Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Relevance of Antigone

Bill Rodriguez, in the Providence Phoenix, begins his panegyric to Antigone with this indefensible and contradictory paragraph:
The problem with Greek tragedies is that they tend to be Greek to us. Losing too much in translation isn't a problem with the intelligent and relevant The Dreams of Antigone, now in its world premiere at Trinity Repertory Company (through October 26).
I have nothing against presumption--indeed, criticism is considered presumption--but I resent being implicated, as a fellow theater-goer and as a reader, in Rodriguez's vapid generality. I don't know that this is "the problem" with Greek tragedy. I didn't know Greek tragedy had a problem in the first place. And actually, I'm not sure now that I know what he means. Does he mean that many of us don't speak ancient Greek? Or that clumsy translation confuses us (which would mean, paradoxically, that translated Greek is Greek to us)? Or that we don't know much about the ancient Greeks themselves, so we fail to detect the dynamic range and the music in their tragedies? I don't get it. Perhaps the problem with Greek tragedy is that we assume it has a problem: we're all doctors prescribing pills and recommending surgery to an aged but perfectly healthy patient. Being old is not a disorder, we know, and youth is not synonymous with vitality; last season's Blithe Spirit was written during World War II, and in English, but it felt brittle and barbed, like broken bone. Maybe if critics and artistic directors stopped insisting that the old is also the onerous, the rest of us would stop believing it.

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