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Mnema and Forgetting in Euripides' The Bacchae Jerome Mazzaro Recent approaches to Euripides' The Bacchae (407 B.C.) have generally concentrated on "Dionysiac poetics." Since Dionysus is the god of theater, they have used the play's inclusion of him to explore its relationships to the theater and to theater's function in Athenian society. Their efforts have, in part, been built on Friedrich Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy (1872) and its embodiment of formal aesthetic forces in the idea of coexisting , contending Apollonian and Dionysian drives. They have also employed the views of Eric Havelock 's Preface to Plato on theater as a way "in a preliterate society" of "maintaining the apparatus of . . . civilization"—a role that functions by contributing to a "tenacious and reliable . . . collective social memory." Like Havelock, they have acknowledged in their discussions Plato's views of theater's "way of reliving experience in memory instead of analyzing and understanding it" as "the enemy" of philosophical reasoning.1 Adding Victor Turner's work on liminality and recent discussions of ritual, Charles Segal and Helene Foley, its leading voices, have characterized the poetics as creating a "space between," where "order and disorder" and the various contradictory impulses associated with the god "lose their familiar clarity of definitions^] and energies are released to combine in new ways." Relying on "precoded patterns of the social norms," the poetics brings "out something that was not in the code." It threatens thereby "to destroy the code itself by bestowing "a fresh vision of a hitherto concealed reality, a vision that may either be enlightenment or (as in Pentheus' case) delusion ."2 In elaborating the metatheatrical bases of their arguments, Segal and Foley focus on different but reinforcing outcomes. For Segal, the negative attributes of the poetics are "the necessary and inevitable partner of . . . creative energies and life-fostering gifts." For Foley, who frames her concept "about the ritual as286 Jerome Mazzaro287 pects of tragedy itself," Dionysiac poetics "seems to make a strong claim for art's ability to represent a reality inaccessible to ordinary sight." Its theatrical "illusion and symbol are the only modes of access to a god [or truth] who can take what form he [it] wishes." Both scholars in support of their views concentrate on those elements of the play which concern the presentation of and the actor/audience response to drama as indicative of how the playwright intended that dramatist, actor, and audience ideally function. Until Pentheus' death and the god's withdrawal from the level of human action, the playwright appears to have given the god increasingly greater control over the play's inner action—a transformation of the work seemingly from an imitation of life to an expression of his divinity. Voice, costume, mask, music, dance, spatial field, and echoings contribute to the sense of this transformation whose pivotal incidents are a "palace miracle" (11. 585-607) and Pentheus' robing scene (11. 912^*4). The "miracle" is viewed as an instance of "spatial field" or conscious "discrepancy between what is said and what is seen" on stage. It forces the audience "to recognize the symbolic nature of what is enacted onstage" by "hypnotizing" it into thinking that it is seeing "something occur that has not in fact occurred (the collapse of the palace)" as evidence of "the power of illusionistic tragedy and of illusionistic (mimetic) art generally to reveal divinity ." The audience experiences not a miracle but a reaction to an illusion which mirrors what actors and the audience do in enacting and in viewing a play.3 Theatrical language and metaphors convert the robing scene similarly into a microcosmic image of theater's deceptive elements . The Stranger comes to take on aspects of a director directing and instructing an actor for a role that he is about to assume , and the "actor" (Pentheus) displays the anxieties of a novice getting into the spirit of his role by having his hairdo, hem, and walk corrected (11. 935-38). Their embrace of an interior game of make-believe by modifying their behaviors and, in Pentheus ' case, costume opens the audience to an appreciation of the larger game of the drama itself as well as of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 286-305
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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