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11 - The satyr play

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

Dana F. Sutton
Affiliation:
University of California, Irvine
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Summary

In classical dramatic traditions there seems to be a recurrent tendency to present serious drama and broad farce in immediate juxtaposition. Much as, for instance, Roman tragedy was followed by exodia (usually consisting of Atellan farce), Japanese No plays by Kyogen, and Elizabethan tragedy by jigs, so for most at least of the fifth century B.C. the three tragedies of a trilogy were followed by a satyr play, composed by the same author, the only known exception being Euripides' Alcestis of 438 B.C. presented instead of a satyr play and therefore termed a ‘prosatyric’ play. Most satyr plays were lost in antiquity; only Euripides' Cyclops survives in the manuscript tradition. Modern papyrus discoveries, however, have greatly increased our knowledge of the genre.

The principal features of the satyr play were:

  1. Invariable use of a chorus of satyrs; these are small rustic creatures, half-goat, half-human, elemental and often comically grotesque. They are regularly accompanied by their father Silenus, who is a dramatic character in his own right but also functions as a choral spokesman.

  2. Use of mythological plots, with mythological travesty a principal source of humour.

  3. Absence of satire of contemporary people and events, overt or covert.

  4. Use of the same language, metres, and dramaturgic resources as tragedy, modified by special generic requirements: occasional colloquial and bawdy language, boisterous dances, etc. There is somewhat greater metrical freedom than in tragedy: Porson's Law is sometimes disregarded and cyclic anapaests outside the first place in the iambic line are admitted.

  5. ...

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1985

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References

Sutton, D. F. (1974a). The date of Euripides' Cyclops. Ann Arbor.
Sutton, D. F. (1974b). ‘A handlist of satyr plays’, H.S.C.Ph. 78.Google Scholar
Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, U. von (1962). Kleine Schriften IV. Berlin.
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