I know it’s been ages since I showed up anywhere in blogland, but things have been much busier than usual with a house move and bank troubles and a toddler who is finding it a little hard to adjust to the new surroundings. A dodgy internet connection didn’t help any. Anyhow, things are beginning to settle, so I look forward to visiting my favorite blogs again and getting back on track with my challenges. Starting off with the Greek Classics Challenge hosted by Howling Frog Books.
When you think ancient Greek theater, you almost always think of long, sweeping tragedies where everyone involved, hero or villain dies a horribly gruesome death. At least, this is what I always thought, based on the bits of Sophocles and Plato that I’d read. I’d certainly never suspected that the Greeks had such a rich store of comic theatre. Wasps is a proper, no holds barred comedy. In fact it is a mash-up of every kind of comedy. It has political satire, slapstick, dirty jokes, double entendre, clever puns and absurd but hilarious situations.
The play revolves around Philocleon who suffers from a strange disease; he is addicted to the law courts. More specifically, he is addicted to jury duty. So great is his affliction that his well-meaning and harassed son Bdelycleon has to keep the old man under guard. But Philocleon is wily and determined and keeps thinking up ways to escape his son and the guards. He is aided and encouraged by the Chorus, which in this case is made up of incurable jurors like Philocleon. They are the ‘wasps’, buzzing and stinging their victims with obvious relish. With great effort and eloquence, Bdelycleon manages to convince his father and the chorus that a juror’s job is a thankless and unprofitable one. To entertain his dejected father, he sets up a mock courtroom in the house and stages a trial with one of the household dogs standing in the dock, accused of stealing cheese. When this is all played out, Bdelycleon attempts to teach his father sophisticated manners and graces so he can take the old man out to all the fashionable parties. However, he soon learns that some people are just incapable of change.
The thing that amazed me the most about this play was that it seemed so modern. Granted, the translation is partly responsible since the language is very simple and not a bit archaic. But it’s more than that. The politics, the social commentary and even the characterizations feel like something we would watch or read today. If you discount the Greek names and customs, you could easily take this for a contemporary play.
The character of Philocleon is what this whole play hinges on. He is crafty yet charming. One minute he is a dejected and lost soul and the very next minute he is causing mayhem all around him. I imagine that the way an actor played Philocleon, would absolutely make or break this play for the audience.
Wasps, though it is a comedy, has all the elements of a classic Greek play i.e the Chorus which sometimes plays narrator and sometimes instigates the characters into action. There are bits where the playwright directly addresses the audience and also alludes to his earlier plays. If you watched any Woody Allen movies, you know how this plays out. It is funny enough to read but I’m guessing it would be a lot funnier if you saw it performed.
My only difficulty with this play was that so much of the dialogues and humour was topical and socio-political, full of allusions to current affairs of Aristophanes time. All of these were explained in the Notes section and admittedly it did give me a real peek into that time and place, but it meant a lot of shuffling back and forth and multiple bookmarks. Still, this didn't really dampen the pleasure of reading this excellent play.