- Agamemnon in Performance: 458 BC to AD 2004
This is a remarkable moment in the history of ancient Mediterranean drama. As Edith Hall points out, more Greek tragedy has been performed in the last thirty years than at any point in history since Greco-Roman antiquity. Since the publication of Oliver Taplin's The Stagecraft of Aeschylus in 1977, performance studies of ancient drama in both ancient and later performance contexts have proliferated. These developments parallel, and are influenced by, significant movements in the humanities during the same period, such as cultural anthropology, Saussurian linguistics, and constructivist ideas about the body, gender, and other identities and behaviors. In the volume under review Anton Bierl identifies a "performative turn" that "focuses less on the reference and fixed significance of texts and other artefacts than on the process of a synaesthetic performance" and "an effect of intense transformation" in which "the meaning is not prestabilized and fixed, but emergent in the actualization" (292).
The Archive of Performance of Greek and Roman Drama, founded at the University of Oxford in 1996, has become a crucial resource for performance studies of ancient drama, especially in the English-speaking world. APGRD's astoundingly ambitious goal is to collect as much material as possible on stagings of ancient drama around the world, from the earliest to the most recent productions. In 1998 APGRD organized the first of a series of triennial conferences from which came the volume Medea in Performance 1500–2000 (Oxford: Legenda, 2000; reviewed in AJP 123.2). The present volume originated in an APGRD conference held in 2001, and another on Aristophanes in performance is in the works (full disclosure: an essay of mine will appear in this volume).
Despite—or because of—the volume of artistic and scholarly work going on, performance studies of ancient drama is a developing field whose parameters and methodologies are still being formulated, and the discipline confronts a number of problems. A fundamental difficulty is the lack of evidence for ancient productions. Performance is a complex phenomenon, too, involving space, visual elements, sound, and movement as well as words. Few classicists are familiar with the methodologies of performance studies, and few theater scholars and practitioners with those of classical studies. Discussions of performance need to balance description (because most readers will not have seen the performances discussed) with analysis. Analyzing performance from an individual rather than a collective point of view, in the medium of print, is inevitably reductive; still and [End Page 279] moving images are helpful illustrations, but that "emergent meaning" will always remain elusive. Agamemnon in Performance demonstrates both the strengths and the problems of ancient performance studies in its current state.
Like APGRD's overall project, this volume of essays by an array of international scholars is ambitious. It discusses Seneca's as well as Aeschylus' text; productions in a variety of languages; translations, adaptations, and parodies; and drama, film, opera, and dance productions. Moreover, Aeschylus' Agamemnon is inextricably connected to the other two plays in the Oresteia trilogy, and many of the productions discussed in this volume involved the whole Oresteia. The eighteen essays are organized into four areas that focus on "sources," "modernity," "translation," and "the international [i.e., non-British] view." Some of the essays complement each other (e.g., Hall and Macintosh, Judet de la Combe and Bierl, Walton and Hardwick), and there are some efforts at internal cross-referencing, but overall the essays stand on their own. Another APGRD publication, Dionysus Since 69: Greek Tragedy at the Dawn of the Third Millennium (Oxford 2004), deals with a variety of plays but gains greater coherence as a volume by concentrating primarily on English-language productions within a much shorter time period.
Questions that reappear in this collection concern gender (especially the portrayal of Clytemnestra as wife and mother), politics (the justice of the Trojan War and the leadership of Argos, the political stance of particular productions), and translation (from Greek to...