Archive for the 'Classical Tragedy' Category

John Milton

March 10, 2008


Samson Agonistes

Chorus is both Greek and Euripidean (not more enlightened than other characters)

Samson’s betrayal of his secret divinity located in his hair is read as feminine
Sexual intimacy with Dalila empties Samson of manhood and fill him with a “foul effiminacy”

Is Samson a hero responding to God’s will?
-In a restoration context
-Samson feels internal motions, read as a divine impulse from God (Christ-like)

Samson Agonistes as autobiographical for Milton:
Milton’s desire for divine revenge
Nations that are slaves within doors embrace tyranny and not liberty- Milton’s political beliefs can be seen in Samson
Civil obedience does not mean false religious conformation
Samson’s blindness


“Samson: O glorious strength/ Put to the labor of a beast, debased/ Lower than bondslave! Promise was that I/ Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver;/ Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him/ Eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves,/ Himself in bonds under Philistian yoke;/ Yet stay, let me not rashly call in doubt/ Divine prediction; what if all foretold/ Had been fulfilled but through mine  own default,/ Whom have I to complain of but myself?/ Who this high gift of strength committed to me,/ In what part lodged, how easily bereft me,/ Under the seal of silence could not keep,/ But weakly to a woman must reveal it,/ O’ercome with importunity and tears./ O impotence of mind, in body strong!/ But what is strength without a double share/ Of wisdom?”

“But peace, I must not quarrel with the will/ Of highest dispensation”

“Then with what trivial weapon came to hand,/ The jaw of a dead ass, his sword of bone,/ A thousand foreskins fell, the flower of Palestine/ In Ramath-lechi famous to this day”

“But what more oft in nations grown corrupt,/ And by their vices brought to servitude,/ Than to love bondage more than liberty,/ Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty”

“Appoint not Heavenly disposition, father,/ Nothing of all these evils hath befall’n me/ But justly; I myself have brought them on,/ Sole author I, sole cause”

“foul effeminacy held me yoked/ Her bond-slave”

“To what can I be useful, wherein serve/ My nation, and the work from heav’n imposed,/ But to sit idle on the household hearth,/ A burdenous drone; to visitants a gaze,/ Or pitied object, these redundant locks/ Robustious to no purpose clust’ring down,/ Vain monument of strength; till length of years/ And sedentary numbness craze my limbs/ To a contemptible old age obscure.”

“This one prayer yet remians, might I be heard,/ No long petition, speedy death,/ The close of all my miseries, and the balm.”

“Dalila: First granting, as I do, it was a weakness/ In me, but incident to all our sex,/ Curiosity, inquisitive, importune/ Of secrets, then with like infirmity/ To publish them, both common female faults”

“Thine forgive mine, that men may censure thine/ The gentler, if severely thou exact not/ More strength from me,than in thyself was found.”

“Samson: All wickedness is weakness: that plea therefore/ With God or man will gain thee no remission./ But love constrained thee; call it furious rage/ To satisfy thy lust: love seeks to have love;/ My love how couldst thou hope, who took’st the way/ To raise in me inexpiable hate,/ Knowing, as needs I must, by thee betrayed?”

“Acknowledge them from God inflicted on me/ Justly, yet despair not of his final pardon/ Whose ear is ever open; and his eye/ Gracious to readmit the suppliant;/ In confidence whereof I once again/ Defy thee to the trial of mortal flight,/ By combat to decide whose god is God,/ Thine or whom I with Israel’s son adore.”

“My nation was subjected to your lords./ It was the force of conquest; force with force/ Is well ejected when the conquered can./ But I a private person, whom my country/ As a league-breaker gave up bound, presumed/ Single rebellion and did hostible acts./ I was no private but a person raised/ With strength sufficient and command from Heav’n/ To free my country; if their servile minds/ Me their Deliverer sent would not receive,/ But to their masters gave me up for naught,/ Th’ unwortheir they; whence to this day they serve./ I was to do my part from Heav’n assigned,/ And had performed it if my known offense/ Had not disabled me, not all your force:/ These shifts refuted, answer thy appellant/ Though by his blindness maimed for high attempts,/ Who now defies thee thrice to single fight,/ As a petty enterprise of small enforce.”

“The Philistian Lords command./ Commands are no constraints. If I obey them,/ I do it freely; venturing to displease/ God for fear of man, and man prefer,/ Set God behind: which in his jealousy/ Shall never, unrepented, find forgiveness.”

“Manoa: For his redemption all my patrimony,/ If need be, I am ready to forego/ And quite: not wanting him, I shall want nothing.”

“Manoa: But death who sets all free/ Hath paid his ransom now and full discharge./ What windy joy this day had I conceived/ Hopeful of his delivery, which now proves/ Abortive as the first-born bloom of spring/ Nipped with the lagging rear of winter’s frost./ yet ere I give the reins to grief, say first,/ How died he? Death to life is crown or shame.”

“Messenger:He unsuspicious led him; which when Samson/ Fellt in his arms, with head a while inclined,/ And eyes fast fixed he stood, as one who prayed,/ Or some great matter in his mind revolved.”

“Semichorus: But he though blind of sight,/ Despised and thought extinguished quite,/ With inward eyes illuminated/ His fiery virtue roused/ From under ashes into sudden flame”

“Manoa: Samson hath quite himself/ Like Samson, and heroic’ly hath finished/ A life heroic, on his enemies/ Fully revenged”

“Chorus: With peace and consolation hath dismissed,/ And calm of mind, all passion spent.:



March 10, 2008

(ca 4 BC- 65 AD)

Hercules furens

Translated by Haywood 16C

Only Roman tragedian whose tragedies survive
Stoic drama- virtue goes unrewarded
in staging: a lot of long speeches, no real character development, all have the same voice
Conversations take place on an abstract level
No Euripidean thread of humanity following virtue of the gods

Juno- Hera
Opening speech does elicit some sympathy: seems to come under the influence of the furies

Juno is afraid of Hercules’ strength: implication of Hercules’ power

How Lycus is different (from Euripides’ tragedy): Debates terms of virtue and tyrant with Megara, offers first to marry Megara, develops a poetical position (another figure exercising power)

Defacto political theory: developed by Hobbes, subject is required to obey the reigning authority; public safety is more important than opposition
Resistance theory: (Milton)

Hercules represents resistance theory and Lycus represends defacto theory

Amphitrion: consistent with Euripidean Amphitrion, tells Hercules it is no fault of his, Junoo’s doing

Theseus introduces ambiguity: guilt with Juno and Hercules

Hercules’ moment of madness is read more as anger or rage, he imagines he is killing Lycus’ sons, there are no scenes of paternal care to pair with his moment of murder, only the subdoing of the three deaded dog

Chorus comes in in tetrameters: everything else in fourteeners, preeches wealth in poverty, distinction between public and private life


“Juno: He proves what father him begot: both thence where light opprest/ Hath sea, and where it showde agayne, where Titan day doth tryane,/ And with his brand approaching nere doth dye those Aethiops twaine,/ His strength untamde is honoured: and God eche where is he”

“For heaven I may be frayde, lest he may get the highest rayne,/ That lowest wonne, the sceptors from his father wil he take,/ Nor hee to starres (As Bacchus dyd) his way wil gently make:/ The way with ruine will he seeke, and hee in empty skyes/ wil reygne alone”

“Seekes thou a match t’Alcides yet?/ Thers none, except hymselfe: let him agaynst himselfe rebell.”

“here present wil I stand,/ And that his shaftes goe streyght from how, I wil direct his hand,/ The mad mans weapon will I guide, even Hercles fyghtyng, lo,/ At length Ile ayde. This gylt once done then leefull is that so/ His father may admit to saies those gylty haades of his”

“Chorus: He proude repayre to rpince in regall seate,/ And hard court gates without the rest of sleepe/ Esteemes, and endles happynes to hold/ Doth gather goods, for treasure gaping more,/ And is ful pore amid his heaped gold.”

“Lycus: If always men eternal hates should one to th’ other beare,/ And rage be gone out of the hart shold neuer fall away,/ But th’happy still should armour holde, th’unhappy sil obay,/ Then shall the battayles nothing leave”

“Amphitryon: he himselfe that guides the starres, & shakes the clouds at will,/ Did not that Infant lurke in Den of hollowe caved hill?/ The byrthes so great full troublous pryce to have loe alwayes ought:/ And ever to be borne a God, with coste full great is bought.”

“Lycus: No Juno did commaunde him this, nor none Eurystheus loe./ But these in deede his owne workes are.”

“Hercules: the Chaos of eternall nyght of hell,/ And woorse then night, the dolefull Gods I have that there doe dwell,/ And fates subdu’de, the death contemn’de I am return’de to light.”

“Theseus: As oft the ships agaynst thyr willes doth tosse the swelling surge,/ So downward doth that headlong way, and greedy Chao- urge:/ And back agayne to drawe thy pace thee never doe permit/ The spirits who what they catch hold fast. alowe within  doth flit/ In chanell wyde with silent foorde the quiet lake of lethe.”

“Theseus: What eche man once hath done, he feeles: and guilt to th’author the are/ Returnes, and th’hurtfull with their owne example punisht bee.”

“Amphitryon” Doth any place preseript of lymite shit/ The gylty Ghosts, and as the fame reportes, doth cruell payne/ The wicked men make tame that in’eternall bondes remayne?”


March 9, 2008

ca. 480 BC–406 BC

Heracles (416 BC)

 The introduction states:

“Heracles has no visible hamartia; if he falls, he falls for no flaw of his own nature or failure of judgment, but as the innocent victim of divine brutality.”

Euripides reversese the story of Heracles; the myth states that Heracles first kills his family and then decends to repay for the debt of his killing
Themes of paternal care: celebration of Zeus as divine father, but in moments of madness Zeus is scorned for lack of paternal care and Heracles calls Amphitrion his real father; Amphitrion is elevated to the level of Zeus through his noble paternalism; Megara’s father and lack of Heracles presence with his own sons; Emphasis on paternal duties over heroic obligation; Images of Heracles heroism in the context of the paternal/domestic

Godliness and humanity: To Euripides, any true divinity would not conduct themselves the way that the Greek gods do, it is only through the lies of poets that Hera is made a goddess (Euripides speaks to an Athenian audience); inscrutability of divine will makes it hard to decipher between goodness and evil; Loyalty of friendship creates nobility/ divinity in humanity- Heracles rescues Theseus from Hades and Theseus in turn is there to support Heracles, Heracles’ family is exposed because friends don’t defefnd against the tyrant Lycus

Milton is concerned with Euripides for his investment in political tyranny and resistance: external tyranny is a restult of internal insanity.

Heracles as a revengeful character, kills Thebes to secure a reign, celebration of bloodshed, Heracles imagines he is murdering his enemies sons in which he is commiting the same act as Lycus

Aristatelian unities: Action (a tragic plot must have a beginning, middle and end united by causal relationship), Time (24 hours), Characters (consistent traits)- Heracles flaunts Aristotilian unity of action, nothing about Lycus’ plot leads to Heracles’ madness


“Amphitryon: And of our friends, some prove no friends at all,/ while those still true are powerless to help./ This is what misfortune means among mankind;/ upon no man wo wished me well at all,/ could I wish this acid test of friends might fall.” 

“Lycus: What was so prodigious in your husband’s deeds? / Because he killed a hydra in a marsh:/ Or the Nemean lion? They were trapped in nets,/ not strangled, as he claims, with his bare hands./ Are these your arguments? Because of this,/ you say, the sons of Heracles should live-/ a man who, coward in everything else,/ made his reputation fighting beasts,/ who never buckled shield upon his arm,/ never came near a spear, but held a bow,/ the coward’s weapon, handy to run away?/ The bow is no proof of manly courage;/ no, your real man stands firm in the ranks/ and dares to face the gash the spear may make./ My policy, old man, is not mere cruelty;/ call it caution.”
“Amphitryon: But the man whose hands know how to aim the bow,/ holds the one best weapon: a thousand arrows shot,/ he still has more to guard himself from death.”

“Chorus: Never shall you boast that I am your slave,/ never will you reap the harvest of my work,/ all I labored for. Go back whence you came;/ rage there. So long as there is life in me,/ you shall not kill the sons of Heracles.”

“Chorus: But corrupt with evil schemes/ and civil strife, this city lost its mind;/ for were it sane, it would not live your slave.”

“Megara: I am in terror/ of their death. And yet how base a thing it is/ when a man will struggle with necessity!/ We have to die. Then do we have to die/ consumed alive, mocked by those we hate?-/ for me a worse disaster than to die./ Our house and birth demand a better death./ Upon your helm the victor’s glory sits,/ forbidding that you die a coward’s death;/ while my husband needs to witness to swear/ he would not want these sons of his to live/ by living cowards.”

“Amphitryon: For nothing, then, O Zeus, you shared my wife!/ In vain we called you partner in my won!/ Your love is even less than you pretended;/ and I, mere man, am nobler than you, great god./ I did not betray the sons of Heracles.”

“Heracles: All those men of Thebes who took my goodness and returned me ill-/ this bow with which I won the victor’s crown/ shall slaughter them with rain of winged shafts/ till all Ismenus chokes upon the corpses/ and Dirce’s silver waters run with blood./ What should I defend if not my wife and sons/ and my old father? Farewell, my labors!/ for wrongly I preferred you more than these./ They would have died for me, and I should die/ in their defense. Or is this bravery,/ to do Eurystheus’ orders and contend/ with lions and hydras, and not to struggle/ for my children’s lives? From this time forth,/ call me no more ‘Heracles the victor.’
Chorus: This is right, that a man defend his sons,/ his aged father, and his wedded wife.”

“Heracles: Here all mankind is equal:/ rich and poor alike, they love their children.”

“Strophe I: But old age I loathe: ugly,/ murderous. Let the waves take it/ so it comes no more to the homes/ and cities of men! Let the wind/ whirl it away forever!”

“But evil men should live their oap,/ one single life, and run no more./ By such a sign all men would know/ the wicked from the good,/ as when the clouds are broken/ and the sailor sees the stars./ But now the gods have put/ between the noble and the base/ no clear distinction down.”

“Amphitryon: I’ll go in and watch/ his boedy fall. This is sweet: to see your foe/ perish and pay to justice all he owes.”

“Strophe I, Chorus: Disaster is reversed!/ The tyrant’s life turns back to Hades!/ Justice flows back! O fate of the gods,/ returning!”

“Antistrophe 3: O marriage-bed two bridegrooms shared!/ One was man; the other, Zeus,/ who entered in the bridal bed/ and with Alcmene lay.”

“Madness: O Sun, be my witness: I act against my will./ But since I must perform the service you and Hera ask,/ in full cry, like the hound that bays the huntsman,/ go I will: to the heart of Heracles I run”

“Amphitryon: Take care, take care. My grief is such,/ I have no fear to leave the light and die./ But if he murders me who begot him,/ he shall add a greater grief to these,/ and have on him the curse of father’s blood.”

“Heracles: Why then am I so sparing of this life,/ born the killer of my dearest sons?/ Let me avenge my children’s murder:/ let me hurl myself down from some sheer rock,/ or drive the whetted sword against my side/ or expunge with fire this body’s madness/ and burn away this guilt which sticks to my life!”

“Theseus: Are you afraid mere words would pollute me?/ What do I care if your misfortunes fall/ on me? You were my good fortune once:/ you saved me from the dead, brought me back to light./ I loathe a friend whose gratitude grows old,/ a friend who takes his friend’s prosperity/ but will not voyage with im in his grief./ Rise up; uncover that afflicted head/ and look on us. This is courage in a man:/ to bear unflinchingly what heaven sends.”

“Theseus: No mortal man can stain what is divine.”

“Theseus: Your wretchedness towers up and touches heaven.”

“Heracles: Listen: let me tell you what makes a mock/ at your advice. Let me show you my life;/ a life not worth living now, or ever./ Take my father first, a man who killed/ my mother’s father and having such a curse,/ married Alcmene who gave birth to me./ When a house is built on poor foundations,/ then its descendants are the heirs of grief./ Then Zeus- whoever Zeus may be – begot me/ for Hera’s hatred. Take no offense, old man,/ for I count you my father now, not Zeus.”

“Theseus: Fate exempts non man; all men are flawed,/ and so the gods, unless the poets lie./ Do not the gods commit adultery?/ Have they not cast their fathers into chains,/ in pursuit of power? Yet all the same,/ despite their crimes, they live upon Olympos./ How dare you then, mortal that you are,/ to protest your fate, when the gods do not?”

“Heracles: I do not believe the gods commit/ adultery, or bind each other in chains./ I never did believe it; I never shall;/ nor that one god is tyrant over the rest./ If god is truly god, he is perfect,/ lacking nothing. These are poets’ wretched lies.”

“Heracles: O my weapons, bitter partners of my life!/ What shall I do? Let you go, or keep you,/ knocking against my ribs and always saying,/ ‘With us you murdered wife and sons. Wearing us,/ you wear your children’s killers.’ Can that be worn?/ What could I reply? Yet, naked of these arms,/ with which I did the greatest deeds in Hellas,/ must I die in shame at my enemies’ hands?/ No, they must be borne; but in pain I bear them.”

“Take my children out, take them to their graves,/ while I, whose whole house has gone down in grief,/ am towed in Theseus’ wake like some little boat./ The man who would prefer great wealth or strength/ more than love, more than friends, is diseased of soul.”