The Bacchae



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Themes and Colors
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Bacchae, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Disguise, Deception, and Identity

Nothing is quite as it seems in the world of The Bacchae, an ancient Greek tragedy about the god Dionysus and the naive King Pentheus. Euripides uses misunderstandings, both deliberate and accidental, to construct a morally ambiguous play that resists easy interpretation. But perhaps that’s the point—by creating an uncertain world, Euripides highlights the folly and deception involved in the identities people construct for themselves, arguing that life is infinitely more complex and…

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Gods and Mortals

There is an important tension between the world of the gods and the world of the mortals in The Bacchae. It’s important to remember that when this play was first performed in ancient Greece, audiences would have been much more familiar with the mythical backstories involved, and, of course, many would have believed in them. The characters in the play, also believers, have to make a critical choice—either follow the god Dionysus or risk…

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Order vs. Irrationality

The Bacchae is chiefly concerned with two very different ways of being. On the one hand, there is the “civilized” order represented by King Pentheus which, generally, is the way the Thebans live their life. However, Dionysus’ aim is to show them the other side of themselves—to get them to give into their irrational nature, a plan that clearly works. Pentheus believes his subjects are wrong to indulge in irrationality, and tries to impose…

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The Bacchae is a play full of violence from the outset. People are beheaded, animals are torn apart limb from limb—but it’s not gratuitous violence written in for the sake of it. In his violently graphic descriptions interspersed throughout the play, Euripides examines the nature of violence, asking those in the audience whether they are capable of violent acts and exploring the relationship between violence and the imagination. The play seems to suggest that violence…

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