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Form and Meaning in Drama: A Study of Six Greek Plays and of Hamlet

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The author analyzes six Greek tragedies -the Orestes trilogy, Ajax, Antigone, and Antigone; it also contains a chapter on Greek and Elizabethan tragedy, another on Religious drama and its interpretation and a final, extended, chapter on Hamlet. To quote from the author's preface:I have come to believe more firmly, and I hope to follow more consistently, as a principle of cr The author analyzes six Greek tragedies -the Orestes trilogy, Ajax, Antigone, and Antigone; it also contains a chapter on Greek and Elizabethan tragedy, another on Religious drama and its interpretation and a final, extended, chapter on Hamlet. To quote from the author's preface:I have come to believe more firmly, and I hope to follow more consistently, as a principle of criticism, the idea that in a great work of art, whether a play, a picture, or a piece of music, the connexion between the form and the content is so vital that that the two may be said to be ultimately identical. {...} The presumption with Aeschylus, Sophocles and Shakespeare when he wrote Hamlet, is that the dramatist was competent. If the dramatist had something to say, and if he was a competent artist, the presumption is that he has said it, and that we, by looking at the form which he created, can find out what it is.


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The author analyzes six Greek tragedies -the Orestes trilogy, Ajax, Antigone, and Antigone; it also contains a chapter on Greek and Elizabethan tragedy, another on Religious drama and its interpretation and a final, extended, chapter on Hamlet. To quote from the author's preface:I have come to believe more firmly, and I hope to follow more consistently, as a principle of cr The author analyzes six Greek tragedies -the Orestes trilogy, Ajax, Antigone, and Antigone; it also contains a chapter on Greek and Elizabethan tragedy, another on Religious drama and its interpretation and a final, extended, chapter on Hamlet. To quote from the author's preface:I have come to believe more firmly, and I hope to follow more consistently, as a principle of criticism, the idea that in a great work of art, whether a play, a picture, or a piece of music, the connexion between the form and the content is so vital that that the two may be said to be ultimately identical. {...} The presumption with Aeschylus, Sophocles and Shakespeare when he wrote Hamlet, is that the dramatist was competent. If the dramatist had something to say, and if he was a competent artist, the presumption is that he has said it, and that we, by looking at the form which he created, can find out what it is.

1 review for Form and Meaning in Drama: A Study of Six Greek Plays and of Hamlet

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alejandro Teruel

    The best of ancient Greek tragedies sweep you away, they are larger than life, shocking, emotionally draining ...and mystifying. It is like being on a ship being carried away in a sea-storm, you feel the stinging rain and watch the waves crashing over the bow, without much idea of where you are being swept away to or what the sailors are desperately shouting and gesticulating about or why on earth you decided to come aboard in the first place. The Oresteia is the only complete trilogy which surv The best of ancient Greek tragedies sweep you away, they are larger than life, shocking, emotionally draining ...and mystifying. It is like being on a ship being carried away in a sea-storm, you feel the stinging rain and watch the waves crashing over the bow, without much idea of where you are being swept away to or what the sailors are desperately shouting and gesticulating about or why on earth you decided to come aboard in the first place. The Oresteia is the only complete trilogy which survives from antiquity, well almost complete, there are missing bits and there are corrupted bits and it is not always clear where exactly they are. Many generations of fine scholars have pored over ancient Greek plays,trying to understand them and wrestling to translate them. Sometimes it seems that the closer you read them, the more questions arise. While the first two plays in the Oresteia, Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers, have at their centre morally hair-rising murders and the second play ends with Orestes exiting pursued by Furies, what on earth is the third play about? And what is the role of the gods? Kitto raises a number of important questions that are crucial to understanding the trilogy. He analyzes the questions and reviews possible answers, honing in on much richer and deeper layers of meaning than what the lay reader can possibly glean by himself from the emotional majestic and awe-inspiring maelstrom. You also get a good idea of what serious scholarship is about as Kitto sifts and mines the play itself for clues you missed. The questions are truly excellent, for example why did Aeschylus make the chorus so elaborately impotent when Agamemnon is being murdered? Why in the two last plays are Agamemnon's sins entirely forgotten? Why does Cassandra keep silent for so long, even when she is being accosted by Clytemnestra? What is the moral crux at the heart of the trilogy? Why is the Apollo in the second play so different from the Apollo in the third play? In what way is Orestes' murder morally different from Clytemnestra's? What are the Eumenides Why does Athena have to cast the deciding ballot on Orestes' hung jury? Professor Kitto looks for most of his answers in the play itself, especially in its form. As he reminds us several times:...Aeschylus knew what he was doing, and that everyting he does in the trilogy is a logical part of a coherent plan. Specifically: The presumption with Aeschylus, Sophocles and Shakespeare when he wrote Hamlet, is that the dramatist was competent. If the dramatist had something to say, and if he was a competent artist, the presumption is that he has said it, and that we, by looking at the form which he created, can find out what it is. After looking at the Oresteia, Kito wrestles with three of Sophocles' plays, starting with Philoctetes, applying the same basic idea: apparent inconsistencies in these works is part of Sophocles' design. In Philoctetes there are two glaring troubling questions -well, glaring, once they are pointed out- why are there three different versions of the key prophecy about the role Philoctetes, his bow and Neoptolemus, Achilles' son, are to play in the fall of Troy and why does Sophocles need to introduce Heracles as "the god in the machine" to end the play. Kitto's key contribution to understanding the play is, in my opinion: ...let us say that the {play's] unifying idea is not that of the two worlds of gods and men, nor that the play is a delicate study of character with the spiritual experiences of Neoptolemus as its center piece, nor a study in morbid psychology, nor an attempt at Euripedean realism, but a profound study of political morality set against a universisal backdrop of divine justice.Interpreting the play as a study of political morality in which Neoptolemus has to confront the dilemma between political expediency and honor, goes a long way to understanding and appreciating Sophocles' craft, but falls short of explaining Heracles' last minute appearance. It is in plays like Philoctetes, that one feels the otherness of ancient Greek culture -in spite of Kitto's ingenious arguments, I, for one, have to admit I still don't get it.(To be continued...) flag Like  · see review Aug 02, 2010 Alan Teder rated it it was amazing I ordered a copy of Aldine Transaction's 2007 printing of Kitto's "The Greeks" as my Pelican copy from 1968 needed replacing and the Aldine seemed to be the latest edition available . When it arrived it turned out to have the correct cover but the book bound inside was something completely different (something called "Equality"). My question to the Canadian Chapters Indigo help desk about whether they had correctly bound copies went unanswered and all I got back was a form letter suggesting I br I ordered a copy of Aldine Transaction's 2007 printing of Kitto's "The Greeks" as my Pelican copy from 1968 needed replacing and the Aldine seemed to be the latest edition available . When it arrived it turned out to have the correct cover but the book bound inside was something completely different (something called "Equality"). My question to the Canadian Chapters Indigo help desk about whether they had correctly bound copies went unanswered and all I got back was a form letter suggesting I bring the book in for exchange. As I did not have the original receipt that did not help me. There is likely a complete Aldine Transaction press run with the faulty copies so this review is a warning to avoid this edition unless you can examine it in the store. The low 1/2 star rating is only for the 2007 edition from Aldine Transaction. Kitto's The Greeks is a classic and is a 5 star book. I recommend that you get the Penguin UK edition as I ended up doing. flag Like  · see review Apr 23, 2014 Grace Jensen rated it it was amazing Shelves: thrift-shop-find I'm calling this done even though I just read the Hamlet lectures. I'm going to have to dig out my Greek plays before I can go on, I have other stuff in queue. But this was post it flag worthy. Amazing read. It's just a shame this was published in 1956, because NONE of my college lit courses had books THIS informative. I'm calling this done even though I just read the Hamlet lectures. I'm going to have to dig out my Greek plays before I can go on, I have other stuff in queue. But this was post it flag worthy. Amazing read. It's just a shame this was published in 1956, because NONE of my college lit courses had books THIS informative. flag Like  · see review Jul 30, 2016 David Withun rated it really liked it Shelves: literature - flag Like  · see review Dec 04, 2012 Sannie Hald rated it really liked it Shelves: borrowed, library, hardcopy, read-2012 Very interesting study. flag Like  · see review Rimi rated it it was amazing Sep 25, 2019 Sandy rated it it was amazing Mar 09, 2013 Sara Hassan rated it it was amazing Oct 06, 2013 Andreas Lauritzen rated it really liked it Dec 29, 2016 Michael Lloyd-Billington rated it really liked it May 04, 2018 Omniamagdy rated it did not like it Oct 09, 2015 Faiqa Mansab rated it it was amazing Feb 13, 2019 Debi added it Nov 16, 2007 Mohamed marked it as to-read Jan 12, 2010 The Honourable Husband added it May 09, 2012 Jay Daze marked it as to-read Aug 14, 2012 Catarina Rocha added it Nov 11, 2012 Sabbathpriest marked it as to-read Jan 05, 2013 David Campton marked it as to-read Feb 18, 2013 Samaira Khan marked it as to-read Mar 26, 2013 Kate marked it as to-read Jun 11, 2013 Christer Löwing marked it as to-read Aug 03, 2013 Claudia Dias added it Aug 07, 2013 Dean marked it as to-read Aug 12, 2013 Christoph marked it as to-read Jan 24, 2014 Syed Javed marked it as to-read Feb 22, 2014 Chase marked it as to-read Oct 24, 2014 Mike Khokhar marked it as to-read Nov 30, 2014 Waliullah9880yahoo.com marked it as to-read Dec 01, 2014 Richard marked it as to-read Jan 05, 2015 Mostafa Samir marked it as to-read Mar 02, 2015 Alaa Youssef marked it as to-read Mar 02, 2015 Walaa Faramawey marked it as to-read Mar 08, 2015 Mumtaz Bushra marked it as to-read May 13, 2015 Fiona marked it as to-read Jul 05, 2015 Grace marked it as to-read Jul 19, 2015 new topicDiscuss This Book There are no discussion topics on this book yet. 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