Influences Of Greek And Roman Theatre

2269 words (9 pages) Essay in English Literature

17/05/17 English Literature Reference this

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Desire Under the Elms published in1924 is one of Eugene ONeills American classic plays. This play is written in three parts with each part divided into four scenes. It is based of Greek mythology and Roman tragedy. The setting is farmhouse in New England in 1850s with characters Ephraim Cabot 76 year old father, Simeon and Peter sons of the first wife, Eben son of the second wife, Abbie Putnam 35 year old third wife, young girl, two farmers, the fiddler, a sheriff, and other folk from the neighboring farms. This play portrays many elements of day to day life ambiences passion, betrayal, love, lust, hate, infanticide, tragedy, haunting past, persuasion, and sacrifice for love.

Hamlet is a revenge tragedy written in the line of Roman Seneca tragedy.

Passion; eroticism; pomposity; persuasiveness; incest; betrayal: partners in sin who go on a redemption, tragic and strong love, forbidden desire, rebellion against a father figure, complex love and hate, sacrifice of a child, the haunting past, determinism of the characters and their inner struggle.

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The elm serves as a catalyst to sensing, feeling and even seeing that which is not always visible. Elm tree meaning includes strength of will and intuition. During the 18th and 19th centuries, elms were popular as ornamentals by virtue of their rapid growth and variety of foliage and forms. This popularity lasted until World War I when the consequences of hostilities, notably in Germany, and the outbreak of Dutch elm disease saw the elm slide into horticultural decline. Elm wood is valued for its interlocking grain, and consequent resistance to splitting, with significant uses in wheels, chairs and coffins. The wood is also resistant to decay when permanently wet, and hollowed trunks were widely used as water pipes during the medieval period in Europe. Elm trees grow inhardiness zones 2 through 6. Buy an Elm – New Horizon tree from Nature Hills Nursery. Elm is thought to be the tree of old Family and family tradition. Elm is often associated with Mother and Earth Goddesses, but it would be completely wrong to say that it represents ‘a female spirit’. The main aspect of Elm symbolism is strength; and in that quality it leaves behind even the most powerful trees, such as Oak, Alder or Yew.

Elm strength is dark and heavy; it feeds on primary instincts rather than conscious decision. This tree is quite inert and rigid, and its power is not rash; but when Elm gets ready, its strike will completely smash an enemy. Despite such prominent warrior qualities, Elm is not always good in battle. The matter is that this tree has much too passion for ‘classic war activity’ and in its anger may become totally unmanageable. It personifies a mad berserker, blinded by his rage of blood, who kills everyone on his way, even if it makes no sense. Due to this ‘blindness’ Elm, though strong and active, is usually not a leader, but a follower (and a very devoted follower!).

As appears from the above, Elm is not ‘an easy’ tree. Nevertheless, it should not be seen as completely ‘evil’, and no other tree should either. Some of Elm spiritual qualities are very valuable. For example, rare tree can do better than Elm in defending interests of family or close group. It stands to the last, and will continues to fight even in hopeless situation. Elm loyalty is unquestionable; and it will despise everyone, who shows a sight of weakness or hesitation.

Elm is good for any magic workings, which are involving strength; and it also has the ability to add stability and grounding to a spell. Elm does well in dark practices, especially in spells that can bring irreversible material damage. It is known to dull the senses and cause depression or darkness, and is often used in dealing with shadows.

Keywords: strength, stability, grounding, foundation, rigid structure, darkness, pressure, blind rage, devotion, loyalty to family, dark passion, fighting to the last.

In The monumental tragic consequences of the incest passion that flares between a coquettish, seductive woman and her stepson, and the romantic rhetoric both use while entrapped in their sexual ecstasy. The two infatuated lovers before, while and after they commit the sin of incest, and attempts to measure their romantic rhetoric against such incestuous lust. The two lovers’ incest takes place in an ominous house teeming with family tensions, intense lust, hatred, and betrayal.

In Desire Under the Elms (1924), a domestic peasant tragedy set in New England, Eugene O’Neill portrays the grave consequences of the tragic incestuous passion that flares between a coquettish, seductive, young woman and her stepson. Abbie Putnam, a newly widowed young woman and is now old Cabot’s third wife, is a wicked, lusty, and extremely beautiful woman. O’Neill portrays her as a woman who has a captivating and sexy figure full of lust, “Abbie is thirty-five, buxom, full of vitality” with a sensual face revealing her intense lust, “Her round face is pretty, but marred by its rather gross sensuality” (Desire Under the Elms 335). Hartman remarks that Abbie embodies the “eternal earth spirit in whom all streams of desire converge” (361). Abbie is a vivacious woman who lives only on life’s physical level, and once she tries to live on the spiritual level, she destroys others and destroys herself as well. In marrying an old man, the age of her father and maybe against her will, she was planning to seize the farmhouse and disinherit her stepsons.

It is quite ironical that both Cabot and Eben patronize the same local prostitute. Though Eben hates

his father for his immorality and sensuality, he himself is immoral and corrupt. He keeps visiting a

whorehouse to sleep with the same prostitute his father sleeps with. He is involved in an incestuous love

affair with his stepmother and fathers a son by her, thus disgracing himself and the entire family. Eben

even takes after his father in some aspects of his personality. Both are lusty, deceitful, infidel, rash,

stubborn, vengeful, and arrogant. Above all they are both the victims of seething animal passions. Their

conflict over the possession of both the farm and the mother, the catalyst Abbie, and the incestuous

relationship between the son and his stepmother all result in a great tragedy.

The stock oedipal conflict between father and son over the possession of the mother runs throughout

the course of Desire Under the Elms and takes different shapes, all of which culminate in the tragic

destruction of the house and its dwellers. Hartman (1961) views the incestuous love affair that unites

Abbie and Eben as a tragic involvement in the mother-image (361). Hartman argues that the oedipal

desire for the mother is ruinous, “Desire for, and identification with, the mother can cause evil to spread”

(367).

The influence of Greek tragedy on the content of Desire Under the Elms is clearly manifest,

however such influence is charged with a mystical view of the forces at work in and through human beings (Gelb 539). In their oedipal complex- based deconstructive analysis of the play script of Desire

Under the Elms Murray and Bowman (1987) argue that although the play’s locale is quite American,

and is spiritually and emotionally tied to the puritan society, it is deeply rooted in structures found in

Greek mythology (4). Murray and Bowman maintain that Eben’s desire for his stepmother does not

subvert his structuring superego and therefore he becomes a victim to his unconscious oedipal complex.

the play is not based solely on the Greek Hippolytus myth linking Eben with Hippolytus , Abbie with

Phaedra and Cabot with Theseus, but is based on this myth along with the Freudian Oedipus complex

and the Nietzschean philosophy (5). Racey classifies Desire Under the Elms as a New England domestic

tragedy since the Cabot family is disintegrated in a time and place when family was supposed to be the

backbone of love, solidarity and labor (5). According to Racey, The Cabots’ tragedy is the result of a

familial structure that could not sustain their sexual and materialistic desires (5). Despite the fact that

Cabot did not commit any horrible sins like those committed by his son Eben and his wife Abbie, Racey

argues that Cabot is the tragic hero in the play and its main character (95). Newlyn argues that the

mutual physical attraction between the son and his stepmother reflects O’Neill’s heavy reliance on the

classical myths of Oedipus and Phaedra as a raw material for his domestic farm tragedy.

Cabot’s tragic flaw that has ultimately lead to his downfall and that of all his family members is his

excessive greed for property, hypocrisy, the delusion of his faith and his lust for women. Still he remains

the play’s only tragic figure. Cabot’s New England theodicy, as Presley states, gives him a towering

tragic stature and an inward reality far greater than that of any other character in the play (27). Like an

Aristotelian tragic figure Cabot’s downfall is the result of his hubris which not only causes his

destruction, but also the ruin of the lives of his sons, new wife and even his former dead wives. Cabot, as Presley notes, is “materially blessed but morally dissolute, blinded by a cage of greed”

(25). Ephraim Cabot represents what McVeigh (1990) calls the archetype of the “senex amans” or

ridiculous old lover figure of Roman comedy (qtd. in Saur 106). Miller (1965) states that “It is Ephraim’s

self-delusions that drive his family each to their tragic ends”

O’Neill’s prolix

language and describes it as a vehicle for enveloping the extravagant plots and psychological formalism

that owed much to Greek drama (22), and Cohn asserts that O’Neill was “the first American playwright

whose dialogue gave his audience a feeling of observed life rather than books read”

as a result of committing the horrible crimes of incest and

infanticide Eben and Abbie will live forever as sexual and social outcasts. They will never be respected

in the community where they live, and they will always live under the curse of the crimes they

committed, for evil means and deeds always result in evil ends.

It is ironical that Abbie in killing the child was thinking that she, as Ditsky puts it, was sacrificing

a future generation to ensure the present sensual enjoyment with her lover (qtd. in Hays 436). To prove

her genuine love for Eben and to enjoy his crimson love, Abbie murdered the child. However, she did not

know that in killing the child, she would be sent to jail, and would therefore no more enjoy her present

love. It is also ironical on the part of Eben when he sacrifices his own youth which he would spend in

prison for Abbie mistakenly believing that in sharing the guilt with her, he would join her in prison. He

failed to realize that both would be sent to different prisons and might both be hanged. Their sacrifice is

hopeless and their crimes are so tragic and beyond repentance. Greek tragedy by utilizing Freudian and Jungian psychology mixing

them with some elements of Greek and American mythology. love

and hatred, attraction and repulsion, desire and murder, incest and faith, and softness and hardness.

The two elm trees resemble evil that is haunting the Cabots’ homestead, and they suggest the

likelihood of the coming misfortune. Evil haunts the Cabots’ farmhouse and tempts its dwellers to

commit dreadful sins. Cabot is a sinner and though he keeps praying for God to cruse his disobedient

sons, he himself is an unbeliever. The Cabots feel the presence of an evil spirit in the house, but fail to understand the mysterious

nature of such a spirit. They fail to unravel the mystery that drives them to their ominous ends. Cabot can feel the curse, but does not know what it is and why it is permeating the farmhouse. Even

during the merry making scene, he can feel the presence of evil dominating the entire house.

Desire is part of nature which is portrayed as an abiding

absolute throughout the play (Carpenter 109).The play abounds with references to nature, and the

characters express their admiration of nature on several occasions. The Cabots’ farmhouse is towered by

two elm trees that reflect the image of Eben’s dead mother and the entire protective feminine spirit that

hovers over and redeems the Cabot farm from its hard masculine rocks (Going 386). In this context,

desire, the mother and nature are seen as one entity reflecting the three constituent elements collectively. New England was

far from being stereotyped as the new Eden for the puritans, but rather it was disapprovingly depicted as

a land of hypocritical faith and greed for property.

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