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Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Furies on and off the Dramatic Stages in Aeschylus' Eumenides

Not only do the characters themselves play roles in Aeschylus’ Eumenides, but space as it relates to the stage, whether realistic or imaginative plays a role as well. The stage seen and unseen allows the actors to take on other aspects of their characters, and through this use of space, we are able to see exchanges of power, motives, and other roles that would not be so readily accessible without context. This response will focus on how different stages, whether real or imaginative act as a transformative experience on the Furies and consequently their adopting different roles.
The Furies belong to a more supernatural world and do not usually meddle in the affairs of mortals, as is evidenced by their reluctance to rise from sleep, even after the ghost of Clytemnestra pleads with them several times. The ghost of Clytemnestra says, “You moan, you still sleep, won’t you get up quickly? What activity has destiny allotted you, except doing harm?” (124-125) The first stage here is this imaginative place where the Furies are resting, and it is in this place that they are sleepy and seemingly apathetic, detached from the tragedies of the Greeks. However, the ghost of Clytemnestra is finally able to convince them to avenge her when the Furies realized that Orestes has escaped from their watch. In this way, they are called from an imaginative space and driven into a more real setting - the courtroom, where they find themselves more engaged in mortal affairs, having been thrown into “the real world.”
In the courtroom, the Furies are Orestes’ prosecutors and are determined to convict him of murdering his mother. We can see their conviction when the Chorus says, “But a mother’s blood is drawing me on: I shall pursue this man to punish him - I shall hunt him down!” (230-231) The Furies at this point are fully invested in these mortal affairs, in part out of redemption for having let Orestes escape, but also, as avenging heroes of wretched victims. They are very much part of the fabric of this tragedy, and it is clearly seen in the courtroom, on the real stage. The audience too is able to see the true wrath of the Furies, invoking an even more fearful presence than what they are already notoriously known for. This more tangible space allows them to take on an aggressive role. In this far off imaginative space, the Furies are sleepy and apathetic, unresponsive to Clytemnestra’s pleas for vengeance. But in the courtroom, the Furies are very much aware and ready to convict Orestes to the fullest extent of the law.
When the Furies lose their case and Orestes is acquitted, the Furies are outraged at the injustice and vow to take action against Athens. But Athena calms them down by offering them roles as protectors of the city when she says, “But if you prefer not to, it would be unjust for you to let fall on this city any wrath, or any anger, or any harm to its people; for you have the opportunity to be a landholder in the country, and be justly honored for it.” (889-891) And the Furies accept when they say, “I will accept a residence with Pallas.” (916) Again, in this scene, Athena offers a new space to them, outside of the courtroom, and there, they take on a new role, and now, a more benevolent role. Here again, the imaginative space outside of the courtroom offers the Furies a less aggressive outlet for their energy and their vengeful energy subsides.
So the Furies, in their resting state, if you will, range from apathetic and drowsy to good-hearted protectors when they are not on stage. However, when they are thrown into the carnage of the courtroom, they themselves are transformed into ruthless avengers with a moral cause to defend the transgressed. Their presence on the real stage of the courtroom exaggerates their inherently aggressive and vengeful nature, but the imaginative stage of their resting spot and the acropolis where they vow to protect the city of Athens deemphasizes the former nature and shows the audience a more neutral/good natured side.

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