As a dramatist, Aeschylus wrote his plays during a period that was of great importance in the development of Greek tragedy. When Aeschylus started to write, in about 490 bc, tragedy was mainly a spoken or sung performance by the chorus. Choral odes were sparingly interspersed with a few spoken remarks by the leader of the chorus and a single actor, who might play more than one role. Aeschylus added a second actor. This innovation—the second actor—was of great dramatic significance because for the first time it made possible the use of dialogue and dramatic conflict without the participation of the chorus.
Aeschylus’s early plays, including The Persians and The Suppliants, depend mostly on the chorus. The Suppliants, in fact, contains only one short episode in which two characters on the stage converse with each other; elsewhere, the actors converse only with the chorus. By the end of his career Aeschylus had learned to manipulate two or three characters with ease. In the Oresteia, although the choral odes are still long, the main action and the development of the plot take place in spoken dialogue.
The plot construction of Aeschylus is relatively simple. The main character finds himself in a situation dictated by some divine power, and this situation rarely changes before the final catastrophe. The hero, once resolved on a course of action, pursues it with undivided purpose to the end. The inner conflict, which looms so large in the psychological drama of Euripides, is rare in Aeschylus. Even Orestes, about to slay his mother at the command of Apollo, hesitates for only a moment.
A few simple episodes, in Aeschylus’s tragedies, create suspense and pile up details leading to the catastrophe. Woven in with the episodes, the choral odes set a magnificent background. They carry forward the plot, create a mood of brooding suspense and horror, and hint at the moral law that operates in the action. The fortunes of the chorus are always involved in the action, and the chorus shares in some way in the final outcome. Thus, Aeschylus used the chorus as an additional actor, not as a commentator on the action.
Aeschylus’s characters are powerfully drawn with a few broad strokes. Especially noteworthy are Eteocles in The Seven Against Thebes and Clytemnestra in Agamemnon. Eteocles is a noble and loyal king, who partly through devotion to his country brings ruin on himself and his family. He has been called the first tragic hero, as defined by Aristotle, in European drama. Clytemnestra has often been compared with the character of Lady Macbeth in the play by William Shakespeare (see Macbeth). Possessed of an iron will and unwavering determination and filled with a blind fury that drives her on to the murder of her husband, Clytemnestra dominates every scene of Agamemnon in which she appears. Aeschylus role as a dramatist is clearly seen in his many plays during his days.
- Aeschylus (egrejeen.wordpress.com)