It’s been quite a week in the District as we’ve been met with a wave of snowfall unlike we’ve seen in … well… ever! Besides closing most of the area for a week, the snow also caused us to cancel a few of our opening week performances of ORESTES in the Theatre, which resumed performances Thursday night.
Theatre certainly has come a long way since its origins in Ancient Greece, but its influence lives on. ORESTES is one of many Greek tragedies that survives the centuries through translation and performance and sometimes translative adaptation. Anne Washburn’s take on the tragedy about the surviving children of Agamemmnon and Clytemnaestra shows us that a centuries-old play still entertains and educates audiences today.
Shakespeare’s plays, too, have a certain je ne sais quoi which allows them to stay present in the public eye, and even Shakespeare may have been influenced by Greek Tragedy. Take, for example, HAMLET and ORESTES: They both involve the murder of a king by a relative. The protagonists find themselves denied their fathers’thrones by newly wedded couples. Both Orestes and Hamlet experience periods of madness, and their revenge takes the lives of both the mother and her new husband. Also, both stories place great emphasis on the importance of faithful friendship (in Plyades and Horatio) vs. seeming friendship (in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Menelaus). The primary difference is the end. Orestes follows the convention of the day using adeus ex machina to conjure a happy ending, while Hamletends tragically with almost everyone dying in the final scene.
You can find more information like this in our Study Guide for ORESTES, playing at the Folger until March 7. Do any other plays stick out to you as influenced or similar to a Greek play?