This play is probably my favorite of all the readings from this class so far. It deals with an aspect of Christianity we haven't dealt with in class yet - death. So many of the readings this semester have dealt with violent, vengeful people doing the killing. Instead, we get to see someone on the other end of the spectrum.
God asks death to visit living creatures. For all that He has sacrificed for them, He believes people have grown to be ungrateful:
"I healed their feet; with thorns hurt was my head. I could do no more than I did, truly." (Lines 33 & 34)
This reminds me a bit of the story of Noah and the flood. God struck the world with a flood because humanity became a truly terrible bunch. So, I am assuming that Everyman came before the story of Noah and the flood, since the flood was a form of death.
However, I think the thing that's really interesting about this play is that Everyman goes through all the stages of death. First, Death comes to the Everyman. The Everyman has no idea why this is happening to him. He tries to bargain his way out of it. He offers death wealth if his life can be spared. When he learns it cannot be saved, he looks for comfort from fellowship and support from family. He frets about losing his goods. He thinks he can bargain with good deeds to keep alive.
But then, he turns to knowledge for support. And finally, beauty and strength come to show him that he need not be frightened of death. Once the Everyman comes to terms with his death, an angel comes to take him away.
I found this play to be very fascinating. The themes in this reading mirror the seven stages of grieving. But taking into consideration the time in which it was written, this play probably has an important place in Christian literature. Assuming our readings go in chronological order in this class, this play was written in the early stages of Christianity. Christians were unsure of what happened in the afterlife in their religion, so it must have been a frightening experience. This play helped to show them it was nothing to be frightened of:
Knowledge: "Now he hath made ending. Methinketh that I hear angels sing and make great joy and melody where Everyman's soul received shall be." (Lines 890-894).
This play was an interesting followup to Everyman. It shows that Christianity is not all Heaven and angels. If you sin, there will be consequences. Faustus sells his soul to the devil for knowledge, and he must answer for his actions:
"Now Faustus, must thou needs be damned, and canst thou not be saved. What boots if then to think of God or heaven? Away with such vain fancies, and despair, Despair in God, and trust in Belzebub." (pgs. 1033-1034)
In the timeline of our readings, this shows major progress. Christianity is a fully formed religion. You are rewarded or punished in the afterlife, based on how you lived your life. So, as always, I will be curious to see how Christianity evolves in our next set
Noah and His Sons
As I began Noah and His Sons, I ran into something that has always fascinated me, when it comes to religious literature and films. How did this play decide to portray God? Unless I missed it, the play never mentioned it. I believe the way God is portrayed would say a lot about the playwright. Was it just a man in white? Or was it a man's voice with his body obstructed? If God is portrayed by a man, the playwright could be using that as a metaphor for God being equal to man. Or, if God is just portrayed by a voice, this says something totally different to me. This would say that no human is capable of imitating God. So, I think this would've added to my experience reading the play.
On the note of Noah and His Sons' interpretation of God, I've noticed that this week's readings come a long way in representing God. Instead of a vengeful, fearful God, we have a kind one. But there is a still a hint of the personality of the gods in this representation. Lines 121 and 122 show this for me:
"To my bidding, obedient; friendship shall thou feel as they reward."
God is offering Noah friendship. This seems a far cry from people who feared their God/gods. Instead of killing to please his God, Noah must just build an ark to be considered a friend to God. However, the fact that God says his friendship is a reward reminds me of the vanity of the ancient Greek gods.
I Have Our Help Here In Our Arms
Fr. Pilarz’s piece immediately drew me in because of the clever tie-in to pop culture. Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I practically speak in film and television quotes and references. For this week’s readings, I have had a hard time following because of the language used. However, the Fr. Pilarz’s writing style kept me interested and wanting to read more.
Many interesting points stuck out to me while I was reading this. One thing I found interesting was that whoever was portraying the Holy family had to pretend to be from the city wherever they were performing at. I also thought it was interesting that these plays really tried to show the human side of Mary and Joseph.
On that note, a part of this reading reminded me of the prejudice of theatre we learned about last week. One of the philosophers that we read about last week denounced the theatre because viewers would try to emulate what they saw on the stage. However, it sounds like those who created the Corpus Christi cycles intended just that.
“While watching their friends and neighbors play Jesus, Mary and Joseph, they would have had good reason for wanting to become what they beheld – holy families” (p. 13).
So, it seems like these cycle plays were presented more as a lesson, instead of art or a celebration of the Holy family. This play has put in perspective the journey that theatre has taken to come where it is now. I am anxious to see how this journey progresses in our next set of readings.
The Anti-Theatrical Prejudice
I actually never realized that there was an anti-theatrical prejudice until Monday's class. I found the explanation of Plato's and Socrates' prejudices to be fascinating. However, I've never been one for philosophy, so I am not sure I completely understand Plato's and Socrates' prejudices against the theatre. So, I think I understand that Plato believes all forms of art to be imitations of reality. And imitations are sub-par to excellence - so in that case, would "excellence" be the gods? Is Plato saying that artists attempting to create a perfection that only the gods could achieve? Again, I struggled in my philosophy classes, so I have no idea if I am interpreting this correctly at all. Socrates' own prejudice seemed pretty similiar, except he says that viewers of art must have a philosophical understanding of it, because one's understanding will be ruined without that. So, is Socrates saying that philosophers, such as himself, are the only ones adept at understanding such works? It seems to me that, by saying this, Socrates, is putting himself above the average person. It is like he identifying more so with god than person.
I found it very interesting that pagan authors were very much in favor of the barbaric spectacles in the arena, while Christian authors were against them. I wonder if pagans who participated in these spectacles considered the end result to be a sacrifice to their gods. Weren't a lot of these spectacles just for entertainment? Like, betting if the lion or the gladiator would come out of the arena alive? Or maybe, pagans believed their gods deserved to be entertained, too?
What I find most interesting, and I never thought about until now, is the Christians' view of this. They believed these acts to be barbaric. These spectacles went against the idea of God as a creator. However, the God of the Old Testament depicted was a vengeful God. God was to be feared, and devout Christians were make sacrifices to Him. But the God of the New Testament was a loving father. When and why did the switch in the way Christians viewed God happened?
Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim
The contrast between Paganism and Christianity is also present in Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim's play. The very opening talks about Agape being married off. Agape is a Christian woman living in the time where paganism was the norm. On page 5 of the place, Diocletian calls Agape mad:
"Why, this above all, that you abandon the religion of your ancestors, leave its sacred rites, and follow in its stead this vain new Christian superstition."
Diocletian's frustrations with Agape leaving the religion of her ancestors is understandable. That is a problem that families today still have to deal with. But I am very curious as to why he considers Christianity to be "vain." I wonder if it comes from the fact that pagans worship multiple gods. Maybe Diocletian finds the worship of one individual being to be selfish on that god/God's part?
These sections from these three readings stuck out to me because I am very interested to learn more about pagans' views of Christianity. I hope that's something we discuss further during Monday's class.
At first, I found the task of writing a response on Greek tragedies to be daunting. The language used within them and the long monologues typically do not hold my attention for very long. When I first began to read The Oresteia by Aeschylus, I was bored. Not to mention, the story of Troy always frustrates me. (How come Paris is never blamed for any of the events that take place? I've always found him to be such a coward. But that is neither here nor there...) About halfway through reading Agamemnon, I remembered that Fr. Pilarz challenged us on the first class to look at the way the characters that we read about attempt to play God. This made getting through the plays much easier.
Instead of laboriously making my way through long monologues in which characters bragged about destroying Troy, I looked for lines of dialogue that defined their relationship with the gods. In the eyes of these people, their acts of violence please their gods, especially Zeus. On page 70, Agememnon states that "Heaven shares my glory." But who says that the gods are pleased at the destruction of a city to bring back a woman that ran away with her lover? In my opinion, Agememnon just uses this as an excuse to avenge his brother, who was most likely mortified that his wife ran away with another man.
On the note of Agememnon sharing his glory with the gods, who assigned these gods such vengeful characteristics? It seems like people who just wanted justification for their actions did so. I think adopting a religion, whether it be polytheism or Christianity, just to find blame for your actions totally contradicts the idea of religion.
Moving on to the Choephori, I found a very interesting difference from the previous play. Orestes, son of the murdered Agememnon, is now king of Argos. However, his relationships with the gods seem very different than his father's. Instead of expecting rewards from Zeus for acts of violence, Orestes asks Zeus permission to avenge his father's death. This makes me wonder if this is due to a change in the mindset of the people of Argos, or simply just the difference between Orestes and Agememnon.
In The Bacchae, we have a character actually claiming to be a god. Dionysus proclaims to be the son of Zeus and mortal Semele. A major conflict in the play is Dionysus pitted against Pentheus, arguing if the people of Thebes should be able to worship Dionysus, since Pentheus does not recognize him as a god. Dionysus prevails in the end and Pentheus is killed.
I'm assuming Pentheus did not reconigze Dionysus as a god due to jealousy of his relative. But I would completely understand if he didn't recognize him as a god, because he truly believed Dionysus to be mortal. According to Greek mythology, Zeus is said to have a plethora of offspring. I've found a few websites that said he had over 100 children. Who said all of these were actually Zeus' children? What if some of them just claimed to be sons and daughters of Zeus for the prestige of being a deity?
This idea reminds me of a quote from the 2001 film A Knight's Tale. Heath Ledger's character, a peasant, pretends to be royal to compete in jousting tournaments. To justify his actions, he says to his compatriots,"How did the nobles become nobles after all? They took it!" Maybe that's what some of these demigods did - they took the title of god.
After reading this collection of plays, my opinion of Greek tragedies have not changed. I still do not really enjoy them. That could be thanks to taking four year of Latin class in high school, which I did not enjoy. However, looking at these plays as a study of characters playing god/God definitely brought a more interesting aspect to the reading.