Piety in Macbeth and Aeschylus
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Piety in Macbeth and the Oresteia Piety has various shades of meaning including the concepts of beingdutiful to orthodox religious beliefs or fidelity to natural obligations as to parents Merriam-Webster Comparing Shakespeare\'s andAeschylus\'s take on these ideas is a fascinating exercise Both were greatplayrights who plumbed the deepest recesses of the human soul Theirdifferences are inevitable separated as they are by more than yearsof history and huge gaps in language customs and notions of morality But they both were ethically aware as
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In the Eumenides he is tormented constantly by the Furies forhis crime of matricide. 3/22/2 1.Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 1 th edit. when Aeschylus wrote the trilogyknown as the Oresteia. Here plays were profane,secular entertainments for profit, and the unruly spectators milled aroundeating and drinking while the actors tried to attract their attention. Whereas by Shakespeare's time the horrible deeds acted out in thetragedy were leavened by subsequent comic scenes,in the early years of Greek drama comedy was considered unsuitable for sucha serious religious purpose. Clytemnestra isjustified in her murder by the traditional blood revenge values of theFuries, because " he had the heart to sacrifice his daughter to bless thewar" (Agamemnon lines 222-223). "Fill me from the crownto the toe top full of direst cruelty". Aeschylus is the earliest of the three great 5th century Greektragedians, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and his Oresteia isthe only trilogy to survive. It is hard for those of us subjected to the preaching of Christianvalues (turning your other cheek to your oppressor, for example) toappreciate the fact that to the Greeks revenge was equated with justice.Instead of loving thy enemy, you were duty-bound to kill him. Some day theheartless shenanigans of the Bushes, Husseins, Putins, and bin Ladens ofour times may find their way into drama, where their faults and motives maybe laid bare for all to see. But now we are forced to live through the samehaze of contradictions between good and evil with far less gifted guidesthan Aeschylus and Shakespeare to show us not only what the truth is, butwhat good and evil are as well. Human life has only changed outwardlyin all this time, but the soul of man remains the same tangled thicket ofviolent impulses lightened occasionally by truth and love. Gradually the chorus received less emphasis. Themotives are still ambition and the means are still murder, but the conceptsof piety and revenge, although dissimilar in cultural context to theancient Greeks, are still not much different. The Greek drama started as choral singing by performers and audience,with a chorus of fifty people or more who reacted to the speeches of one ortwo actors. Now let us imaginatively fly through time and space to ElizabethanLondon, and a completely different context. The greatness of art produced by men thisgifted is that it has survived long after their time without losing any ofits power to make us think and feel. 2 3. But hebelieves in so doing he is also acting morally, because Apollo has put himup to it. Both were greatplayrights who plumbed the deepest recesses of the human soul. Springfield.Massachusetts.Gill, N.S. By such oblique methods Shakespeare upholds virtue, fillingthe audience with loathing for evil actions. Studies inEnglish Literature, 15 -19 . To see the relevance of the work of these tragedians, it is onlynecessary to turn on the evening news or read the newspaper. Macbeth deals with much the same murderous behaviour as the Oresteia,but gone are the religious motives for drama, the seasonal performance inconjunction with a festival, the chorus, the masks, and the high-heels. Comparing Shakespeare's andAeschylus's take on these ideas is a fascinating exercise. Theirdifferences are inevitable, separated as they are by more than 2 yearsof history, and huge gaps in language, customs, and notions of morality.But they both were ethically aware as few human beings have ever been, andif they did not come up with solutions for the evil that lurks potentiallyin every human breast, at least they outlined its extent, described itaccurately, and suggested more moral alternatives. To his credit Orestes is not comfortable with the edict of the oracleof Apollo to kill his mother to avenge her killing of his father. Wearing masks with open mouthsand strange high-heeled shoes, the actors and chorus would declaim or singtheir lines about gods and ancient heroes to thousands of spectatorssitting in an open-air amphitheatre next to the Acropolis. Herewe have a new phenomenon: through eloquent soliloquys we go inside the mindof the tragic hero and feel what he feels, something done only indirectlyand with less spontaneity and candor byAeschylus. Lady Macbeth is more purely vicious than her husband, whom she chidesfor being "too full of the milk of human kindness". The idea of piety to ancient beliefs was present in the origins ofGreek drama (Gill 2 3). Not only that, the foul deeds and motives are blanketed with areeking veneer of lies and shameful deceit, which Macbeth explains bysaying that the "false face must hide what the false heart doth know". The problemwith this kind of ethics is that they lead to perpetual blood feuds, andthat is much of the subtext of the Oresteia. Begun as a religious observance in honour ofDionysus, Greek tragedy reflected the central values of the culture thatwas at its peak of greatness in the short but historically influentialreign of Pericles in the 5th century B.C. "The historical significance of lying and dissimilation".Social Research 9/22/1996. Here is Macbeth in Act V, Scene IV, after being startled by a noise:"I have supped full with horrors;Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughtsCannot once start me". Tragedy for the Greeks was not just a story with an unhappy ending;it was a way of dealing with the conflicting forces beyond human controlthat affect all of us. ancienthistory.about.com/library/weekly/aal1 3 a.htm.Zagorin, Perez. The whole of Macbeth is drenched in images ofevil and foreboding, from the three witches who open the play to Macbeth'smacabre vision of the ghost of Banquo. "No artist showed a greater consciousness of the power, horror, andpervasive consequences of dissimilation and lying than didShakespeare"(Zagorin 1996). It is based on the quasi-historical myth ofthe curse of the house of Atreus, and is filled with enough matricide,patricide, human sacrifice, cannibalism, and violent human motives tobecome a smash hit on TV, if it could only be adapted to modern Americanlife. Works CitedCaroll, William C. The curse is finally lifted when Orestes isabsolved by a trial at the Areopagus, based on their interpretation(however sexist) that his father is the more important parent, and theFuries are transformed into more benign Eumenides. It was Aeschyluswho is credited with added a third actor. The murder of their king while he is a guest in their house is adouble violation of pietistic traditional values:Firstly they owe him obedience, and secondly they owe him theirhospitality. Clytemnestra believes she has actedmorally, but the curse of the house of Atreus remains. In a nutshell, Agamemnon, son of Atreus, sacrifices his daughterIphigenia (by Clytemnestra) to fulfil a prophecy and go attack Troy.Agamemnon is basically about how he returns with the clairvoyant Cassandraand is murdered by his wife for killing Iphigenia. Piety in Macbeth and the Oresteia Piety has various shades of meaning, including the concepts of beingdutiful to orthodox religious beliefs or "fidelity to natural obligations(as to parents)" (Merriam-Webster 1999: 88 ). "Recent studies in Tudor and Stuart Drama". Instead the chorus would respond withappropriate emotion to the events depicted, or even express a desire toescape the unpleasant mood by poetically conjuring up scenes of naturalbeauty far removed from it. But the worst taste of evil we get from Shakespeare is through the agency of the perps' guilty consciences - which in a sense area form of piety, because while they may lie and blame the murder of Duncanon his pages, they know their own culpability all too well. 1999.
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