Bakkhai Question(s?)

August 2, 2015

So, it was over a week ago that I saw it, and wrote my rambling thoughts here, but I also had a question about Bakkhai, or at least a theme I thought would be interesting to discuss. And since I saw the play on my own, I have no-one to discuss it with.

Thus, have you seen the current Almeida production of Bakkhai? Or, do you know the play in any form? Either way… would anyone like to talk about… control?

Bakkhai is in one way a tale of opposites and contradictions. The God Dionysos himself is many simultaneously existing contradictory things. But the most basic premise of the story has Dionysos and Pentheus as two opposing sides. Yet in one crucial way they are utterly the same: both crave utter control.

Dionysos arrives and offers freedom, wine, love, sex, chaos… which Pentheus opposes, desiring order, rules. Yet, look deeper and Dionysos has tighter control on the experiences, thoughts and indeed selves of every one of his followers. He has a tighter control than any human could even imagine (though not a tighter control than they might perhaps desire.)

In the process of the play, Dionysos punishes (seems too light a word for it!) Pentheus for refusing to acknowledge and follow his divinity. But first, he toys with Pentheus and in pulling his strings, Dionysos accesses the deeper nature Pentheus has repressed. We understand Pentheus’ unconscious desires.  We see his chaos.  We see a desire in him for utter freedom.

By the end of the play, Dionysos has had his way, with really, utter ease. Every human has been under his control precisely as Dionysos would have it.

What are we supposed to take from this aspect of the play? A play in which great wildness ensues, but which, at the highest level, is completely under this God’s precise control.

I’m not even totally sure what I’m asking.  I guess I am saying that as I see it, Bakkhai ends up not being remotely to do with order versus chaos.  Because Dionysos has, and desires greater control than any human could ever hope for.  And at the same time, while Pentheus tries to impose his control upon his subjects, even to the degree of imprisoning his own Mother… we eventually discover that perhaps what he really desires is chaos…  I think.  Maybe?

So, in fact, what we first thought of both Dionysos and Pentheus in terms of how they operate at root-level seems in the end almost reversed..

I’m trying to get my head around what to make of it as I don’t know.  Can you help me?

Were you left with any questions about the play?  If so, what were they?  I’m curious to hear other people’s ponderings…


2 Responses to “Bakkhai Question(s?)”

  1. KirstenSE said

    Thats the theme of the whole Play: two sides of the same coin. Similarities and opposites, freedem and restriction. Devinity and Humanity. The play doesn’t give answers, it asks questions. There is no real hero or villain. Both main characters have parts of it in them.

    • wherewordsend said

      Thank you for replying and sharing your thoughts. 🙂 Do you think there was really much freedom in the play though for example? Of course, as you say, the nature of Dionysos is that he is many conflicting things at once, and I suppose, really this is the nature of everyone. Pentheus certainly proves to be more than he first appears and also full of conflict inside.

      I agree that the play asks questions rather answering them. I was just thinking, what does the fact that Dionysos needs such control over humans say about Gods? What does the fact Pentheus needs so much control over his subjects say about him?

      Anyway, thanks again for your thoughts! 🙂

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