The Bacchae

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In The Bacchae, Euripedes portrays the character of Pentheus as an ignorant, stubborn, and arrogant ruler. These character flaws accompanied with his foolish decisions set the stage for his tragic downfall. Pentheus' blatant disregard to all warnings and incidents, which prove that Dionysus is truly a god, lead him to his own death. In the end, his mistakes are unforgiving and his punishment is just.

Throughout the play, the audience cannot help but feel merciless towards Pentheus. In his opening scene, Pentheus does not heed the warnings bestowed upon him by Teiresias and Cadmus. Before Pentheus even meets Dionysus, Teiresias offers him wise advice:

'So, Pentheus listen to me. Do not mistake the rule of force for true power. Men are not shaped by force. Nor should you boast of wisdom, when everyone but you can see how sick your thoughts are. Instead, welcome this God to Thebes. Exalt him with wine, garland your head and join the Bacchic revels'(19).

Cadmus carefully tries to persuade his grandson by adding, 'For even if you are right and this God is not a God, why say it? Why not call him one? You have everything to gain from such a lie'(20). Pentheus shows no respect for the elderly or their wisdom by replying, 'Go! Run to your Bacchic revels. I want none of your senile folly rubbing off on me!'(21). This response alone reveals a great deal about his disposition. He will not let any 'old fools' tell him what to do. However, it is ironic that Pentheus' rejection of the advice of these 'old fools' proves to be his first step towards his fatal end.

The next scene brings Pentheus and Dionysus face to face. Pentheus starts the conversation thinking he has the upper hand because he has more power over the situation. 'Untie his hands. Now I have him in my net, no amount of agile tricks can help him slip away' (25). However, it is clear to the audience that Dionysus is in control. He is provoking Pentheus by responding with quick, saucy remarks. 'Those who look for filth, can find at the height of noon' (28). Pentheus becomes frustrated. He needs to feel in control so he begins to hurl threats at Dionysus, 'I'll throw you in my dungeon.' Throughout this scene, Dionysus drops numerous hints that he is indeed the son of Zeus, 'He (Dionysus) is here now. He sees what is being done to me' (29). He for...

... middle of paper ... He has given Pentheus numerous warnings and opportunities to obey and worship him. Pentheus, due to his exceeding incompetence, has overlooked all of them. Because of his refusal to conform, he deserves punishment and it is a fate the audience has come to welcome. Dionysus now takes control over Pentheus and his all his actions. He humiliates Pentheus by dressing him in women's dress and parading him throughout Thebes. Dionysus then leads him up to Mount Cithaeron where he is caught spying on the Bacchae by his crazed mother, Agave. She proceeds to tear him to shreds with her bare hands. This is the end for Pentheus, and ultimately, due to his constant ignorance, a just death.

Although the punishment may seem rather harsh, the audience is appeased by Pentheus' death. Pentheus is incapable of making any sensible decisions. His arrogance and controlling nature is apparent in every action and choice he makes. Pentheus rejects so many hints and opportunities to realize Dionysus' real identity. In his refusal to pick up the signals, he accepts his fate: death by the hands of his own mother. It is almost as if his death, through his refusal to act sensibly, is a form of suicide.

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