THE QUALITY SOPHOCLES AND SHAKESPEARE SHARED

SOPHOCLES (496-406 B.C.) exemplifies in his drama the Greek proverb, " Nothing in excess." He sees the gods as ordaining the rule of duty, " Stern daughter of the voice of God." His great heroine, Antigone, claims to be obeying divine law as against human. Full of natural piety and dignity, Sophocles is the typical classical writer. His style does not take the emotions by storm, but, with its subtle cadence, plucks at men's hearts. Shakespeare again provides an illustration. Othello, in his last speech, uses no metaphor or heightened expression, but merely " speaks straight on," yet his words are charged with an almost unbearable emotion. Sophocles could produce the same effect. Euripides (480-406 B.C.) poured the new wine of fifth-century free-thinking into the old bottles of the divine myths. He was not an atheist; the divine power, he felt, must exist, but why did it allow the sacking of cities and the brutal treatment of women ? He paints men as they are, not as they ought to be. Masculine self-satisfaction must have been shocked when the hero, Jason, is shown as a callous opportunist, impervious to Medea's attack on the fools who think that they are brave. " Why," she says, " I would rather stand in battle three times than bear a child once." His sympathy with human suffering made Euripides, in later ages, the best-loved of the dramatists. George Bernard Shaw has, likewise, tilted at tradition and attacked man's inhumanity to man, but with the weapon of comedy instead of that of tragedy.