As Flies to Wanton Boys are We to the gods, they Kill Us for their Sport

“As Flies to Wanton Boys are We to the gods, they Kill Us for their Sport”

Yes. Of all the creatures that breathe and creep on earth, there is none so helpless as man. Aristotle defines tragedy “As the imitation of an action that is serious having a great magnitude; complete in itself embellish with all the artistic ornaments aroused by pity and fear for the purpose of catharsis”

The Greek tragedy is all about the supremacy of the gods. The common struggle man face is the question of who or what as power and control over his life. Does man has total control of his future, or is there a higher being at work that takes human life into their hands?

Aeschylus made it clear that older ideas of justice lead to unending internal conflict and thus he presents the conception of a divine justice that will result in unmixed good. The old gods’ ethical values, but they are at the same time opposite also. Hence, they come in conflict and destroy each other in their mutual conflict yielding to a new conception of divine justice. In Agamemnon and cheophori, the tragic conflict is presented skillfully and in Eumenides, the conflict is resolved.

The Greek tragedy is seen as “the concrete embodiment of the conflict between primitive social forces and a new social order”.

Tragedy presents mainly two kinds of conflict-outward and inward. The outward conflicts lie between a persons and a force beyond that person. This outer conflict is the most primitive of all type of tragic conflict and is mainly found in Greek tragedy. In Greek tragedies, the hero fights unequal battles with fate or destiny which drives them on to their doom.

In The Greek tragedies, the conflict is described more profoundly in terms of external conflict. The tragic vision presented is man in conflict with their forces greater than himself. The other forces operating in these plays are described as Fate, Destiny, Chance and Necessity. Orestes, Medea, Oedipus, all of them suffer from a mental agony and it is the form of their struggle to resist that they emerge as tragic characters.

”as flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport”. (king lear: act 4, scene1, page 2).This proclamation by the old king who has just realized that everything he once held dear-territory and power –has been stripped from him by his own flesh and blood- daughters Regan and Goneril- The gods kill people for fun, because to them we are like the bugs are to the boys. It means our mindless predisposition to inflict pain and suffering on whatever falls into our clutches, and to our fate to be receivers of the same at the hands of mere passing chance.In other words, the gods play around with us as cruelly as schoolboys pull wings off of flies.

“as flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport”

This very line also suggests a pessimistic note and a deterministic philosophy. Here, man is seen as a passive character but his role is questioned. Glouchester is of the opinion that the gods are unjust and cruel. They take delight in inflicting pains upon mortals. He finds the wicked prospering and the virtuous suffering. So, in his bitterness of heart he thinks that gods are unjust and malicious and that they inflict suffering upon mortals in sheer sport. On the other hand, Edgar expresses the idea of gods being just and kind. He says:

The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices make instruments to plague us.

This suggests optimism and Edgar is of the opinion that the world is governed by strict moral laws and those who do evil will have to suffer. But, in the course of the conflict between good and evil, the virtuous also suffer. Lear suffers because he does not behave properly with his daughter Cordelia. He trusted in the flattery of Goneril and Regan and later on, they become the instrument of his suffering.

The inner conflict which is the mainspring of the tragedy of the play is presented within the mind of Lear. He is confronted with a serious dilemma in his mind and his tragedy arises out of this inner conflict. Lear’s fondness for flattery makes him blind and thus he commits an error in judging his daughters. He misbehaves with Cordelia, the one who loves him most and gives away his kingdom to Goneril and Regan. When Lear realizes that he has committed an error by depriving Cordelia of her share of wealth and kingdom, he becomes insane. But, it is through terrible pain and suffering that new insights are born and new vision is gained. Lear at the end of the play is a different man from what we find him in the beginning. The trials and tribulations have purified him.

He dies purified, ennobled and rendered wise by what he has endured. Thus, he gains tragic stature at the end of the play in his death.

From an aesthetic point of view, we can say that it is the conflict which provides the interest and suspense in tragedy. Without conflict it is not possible to produce a good tragedy. It is with the help of conflict that the dramatist is able to present the serious action, the grim atmosphere, suspense tension and mental agony. So, conflict, having the capacity to move and arrest the audience, also enables to excite the twin emotions of tragedy-the twin feelings of “pity and fear”.


Introduction to dramatic literature by.Dr.Ejue

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