confront the problematic elements of its belief system. So while I would not teach "Alcestis" by itself, in conjunction with other play by Euripides, specifically "Ion," it can definitely have value in class.
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Euripides' Alcestis: In a Version by Ted Hughes
Euripides' Alcestis: In a Version by Ted Hughes by Ted Hughes (Paperback - 4 Sept. 2000)
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