Satyr Play: The Cyclops

  • Peter D. Arnott


Polonius would have described the satyr play as tragical-comical-pastoral, and, if he truly represents the Elizabethan noble with his experience of courtly entertainments, would have felt more at home with it than we do. It comes nearer to the masque than anything we have to-day. Satyr play goes back to something more primitive than do either tragedy or comedy. It has the tragic form but few of its virtues. Played as an afterpiece to a trilogy, it was intended as humorous relief, an antidote to the solemnity which preceded it. Tragedy had moral purpose, comedy was a medium of social comment, but satyr play was pure entertainment. The plays were amusing, light-hearted divertissements based on stories from popular mythology. It was an essential qualification that the chorus should be composed of satyrs, and, to judge from the examples we know, considerable liberties could be taken with the story to make this possible. A recurring figure was Silenus, father of the satyrs, a gross, drunken but kindly creature. Ancient critics gave Aeschylus first place in writing satyr play.


Social Comment Moral Purpose Fresh Pasture Ancient Critic Greek Mind 
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© Peter D. Arnott 1959

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  • Peter D. Arnott

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