Negotiating dramatic character in Aeschylean drama
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I argue in this dissertation that the plays of Aeschylus are best understood as appeals to their predominantly male fifth-century Athenian audience centered around the presentation of dramatic character. I maintain that an examination of the Persians, Seven against Thebes, and Suppliants in these terms reveals that these plays are not primitive, static, or simplistic plays from early in Aeschylus’ career, but rather dramatically complex and mature works. More broadly, I assert that character studies are not hopelessly outdated nor at odds with audience-centered and cultural studies. By combining these approaches, we gain a fuller understanding of how playwrights composed the plays and how spectators responded to them. I also assert that divergent responses to dramas based on individual experiences are not only the rule for spectators of tragedy, but directly influence how playwrights approached their dramatic characters. The Introduction includes theoretical background for spectators’ relationship to dramatic characters culled from film theory and an application of its general principles to the Oresteia. In chapter 1, I examines how the Persians invites spectators to experience a range of potentially contradictory emotional states that include fear of the Persian invaders and sympathy with the inhabitants of the Persian Empire, with the men who fought against them in the war, and perhaps even with Xerxes himself. In Chapter 2, I show how, initially, the Seven against Thebes strongly implies, but does not establish beyond a doubt, that Eteocles is a paragon of Greek manhood and a noble defender of his city with whom Athenian spectators could identify. Questions about Eteocles emerge, however, when the play introduces Polyneices’ accusations of injustice against him, points to increasing similarities between the brothers, and shows how their fates have long since been sealed by their father’s curse and by the will of Apollo. In Chapters 3 and 4, I argue that the portrayal of the Danaids in the Suppliants is intentionally ambiguous. Spectators may have known that the Danaids would kill the Aegyptids, but the play offers vague and contradictory evidence regarding them and their situation to generate suspense in this early play of the trilogy.