chapter  6
10 Pages

Prologues and Epilogues

It is, I suppose, a common experience for a reader to pass from Sophocles to Euripides with the feeling that he has gone from a cathedral into a dynamo-house, but if we find Euripides' thinness disappointing and some of his inconveniences irksome, we should probably do well to reflect that in his tragedies he has come down to us stripped of more ofhis essentials than Sophocles. Each has lost the stage-spectacle and the music, the movement and colour of the Chorus, but while in Sophocles these were important indeed but accessory to a tragic idea primarily realized in the characters, the plot, and the drama, in Euripides they were much more. In the Hecuba and Troades the chorus, with its communal tragedy, embodies more of the essentialmeaning of the play than ever it does in Sophocles, and that meaning is gravely attenuated to us, who have only a bare text. We have, in fact, most prominently before us those elements in which this Tragedy is not particularly strong - the stage-action and the discussion-and have lost the greater part of what was designed more immediately to present the tragic idea. The mere physical presence of one of these choruses - for example, of the Mothers with their grandchildren during some of the debates in the Suppliant Women-must have given to the scene an atmosphere which we cannot now recover, except by proper performance. The dialectic, so prominent to us, would be less prominent if the chorus had its true stature, and would no doubt take on a tragic hue now invisible. In fact, in so far as this Tragedy is a communal one, it lives most in the orchestra; the stage gives a sharper but an incomplete and diagrammatic picture of it. The reader has lost much of the total impression ofwhat proceeded from the stage, but very much more of what proceeded from the orchestra.