|This drawing is an early Cliff's Notes for the first two plays.|
I do not wish to suggest, by any stretch of the imagination, that Desperate Housewives is high art and destined to rise to a throne in the halls of posterity as one of the pinnacles of our age. However, it is important to remember that so much of what we look to in art is a connection with issues that we all deal with, the universal drama, albeit so often a heightened version. Indeed, the dramatic tension calls for consistent heightening of the emotional hooks in order to drag the audience through the action of the piece.
When Gina had to read Hamlet for a college course a few years ago, I strongly urged her to rent a film version (although seeing it live would be even more ideal) because plays are meant to be seen. Shakespeare is wonderful to read, wonderful to pour over those gooey, but perfectly molded lines. But the author's intention with the piece was for you, his audience, to go into a room full of other people and see the work on a stage. I believe that we are meant to feel the pull of sitting 20 some feet from a man kneeling at the grave of his slain, cuckolded, humiliated father and identify with the feelings of rage and vengeance, to be in the room with the tension as Orestes talks with Clytemnestra, to feel the gut revulsion at the pile of butchered human that Orestes walks over at the end. Drama is literature made tactile. It is a means by which an author can sweep a reader directly into his or her work. We ought to apply the lessons gained from those experiences to our lives. We are expected to identify with them. If we are to get anything out of the experience, we must enter the world and glean the lessons therein.
Like so much of drama, this is also a cautionary tale. If I were to mount a production, I would probably adopt as the theme of the trilogy that phrase often attributed to Gandhi that an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind. I almost feel as if the trilogy ought to be performed in one night as one show, rather than producing each individually. The moment at the end of The Libation Bearers where it is awkwardly obvious to everyone, especially, it would seem, Orestes, that the tableau is the exact same one as at the end of Agamemnon (the killer stepping over two butchered bodies) sets it up for what is most likely to come (judging from the title of the third play, I have my suspicions about where this is going.)
I don't want to be flip and I am well aware that I am treading on the very thin ice of speaking about aspects of American culture which are entirely alien to me, but I was instantly reminded of the contemporary street culture practice of "pouring a 40 out on the curb for one's fallen homies." I am assured that this is a thing that actually happens in gangster culture, which I am also assured is actually a real thing. I've heard tell of such things and, in fact, observed a bit of it in my years in public school. Otherwise, I am about as alien to that culture as one can get.
The parallel that sprung to my mind was that Clytemnestra sends Electra to pour wine out on the grave of Agamemnon. Clytemnestra, it seems, is having horrible nightmares and mistakenly assumes that it is from the angry tomb of Agamemnon rather than severe guilt over murdering her husband. Funny how projecting works. It is not lost on us, the Chorus, nor the two children, that were the much sinned against dead able to speak, he would be much more demonstrative over Clytemnestra having killed him than interested in having a bit of a tipple.
Likewise, in the gangster cultural practice of actually physically pouring out a portion of malt liquor, one imagines that the hypothetical fallen in the territorial combat of gangs, given the opportunity to speak from beyond the grave (regardless if it holds oblivion or damnation) would more likely call for a plague on both their houses, perhaps with choice words for the structure of class which gives rise to such cultures in the worlds of those to whom opportunities to prosper are barred. Those attempting to honor are still possessed of those effects for which the murder occurred, namely a culture revolving around guns, bitches, and bling.
Enough of that, though. Clytemnestra shows no sign of repentance, but rather simply wants physic for the tempests in her skull. Orestes delivers that outcome by more active means, but the play would have us understand that justice has still not been served. Orestes now takes up the mantle of "wrong" and runs off to Delphi with it.
I wonder about the author's intent and the many places one could choose to take this material if one mounted a production. I mentioned the "justice" theme, but I think there is also an anti-vigilante twinge. Orestes is not, in the eyes of gods or man, an authorized executor of justice. He is, therefore, in the wrong on a cosmic scale in attempting to deliver justice. But what would justice really look like in this case? In America, the police would arrest the couple, they would appear before a judge and jury of their peers, they would, most likely, be sent to death row in most states where they would, eventually, be executed. An argument could be made that the only difference between that and what Orestes does is a matter of time, hands in the pot, and cost. Surely, being stripped of their gains and removed from society would be entirely appropriate to the crime.
Ultimately, and I think the next play will bear me out, the thesis of Aeschylus is that justice is the domain of the gods ("Vengeance is mine," saith the Lord) and not for the hands of man. But how far can one take that view in a universe where the gods are so quiet?
I think another possible theme is that of the great wheel of karma. Orestes is both the reaper and sower in this case, sort of caught between the cogs of the wheel.
Needless to say, I am enjoying these plays a great deal.