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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: July ::
Greek Tetralogy, Satyr Plays, and H5
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1438  Friday, 16 July 2004

From:           Marcia Eppich-Harris <
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Date:           Thursday, 15 Jul 2004 08:09:34 -0500
Subject:        Greek Tetralogy, Satyr Plays, and H5??

Dear Shakespeareans,

I wonder if you could help me with a drama question tangentially related
to Shakespeare. I read in a study guide on Greek drama that the word
"tetralogy" meant "a single presentation by one tragic poet, consisting
of three tragedies, originally on different subjects, but eventually on
different aspects of the same subject and theme, known as a trilogy, and
one satyr-play, which usually included Dionysus among its characters."

Here are my questions:

Is there anything more to a the essence of a satyr-play besides the
facts that Dionysus is usually in it and that the chorus is dressed as
satyrs?

Was the notion of "tetralogy" cited above alive and well in
Shakespeare's career? The OED gives 1656 as its first reference with the
meaning cited above, but any ideas about earlier?

The OED says that in the 16th and 17th century that the words satyrical
and satirical were sometimes confused "which gave rise to the notion
that the satyrs who formed the Greek chorus of the satyric drama had to
deliver 'satirical' speeches. Hence, in the 16th - 17th century, the
frequent attribution to the satyrs of censoriousness as a characteristic
quality." -- The question here is this: I know Shakespeare supposedly
knew "little Latin and less Greek," but would he have known the Greek
plays that we know today? Is there any evidence you can think of that
would suggest Shakespeare confused the ideas of "satyrical" and "satirical"?

The reason I ask is because reading all of this made me think about the
fourth plays of Shakespeare's two tetralogies, Richard III and Henry V,
especially Henry V because it has a chorus and that's how I make a
connection to the Greeks. Could these plays be related to satyr plays in
any way? Is it possible that if Shakespeare did, indeed, mistake
"satirical" with "satyrical" that the Henry V Chorus's speeches of
praise should be taken ironically? Or that there should be no debate
about whether Henry is an unequivocal Machiavellian?

I am particularly fascinated by Henry V because it is such a completely
different play from any other play in the two Shakespeare tetralogies.
The Chorus and the religious aspects, among other things, make it feel
very different for me from the other plays in its own grouping, and I
have yet to see Henry V explained into satisfactory tetralogical
cohesion. Any thoughts?

Sorry for the unusually long post!

And thanks in advance!
Marcia Eppich-Harris

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