GENRE: EXPECTATIONS, VARIETY, AND CHANGE
From the humorous perspective of Aristophanes' Frogs, a critic might say that Euripides changed tragedy in various ways: among them, he put tragedy on a diet (939–44), democratized tragedy (948–51), eroticized tragedy (849–50, 1043–51, 1078–81, 1301–2, 1327–8), feminized tragedy (949–50, 1043–52), trivialized tragedy (976–91, 1203, 1331–63), rhetoricized tragedy (841, 892, 954, 1069–71, 1084–6), sophisticized tragedy (892–4, 1471–8, 1491–9). These claims address the ways that Euripides stretched and deformed traditional aspects of language, tone, structure, and content in the tragic genre, and these aspects are often the same ones targeted from postclassical antiquity to the present by critics who exploit the concept of literary genres either to complain that Euripides has often failed to write “genuine tragedy” or to gain, in a less judgmental fashion, a fuller appreciation of the variety of Euripides' work. The present chapter is intended to explore some of the problems of definition and perspective that bedevil criticism of this kind and to point out the difficulty, and occasional futility, of trying to apply strict genre terms to the ancient plays.
Before embarking on this topic, it is necessary to consider briefly a prior question, whether the whole enterprise of genre-criticism is outmoded and misleading, a relic of an approach that isolates the literary product from the social, political, and ideological contexts in which it is embedded.