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an analysis of the play by Euripides

The following essay on The Phoenician Women was originally published in The Tragic Drama of the Greeks. A.E. Haigh. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1896. pp. 310-11.

The Phoenician Women appears to have been produced in 407 [B.C.], and deals with the same subject as the Septem of Aeschylus. Like the Orestes, it is one of those plays in which the conclusion hardly fulfils the promise of the commencement. The opening scene, in which Antigone and her attendant appear on the palace roof, watching the motions of the Argive host outside the walls, is a picturesque and effective imitation of the well-known episode in Homer. Then comes the meeting between the two brothers, in the presence of Jocasta; and in this scene the tragedy reaches its highest level of dramatic power. But throughout the rest of the play, the significance of the situation is obscured by unnecessary incidents and lengthy narratives. The episode of Menoeceus has no vital connection with the feud between the brothers; and the four speeches of the messenger, describing with elaborate detail the attack on the city , the preparations for the single combat, the combat itself, and the death of Jocasta, appear languid and undramatic in comparison with the excitement of the previous events. Finally, the aged Oedipus, who has hitherto lain concealed in the recesses of the palace, creeps forth to lament the downfall of his family; and his unexpected appearance, when all is over, adds still further to the episodic character of the play. These defects of structure were not unnoticed by the ancient critics. Still the Phoenician Women was much admired in antiquity on account of the excellence of the style and the beauty and variety of the sentiments; and it is one of the three plays which continued to be read and studied in the latest Byzantine period.

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