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Written in the tradition of early Greek tragedies, The Alcestiad by Thornton Wilder tells the story of Admetus, King of Thessaly (rich in horses), his wife Alcestis, and the triumphs and tragedies they endure as favorites of the god Apollo. Every major event in their marriage is a direct result of the interference of Apollo, though this is not made clear in The Alcestiad. Rather, the extent of Apollo’s involvement is made clear in the accompanying satyr play, The Drunken Sisters.

These plays were a very quick read, and though there are elements of tragedy, they lack the heavy seriousness of the Greek tragedies. A good deal of levity is provided by Teiresias, introduced in the first act as being a representative of Apollo. He is quite old, and constantly confuses Admetus and Alcestis with other figures from Greek tragedy (such as the Sophocles characters Oedipus and Antigone) with no apologies. The Drunken Sisters of the satyr play, the Fates Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, also provide comic relief with their desire to be as beautiful as Aphrodite.

In the edition I have, Mr. Wilder’s sister Isabel discusses the lifetime labor of love that The Alcestiad was for her brother, beginning at the age of seven or eight when he first heard the story of Alcestis, the princess who was beloved by Apollo. It is clear throughout the play that Wilder loves Alcestis nearly as much as Apollo did, which I think helps make this easy and enjoyable to read. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys the early Greek tragedies, as well as those who simply enjoy well-written dramas.

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