Euripides’s last great tragedy, the Bacchae, shows a new divinity proclaimed in Greece from Asia, Dionysus, reputed to be son of Zeus. The ruler of Thebes, Pentheus, wants nothing to do with this dubious god of wine, dance, and ecstasy. (The festival of Dionysus provided Greek playwrights the occasion to compete in tragedy and comedy, which as performances are ritualized ecstasies. We shall try to experience some of this ourselves.) Euripides’ play raises these two questions: what is the proper response to divine incursions, pretended or real, that upset familiar relations of men and women, young and old, citizen and stranger? And what is the proper divine response to human blasphemy?
Shakespeare’s controversial The Merchant of Venice (technically classified as a comedy) pits old Shylock, a Jewish money-lender, against a Christian merchant, Antonio, over questions of love (several kinds), family, law, justice, and underlying all of these: how to interpret the words we live by. Shylock has the opportunity to become a tragic hero in vindication of law over charity, but he chooses to save his life by converting to Christianity rather than killing his great enemy. Shakespeare tears at our sympathies as we watch the action, and makes us wonder how to respond to a call for mercy that upsets an ancient grudge, based on different conceptions of truth and ethics held by our common humanity.
Meet the Instructor
St. John's College
Louis Petrich received his Master’s Degree in Social Thought from the University of Chicago in 1986. He worked as a dramaturg, assistant director, and actor at the Court Theater of the University of Chicago in the late 1980’s, and at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. in the early 1990’s. In 1990, he received his first Fulbright Scholar Award to teach American literature at the Alexandru I. Cuza University in Iasi, Romania. This was followed by service in the United States Peace Corps as a teacher of English teachers at Masaryk University in Brno, Czechoslovakia (where he met his wife). Afterwards, he taught American through the Civic Education Project to university students in Presov, Slovakia; Iasi, Romania; and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
He received a second Fulbright Scholar Award to teach American studies at Kyrgyz State National University, also in Bishkek, where he founded the American Studies Resources and Training Center. He returned to the United States in 2002 to begin a very different academic career as a Tutor at St. John’s College in Annapolis. He remains there to this day, teaching the great books across the liberal arts curriculum. He has published articles on Shakespeare, Chekhov, Tocqueville, and liberal education. He has also published poetry. He took a year’s leave of absence from St. John’s in 2010 to teach mathematics and biology to students at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. He has two children, ages 18 and 11, and in his spare time he photographs marine life on the oceanic reefs of the world.
Kate Havard Rozansky