Death of a philosopher
Joe Friggieri, L-Għanja taċ-Ċinju u Il-Ġnien ta’ Esopu.: drammi. Horizons, 2012. 109p. €10
The two plays in this volume are connected with Ancient Greece. L-Għanja taċ-Ċinju (Swansong) won the Francis Ebejer prize for best play in 2010 and has already been performed successfully at the Manoel Theatre in a production by Albert Marshall.
Friggieri’s plays are generally well known for their humour but their satirical aims make it impossible to look at them purely as comedies, and his Trappisti is perhaps the darkest of his plays with its attack on the way in which society can and does prevent a whole sector of people from expressing their loneliness and humiliations.
This play was largely inspired by the plight of the many irregular immigrants who find them-selves leading in Malta a life at the periphery of Maltese society.
L-Għanja taċ-Ċinju is another dark play in which the main character is the great philosopher Socrates, ‘Sokrate’ in the Maltese text, who is brought to trial and condemned to death on the grounds of having corrupted Athenian youths by his teaching but really because he was a friend of Alcibiades and others among the anti-democratic oligarchs of the city.
By including in the script a famous scene from Aristophanes’ cruelly satirical play Clouds which surely influenced anti-Socratic feeling in Athens, and making us discover how critically the common people of Athens looked at Sokrate, Friggieri makes us realise the strength of popular feeling against the philosopher.
The audience, however, learns the wisdom of the philosopher through his speeches during the trial and in particular by what he says as he awaits the taking of the poisoned cup, the form of execution practised at the time.
In the scene the author allows us to see Sokrate as a paragon of philosophers, a man who goes to his death even when a way of escape is being offered to him, simply because he wishes to die in obedience of the law of Athens.
This play is being published with another piece, Aesop’s Garden, an attractive work written for young audiences that ought to be staged in the near future. The volume is further enriched by the author’s introduction: ‘Theatre as an instrument of critical reflection’, in which he lists all the plays he has written since 1989 and discusses the ideas that gave them birth, sometimes quoting from the introductions he wrote for those plays when they were first published.
For the student of the contemporary Maltese theatre this piece should provide the best introduction they can hope for to Friggieri’s theatre, and make this volume one they should certainly not do without.