Recently, in my English class, I read two different stories about the same subject matter, these stories being the play The Bacchae by Athenian philosopher Euripedes and and the book Frenzy by Percival Everett. Both told the story of the god Dionysus, who was angry with the city of Thebes for not worshipping him properly and punished them by filling many women of the city with some form of madness. Though the plot, characters and tone differ, the tales they spin hit the same story beats and arrive at a similar finale. However, their similarities end at the basic plot due to the fact that they are written completely differently. While The Bacchae is a play about a foolish king who falls right into Dionysus’s hands and dies as a result of his hubris, Frenzy is both a more thoughtful and thorough examination of Dionysus’s assistant, Vlepo, and how he and the other characters deal with their suffocating devotions and seemingly meaningless lives. They vary in tone drastically despite identical subject matter, and wind up telling very different stories. However, both have individual merits, and though I did enjoy reading Frenzy more, each has a way of outshining the other, in terms of both medium and tone.
The Bacchae was written long before Frenzy, and has such retains the authenticity of being the original source of the story. Being a play, the text on its own does not fully capture the same vividness as a novel would, but its ability to be performed benefits its case. By being able to see actors on stage performing the story, viewers of the piece will be better able to understand the emotions of each character through the actors. When an actor wants to convey sadness, they convey sadness. There is no murkiness or ambiguity that often exists in more descriptive writing, and viewers are better able to empathize with actors. By having emotions of characters expressed plainly on stage, the story itself becomes much easier to be understood. As for the text, The Bacchae has the advantage of being straight to the point with its writing. It has an ever present chorus throughout the play that explains each story beat as they happen, and the dialogue doesn’t linger on too many aesthetic flourishes, preferring for the actual performance to convey these. Additionally, The Bacchae benefits from its title of a tragedy. According to The Bedford Glossary of Critical Thinking and Literary Terms, a tragedy is a somber drama that usually ends in disaster and focuses on a character going through personal struggles. Tragedies are often associated with Greek theater, and with The Bacchae clearly being a tragedy, it’s ending is pretty obvious. This title is an asset to the story, as the audience is less invested in how the story will end and more concerned with how the characters will act to reach that point. By having an already established ending, the story can play with the viewers expectations as they try to guess how the story will end before it is shown to them. This, along with the other listed aspects of the play, make this version of the story worthy of viewing
Frenzy takes the story that The Bacchae established and delvers a much more in-depth and grimmer tale, partially due to its status as a novel. Without the assistance of set design and actors, the story that the author Percival Everett tries to convey is done with much more vivid details. Settings are better described, and each character’s thoughts are more complex due to the limitations of the medium. Because of the lack of visual and aural elements, Everett uses his text to create a picture that’s both more vivid and specific than its counterpart. Of course, the book also benefits from Evertt’s writing, which tells a much more poignant story. In Frenzy, while the city of Thebes is still under the same attack by Dionysus as it was in The Bacchae, the being known as Vlepo takes center stage. Vlepo is quite the unique character, as the only reason for his existence seems to be to serve Dionysus both hearing, seeing, and feeling for his master. As the story progresses, Vlepo’s devotion to his master wavers due to the uncaringness of his demeanor and other’s acknowledgements of his complete devotion to his god. Compared to the play, Everett’s novel takes a much heavier focus on the emotions of its characters, almost as if the plot is a backdrop to the turmoil that exists within each of them. Some characters live for simple things—they prefer to live for a god and do what they wish rather than face responsibilities. Others are absorbed by pride, to the point where they hurt those around them. And due to in-depth style of the book’s writing, these complex emotions are conveyed much more intensely, albeit a bit confusingly. With these two factors, the book does a great job of living up to—and possibly even surpassing—it’s play counterpart
These two stories are intense reads; there’s no denying that. The stories they tell are grim, and they aren’t keen to skip over the more unsettling details. However, both are incredibly well thought out, and benefit from both the ways they are presented and their respective authors. Because of this, I believe that, when compared to each other from an impartial view, they are equally great in their description of the story of Dionysus and the suffering of Thebes, and as such are both worthy of reading.