THE ECLIPSE OF AESCHYLUS

This article was originally published in A Short History of the Drama. Martha Fletcher Bellinger. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1927. pp. 33-4.

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REVERED as Aeschylus was in his life and honored in his death, yet there arose a generation that laughed at his archaic diction and ridiculed his plots. Even within his own century, his simplicity was often scoffed at. Aristotle, writing a century after his death, evidently regarded him as one who had served well in his time, but was then out of date. Beside Sophocles and Euripides he seemed antiquated. To the modern reader or spectator his scenes sometimes seem somewhat childish or improbable; and yet it is easy to accept his fabulous, mysterious world of gods and heroes, which has the same reality and truth that the ancient fables have, only many times magnified and filled with poetic imagination. The genius of Aeschylus was flaming and volcanic, suggesting a comparison with Marlowe, who, like Aeschylus, ushered in a brilliant period of dramatic creation.

With his remarkable gifts--his poetic power, his fertile imagination, his flair for the thing that was theatrically effective, and his passionate earnestness for the right and good--Aeschylus was a worthy founder of one of the world's greatest arts. For the Greeks he fixed and determined absolutely the form of the tragic drama. It was left to later playwrights to make plots more nearly perfect, and to achieve a more exquisite finish; but in all essentials, classic tragedy was moulded by Aeschylus. It was as the great originating genius of drama that he was honored at Athens. Although ordinarily a tragedy was exhibited but once in the city, yet after the death of Aeschylus a special law was passed, authorizing the reproduction of his plays, annually, at the City Dionysia. A grant of money from the public treasury was made to defray the cost. This distinction was not conferred upon any other poet during the fifth century.

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