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Bacchae Essay Research Paper In the Bacchae

Bacchae Essay, Research Paper

In the Bacchae, for whom do you feel more sympathy ? Pentheus or Dionysus? In

the Bacchae, Pentheus and Dionysus have very different characters. They are both

very complex characters and they both go through changes that alter the way you

see them. At the beginning of the play, we are given a very dramatic image of

Dionysus at his mothers, Semele?s monument. He is wearing a crown of ivy,

carrying a thyrsus and wearing a fawn skin. It is a very mysterious and haunting

scene. When Dionysus speaks he speaks angrily and passionately – you do not get

the impression that he is a very subdued character. In contrast, however, when

you first meet Pentheus you see him as a very proud man. He is outraged with the

women of Thebes, he has a strict sense of his own beliefs ? he simply cannot

understand why the women are choosing to believe in a foreign god, an ?

upstart god ?. He is instinctively sceptical. He believes that the women of

Troy have left ?on some pretence of Bacchic worship?. He is so cynical he

honestly cannot believe in the power of Bacchus. When we first meet the two

adversaries face to face, we at first feel sympathy for Dionysus, for he is the

prisoner. Pentheus starts the conversation thinking he has the upper hand

because he has more power over the situation. However, it is clear to the

audience that Dionysus is in control of the situation. He is calm and strong. He

could have felt threatened, being in a king?s presence, but instead he acts

confidently. This could have made me feel proud of Dionysus for handling the

situation so well; if it was not for the fact that he cruelly mocks Pentheus.

Pentheus obviously has no idea that he is talking to a god, and Dionysus takes

full advantage of this. Dionysus drops hints that he is not simply a Bacchic

worshiper, but these are only obvious to the audience. Dionysus tells us that

Dionysus is ?close at hand and sees what?s being done to me?. The audience

can appreciate the subtly in this, but to Pentheus the man is just provoking

him. I think that Pentheus is jealous of Dionysus? power over women, long

curls and white skin. This would explain why he is so condescending to Dionysus.

Pentheus does not want to believe that Dionysus is really the son of Zeus. I

think that deep down he knows that he is and that is why he constantly needs to

reassure himself of his royal status. I think Dionysus is aware of Pentheus?

jealousy and he uses this to his own advantage. We know that he can manipulate

people, as he can make the guard feel guilty for simply bringing him before the

king. I can sympathise with Pentheus because it is hard for him to understand

this new, foreign cult, let alone accept it. He is a young and relatively new

king and unused to his power, without having it questioned by a foreigner. He

wants to assert his power and to be in control. He can not do this when being

threatened by an eastern cult. I do disagree, however, with the way Pentheus

tries to dictate Thebes – it should be up to the people of Thebes to make up

their own minds as to their beliefs. If they want to believe that Dionysus is

the son of Zeus, there is nothing Pentheus can do to change their minds.

Pentheus is frightened by the way that the women are so sure of themselves, he

does not like the way they are suddenly at ease with nature. What he does not

realise is that Dionysus does not want the women to completely abandon

themselves to nature, but just to recognise his importance and the importance of

his worship. There are many qualities that make Dionysus a strong god, he is

very wise and helps the people to forget their suffering by procuring wine. He

is also a prophet and can enable people to see their future. Dionysus is often

blamed for his female followers being unchaste and without morals. I do not

think that this is a fair accusation, as he does not make them act immoral. If

they do, then they are already immoral and would have been so even of they had

stayed at home with their families. Teiresias makes this clear when he says

?Dionysus will not compel women to be chaste, since in all matters

self-control resides in our own natures?. Dionysus is also thought to have

been the reason the women of Thebes become fiends and ransack the nearby

villages when faced with any opposition or violence. I do not think that this

has anything to do with the religion, for when the chorus, the true Bacchants,

are faced with violence they instead lie prostrate on the floor calling for

their god to rescue them. What I do not agree with though, is the way Dionysus

turns everyone mad. It is not the people of Thebes? fault that Agau?, Ino and

Autonoe believed that a mortal fathered Dionysus. It is very unjust of Dionysus

to punish the whole city. I also do not agree with the way that he punishes

Cadmus. The man has done nothing wrong, he believed in Bacchus and followed his

rituals. He has to come to terms with the murder of his grandson, by his own

daughter. It is not fair to also banish him from his home. Cadmus even appeals

to Dionysus, telling him that ?Gods should not be like mortals in

vindictiveness?. His pleas are ignored. There are also reasons for not

sympathising with Pentheus. He immediately judges Dionysus to be an effeminate

weakling and mocks him for this. He also judges the women of Thebes and the

Maenads too quickly. He is xenophobic, racist and snobbish. Whilst these are not

admirable characteristics in a person, they can be excused because Pentheus is

only a mortal. Dionysus does not have that excuse. However, Pentheus can

sometimes simply be accused of being incompetent. He makes a foolish judgement

in locking Dionysus up. He has blatantly ignored the guards? and Dionysus?

warnings, about the miracles that Dionysus can perform. In the third scene when

Dionysus is hunting Pentheus, Pentheus is wearing Bacchanal garb, much as a

victim of sacrifice would have. This is a central scene in the play. It is here

that I can clearly see that the roles of Dionysus and Pentheus have been

reversed. Now it is Dionysus in control of Pentheus? utter humiliation. I feel

far more sympathy for Pentheus than Dionysus because Pentheus is not aware that

he is under spell or being mocked. Even when it was Dionysus being hunted, he

was always aware of what he was doing. Pentheus would never have humiliated

himself by dressing in women?s clothes and acting vain, if he had been of sane

mind. When it finally comes to the death of Pentheus, I feel no warmth for

Dionysus whatsoever. He has cruelly lured Pentheus to his death and has sent

Agaue mad and unable to tell that she is murdering her own son. Whatever

sympathy I had once felt for Dionysus? character is now gone. He has acted in

such a cold, heartless manner to everyone around him. He has driven every one

who did not believe that he was the son of Zeus mad, as well as some who did. He

has acted in a vindictive and vengeful manner not fitting for a god. He is the

son of Zeus, but he acts like a resentful mortal. Pentheus, though he has made

some bad decisions, is definitely the character I feel more sympathy for. Almost

all the way through the play, he is not aware of what is happening around him,

or the way he is being used. It is quite pitiful to see the way he tries to

grasp on to his power and sanity. He deludes himself all through the play that

he is the one in charge, the one with the authority.

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