Orestes In Modern Drama: "Mourning Becomes Electra"

2328 words - 9 pages

"I'm always acutely aware of the Force behind - (Fate,God, our biological past creating our present, whatever onecalls it - Mystery certainly) - and the eternal tragedy of Manin his glorious, self-destructive struggle to make the Forceexpress him instead of being, as an animal is, an incidentin its expression. . . . This is the only subject worth writingabout and . . . it is possible - or can be - to develop a tragicexpression in terms of transfigured modern values andsymbols in the theater."(Eugene O'Neill)When Eugene O'Neill received the Nobel Prize in 1936, critics proclaimed him "a tragic dramatist with a great knack for old-fashioned melodrama." Not everyone shared this appreciation. In a letter, O'Neill noted his uneven critical reception, complaining of those who failed to see what he was trying to do. He struggled to create a new dramatic form for the American stage, one which transcended melodrama and achieved tragedy.Although he has been a subject of controversy and many critics argued upon different issues concerning his life and career as a writer, O'Neill was definitely influenced by his own experience and knowledge. Even though his main writings seem elevated and objective, one can still sense the echoes of O'Neill's own life.The author's main purpose was the knowledge of human psyche, the way in which social and historical environments influence the inner structure of the individual in general. Well known psychologists (such as Freud or Jung) and philosophers (such as Nietzsche) contributed to O'Neill's continuous research on the human soul and intellect. As a consequence of that, O'Neill managed to transmute human instincts and feelings from ancient history into the present. This is partly the goal he achieved in writing Mourning Becomes Electra.What he experimented there, in terms of literary genre, was adapting a Greek tragedy into a twentieth-century model. O'Neill tries to create a genre that rivals the theatricality of melodrama while maintaining the complexity of tragedy.O'Neill's understanding of tragedy stemmed from his reading of Nietzsche, according to whom the Greeks used theater to cope with fear. The world is a dark abyss; man suffers because he cannot penetrate this darkness. The tragic hero makes the attempt. He stares into the void. Ultimately, he stumbles and falls, for in striving he dooms himself to failure. The attempt, however, ennobles him.Modern drama has turned to ancient myths in varying attempts and purposes because of an interest in the reinterpretation of traditional themes and motifs in the light of modern cultural, psychological, political and aesthetic preoccupations. The adaptation of Aeschylus' the Oresteia into an American version, "Mourning Becomes Electra" is O'Neill's attempt to construct the Athenian model and define its variable realizations particularly in America. Aeschylus' dramatic form was classical history of Attic drama and it was a form which could be imitated to O'Neill's purposes of...

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