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What are the major comparison points between the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides?

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Aeschylus, as the oldest of these three tragedians, introduced several new concepts to Greek theater. For example, Aeschylus introduced the notion of having more than one character on stage at a time and the idea that characters could talk to each other, rather than simply to the chorus. Aeschylus also introduced certain basic concepts of stagecraft, such as the use of elaborate costumes and headdresses, and the use of scenery, all of which became standard elements of Greek theater.

Sophocles built upon the innovations of Aeschylus in several ways. Sophocles introduced the notion of three (or even four) actors on stage at a time, increasing the importance of dramatic dialogue, while reducing the role of the chorus. Most importantly, Sophocles perfected how characters are represented on stage; unlike Aeschylus, whose characters often seem incomplete or two dimensional, Sophocles rendered characters with great attention to detail. His diction, as well, marks a move away from Aeschylus's profundity toward a kind of simple grace.

Euripides, the last of the three, is considered the most "modern" of the Greek tragedians. Euripides introduced the use of female characters, and even slaves feature in his work. Unlike Aeschylus, for example, Euripides often satirized Greek gods and was far more critical of Greek society. He modeled his characters on real life and sought to give them recognizable emotions and multi-dimensional personalities. Of the three great Greek playwrights, Euripides has had the greatest impact on the development of modern tragedy.

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Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides present an ongoing evolution in drama that can be seen across a wide variety of aspects. In addition to the number of actors that they use and the prevalence of the chorus in their plays, one way to compare the three is through the complexity of their plotlines, and where they create tension between the characters.

In this sense, Aeschylus was fairly primitive. His plays, like Prometheus Bound, rely on external struggles of power in which the drama and tension is all apparent to the audience. Characters interact with one another, and their immutable differences create the drama as they struggle. This creates an epic feel that would fit well in an action movie, but leaves little room for nuance or subtle lessons or storytelling.

On the other side of the spectrum, Euripides is the most advanced. His characters have internal struggles that go on inside themselves as they deal with developments in the world around them.

Sophocles represents the turning point between the two. You can see him experiment with pulling intense drama back into the characters' own heads in Electra, when it slowly dawns on the title character that her brother has returned home from exile and that they are about to embark on a path of vengeance.

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Aeschylus is the most traditional of the three. He expanded the role of the cast, from one actor to two.   His plays still have the Chorus front and center, as protagonists.  He is mainly theological.

Sophocles is in the middle of these two. He is half-traditional and half-modern.  He has more actors (3-4) than Aeschylus, but not as many as Euripedes.  He expands the role of the Chorus, but they are not protagonists--more objective, in the middle.  His plays focus on strong women (Antigone).  His plays are humanistic and fairly political.

Euripides is the most modern of the three. He limits the role of the chorus the most, focusing on the inner lives of his characters.  His characters seem a departure from the classic tragic heroes, as he places strong women (Medea) at the forefront.  He even satirizes the Greek heroes of old.  According to my notes:

[Euripides'] plays are more exuberant than those of Sophocles and Aeschylus; often, he has the heroes and heroines face difficult choices, which are finally solved by the sudden appearance of a god (deus ex machina).

So, overall, the role of the chorus seems to be the most significant difference between these three. Enotes says it best:

However, the role of the chorus changed over time and in the hands of the three great tragedians. For Aeschylus, the chorus played a more central role. In the Suppliants, the chorus is actually the protagonist, while in Agamemnon, the play’s themes find clearest expression in the vocalizations of the chorus. In Sophoclean drama, the chorus could be interpreted as a group of characters itself, with a distinct perception and point of view. In some of Sophocles’s plays, as in Ajax and Electra, the chorus was most closely attached to the title character. In other plays, namely Antigone and Oedipus at Colonus, the choruses are made up of city elders who present their opinions on the events they are witnessing. By the time of Euripides, however, the chorus had taken on a far less crucial role. According to Rex Warner writing in Three Great Plays of Euripides, in the works of Euripides, “The chorus perform in the role of sympathetic listeners and commentators, or provide the audience with a kind of musical and poetic relief from the difficulties or horrors of the action.”

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