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Theater of the People

Spectators and Society in Ancient Athens

By David Kawalko Roselli

Publication Year: 2011

Greek drama has been subject to ongoing textual and historical interpretation, but surprisingly little scholarship has examined the people who composed the theater audiences in Athens. Typically, scholars have presupposed an audience of Athenian male citizens viewing dramas created exclusively for themselves—a model that reduces theater to little more than a medium for propaganda. Women’s theater attendance remains controversial, and little attention has been paid to the social class and ethnicity of the spectators. Whose theater was it? Producing the first book-length work on the subject, David Kawalko Roselli draws on archaeological and epigraphic evidence, economic and social history, performance studies, and ancient stories about the theater to offer a wide-ranging study that addresses the contested authority of audiences and their historical constitution. Space, money, the rise of the theater industry, and broader social forces emerge as key factors in this analysis. In repopulating audiences with foreigners, slaves, women, and the poor, this book challenges the basis of orthodox interpretations of Greek drama and places the politically and socially marginal at the heart of the theater. Featuring an analysis of the audiences of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and Menander, Theater of the People brings to life perhaps the most powerful influence on the most prominent dramatic poets of their day.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Cover Art

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pp. v-vi

Conventions and Abbreviations Used

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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xii

It would be nice if books could write themselves. This book (not the one I had initially intended to write) developed out of another (sidetracked) project challenging traditional narratives about the historical relationships between drama and society. While the vast array of sources I have tried to incorporate into this study often stretched my skill set to its limit, fortunately there ...

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Introduction. Theater and People in Athens

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pp. 1-18

In the middle of the performance of Aristophanes’ Peace in 421 BC at the City Dionysia, the comic characters, Hermes and Trygaeus, survey the spectators’ faces. They single out the crest-maker, sword-maker, sickle-maker, mattock-maker, and spear-maker along with the farmers (543–555). The passage provides valuable testimony to the increasing specialization of labor in Athens, ...

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Chapter 1.The Idea of the Audience and Its Role in the Theater

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pp. 19-62

Audiences can be quite powerful. According to Aristotle, the audience expelled from the stage an actor in a play by the tragic poet Carcinus because of a staging mistake made during the performance. That was the end of the production. A complex communicative act, theater requires a high degree of collaboration between performers and the audience. In this light, the spectators ...

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Chapter 2. Space and Spectators in the Theater

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pp. 63-86

The organization of space in the theater was (and is) anything but innocent. In the social space of the Athenian theater, the ways in which people interacted constituted a form of political action: audience space was a means of producing ideas about the community. The theatrical venue conditioned not only relations between performers and spectators but the very social practices ...

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Chapter 3. The Economics of the Theater: Theoric Distributions and Class Divisions

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pp. 87-117

The limited amount of available physical space in the theater created a series of barriers to attendance. Attempts to transcend these limits produced new spatial arrangements and enabled, if not promoted, the articulation of new views of society. Directly related to the space of the audience in Athens were the financial relations between spectators and the theater; these relations constituted ...

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Chapter 4. Noncitizens in the Theater

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pp. 118-157

The theater audience was a motley group. It did not merely reflect certain parts of the civic body, it also reflected the various groups of residents and visitors to the city. In addition to its citizen population, Attica was a community that comprised various sorts of noncitizens vital to the life of the polis. Both non-Athenian Greeks and non-Greek foreigners engaged in periodic ...

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Chapter 5. Women and the Theater Audience

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pp. 158-194

Discussion of women’s presence in the theater audience has a long history in Classical scholarship. There has been much debate surrounding this issue and the ways in which it has been framed, and recent discussions have led to an impasse. The continuing influence of Enlightenment thinking about the role of women in society has unduly shaped scholars’ use of the available evidence ...

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pp. 195-202

As co-creators of theatrical performance, audiences ultimately determine the reception of drama. The relationship between poet/performers and audiences is thus something more than a collaboration or mutual dependency. At dramatic festivals in Athens, bored, uncooperative, and even reluctant spectators— a group often overlooked in semiotic analyses of plays—posed special ...


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pp. 203-250


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pp. 251-274

Index Locorum

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pp. 275-282

general index

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pp. 283-288

E-ISBN-13: 9780292734692
E-ISBN-10: 0292734697
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292723948
Print-ISBN-10: 0292723946

Page Count: 302
Illustrations: 11 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 741751253
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Theater of the People

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Subject Headings

  • Theater and society -- Greece -- Athens -- History -- To 1500.
  • Theater -- Greece -- Athens -- History -- To 500.
  • Theater audiences -- Greece -- History -- To 1500
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