Aristotelian Analysis – Music/Sound & Spectacle (Medea) V. Music/SoundThe Use of Sound in Medea Eurypides uses sound to great effect in Medea. Perhaps most prevalent is the fact that all the women are played by men, most likely talking and singing in a high pitched falsetto, giving the play a high, screeching tone, which would certainly put the audience on edge. This would add to the tension, and provide an exaggerated contrast between the men, speaking in their natural voices, and the women in their falsetto.
This also influences the musical nature of the play. As compared to other Greek tragedies where the chorus would have been intentionally all male, Medea would have a very different sound, a much more feminine sound, as would be fitting for one of the few Greek plays with a female protagonist. The language Eurypides uses helps the audience understand her and her actions, as well as be able to empathize with her. Words of destruction, such as “kill,” “broken,” “refugee,” “sick,” “hate,” “enraged,” and “starves” all set the stage in the first 20 lines of the play.
The audience instantly knows that Medea has suffered horribly, and now has every right and reason to take revenge for the wrongs that have been done to her. These same words are used often throughout the play, especially “hate” and “betrayed” and give us great insight into the total fury and single mindedness of Medeas later actions. Jason’s words, on the other hand, help us realize just how disconnected he is. He is, as the Chorus says “ignorant beyond pity. ” Jason thinks he is being “generous,” and he somehow thinks leaving his wife for a younger woman makes him her “advocate. Eurypides carefully emphasizes the scene where the children are slaughtered by having it be the only time we hear them speak. They are on stage for many scenes, but they never do anything but watch, silent and obedient while their family falls apart around them. When they finally speak, it is because it is their only hope of saving themselves; it is too late for their family. They cry out, with young innocent voices, pleading for help in what is perhaps the most tense moment of the play.
This tension is further heightened by the fact that the audience cannot see what is happening, they can only hear it. They are forced to rely on sound alone, and that sound for those few lines becomes the only thing that matters. One almost wants to watch Medea kill her children just to know what is actually happening behind that door instead of being denied perhaps our most important sense: sight. The audience becomes blind to the action of the play, as Medea has embraced her blind rage. Social Implications:
In the last lines of Medea, Euripides uses the verbal interaction between Jason and Medea to show a reversal in the stereotypical gender roles of the time. Although Medea is a goddess, she represents a strong, unyielding female role that has power over her male counterpart in their relationship. Moments before the final grand spectacle, a distraught, weakened Jason is powerless to the will of Medea. He raises his voice (indicative of his losing all authority and pathetically lashing out for some form control) and demands that he be allowed to have his children back.
Yet Madea is unwavering and persistent. Unlike Jason, she “wastes” no words and provides a simple, rational-sounding message that reflects her supremacy. This kind of social commentary is interesting because women, who were rarely awarded the liberties of men at the time, were allowed to attend the plays at the Dionysus festival. It is possible that Euripides was sending a subtle message of hope and pride to all of the oppressed female members of his audience. Dialect:
Euripides was celebrated for his simplistic use of language which reflects a more realistic dialogue in the character’s expressions. Although he did not win as many first place awards as Sophocles or Aeschylus at the Dionysus festivals, his work was popular to an audience which was able to recognize their own dialects and accents on stage. Unlike other tragedies of his time, Euripides’s work was not diluted by unrealistic, grandiose phraseology which often had a deleterious effect on the listener’s comprehension and ability to interprate the plays.
Physical Realities of Sound in Ancient Greek Theater: Ancient Greek theaters were specially constructed to perfectly suit the art which they housed (although without roofs). The multi-thousand-seat theaters were built into hilsides to allow for minimal construction and also excellent accoustics. In today’s theater, sound is almost always electronically amplified to permit better hearing by the audience, but not having this as an option, these grecian temples had to be constructed perfectly.
By encircling the orchestra with a mathematically perfected design of wooden or stone benches, sloping upwards away from the performance, the ancient architects nearly mimiced the way that sound travels as it spreads. This near-perfect acoustical environment allowed the actors’ voices to travel all the way to the last row of seats. Also, the Skene buidling which stood behind the orchestra may have assisted in the amplification by reflecting voices and sound towards the thousands of audience members.
This arrangement meant that the words which were spoken and sounds of music and dancing were clear such that their importance could be heard accurately. The theaters of Ancient Greece enormous, when, for example, the nearest seat was almost 10 meters away from the performer, large movements and loud voices were critical to conveying the full story. As such, it is widely accepted that the performers would wear very simple, plain masks which made their facial features more clear and obvious for the audience to see.
Some theater historians assert that these masks also had a type of megaphone built in for amplification, although this point is disputed. In conjunction with their enlarged faces, the performers were often on stilts and wearing heavy robes of fabric to accurately convey their character. These amendments to their body meant that every move they made and every sound they created needed to be worth it. There was no “stage whispering” in this theater which limited but also inspired Euripides to write plays with more dynamic and complex plotlines, ones filled with action and confrontation to futher add to the experience.
In addition, the chorus of some twelve men (playing women in Medea) would constantly dance around the orchestra (derived from the Greek term for dancing) during their scenes. The dancing was entertaining but also allowed the group to spread around the wealth so to speak of their odes, so that all might be privy to hearing their sound and seeing their dance. VI. Spectacle The Greatest Spectacle: After the extraordinary hardships which Medea faces throughout the play, we come across the ending when she “appears in a winged chariot, rising above the house. The bodies of the two children are visible in the chariot. Interestingly, over the past 1570 lines of the play, the stage directions are almost never this specific or elaborate. Showing that Euripides has literally saved the best for last, perhaps to shamelessly present a big ending, the rising chariot is the epitome of spectacle in this play. Although there would be no such chariot in the ancient theaters, it is likely that Medea herself would be lifted from the stage level by the deus ex machina (literally, god machine) and the childen’s bodies would be thrust forth on a rolling wagon from the skene in the rear of the orchestra.
By creating such a spectacle, Euripides also highlights the importance of this event: Medea has killed her own childen in order to free them from the terror of the world which has been created for them. Her actions display her insanity, and her relentless pursuit of revenge against Jason. Setting and Costumes: The unique Greek theaters which seated many thousands called for very simplistic yet very clear design choices. Instead of elaborate costumes, the performers would wear large bold costumes which allowed even the farthest spectator to be clear on who is who.
Due to the widely acknowledged “three-actor rule” (whereby three actors played the roles of all the characters in a play) the costume and mask changes would need to immediately reflect differing characters. It is also widely accepted that the performers would wear a type of stilts to make them “larger than life” leading to two interpretations: the actors could be better seen and heard when higher, but also became almost godlike or unrealistically large- adding to the spectacle of this world. Entrances and Exits:
In the rear of the orchestra section was the Skene, a large building which served as a universal setting for Greek Theater. The sometimes elaborate building would generally have a major door in the center (for palace settings) as well as machines which hoisted actors above the orchestra section. Some characters may have entered this way, but most, including the chorus, would enter on ramps adjacent to the orchestra area. These eisodoi or parodoi would be used for entrances by characters such as a messenger or soldier. How did the actors move:
Simply, the actors moved in large, overstated motions. In order to make the play as clear as possible for the large audiences, subtlety was not an option for the ancient Greeks. But what this also meant for the performance was that the plot had to be appropriately planned for this style of acting. Performers carried out sometimes-long speeches with highly clear emotional intent. This style is a crucial part of Medea. As the plot continues and Medea’s situation worsens, emotions become increasingly polar and disjointed, making clear the protagonist and antagonist’s intentions.
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