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Acting Like Men

Gender, Drama, and Nostalgia in Ancient Greece

Karen Bassi

Publication Year: 1999

Greek drama demands a story of origins, writes Karen Bassi in Acting Like Men. Abandoning the search for ritual and native origins of Greek drama, Bassi argues for a more secular and less formalist approach to the emergence of theater in ancient Greece. Bassi takes a broad view of Greek drama as a cultural phenomenon, and she discusses a wide variety of texts and artifacts that include epic poetry, historical narrative, philosophical treatises, visual media, and the dramatic texts themselves. In her discussion of theaterlike practices and experiences, Bassi proposes new conceptual categories for understanding Greek drama as a cultural institution, viewing theatrical performance as part of what Foucault has called a discursive formation. Bassi also provides an important new analysis of gender in Greek culture at large and in Athenian civic ideology in particular, where spectatorship at the civic theater was a distinguishing feature of citizenship, and where citizenship was denied women. Acting Like Men includes detailed discussions of message-sending as a form of scripted speech in the Iliad, of disguise and the theatrical body of Odysseus in the Odyssey, of tyranny as a theaterlike phenomenon in the narratives of Herodotus, and of Dionysus as the tyrannical and effeminate god of the theater in Euripides' Bacchae and Aristophanes' Frogs. Bassi concludes that the validity of an idealized masculine identity in Greek and Athenian culture is highly contested in the theater, where--in principle--citizens become passive spectators. Thereafter the author considers Athenian theater and Athenian democracy as mutually reinforcing mimetic regimes. Acting Like Men will interest those interested in the history of the theater, performance theory, gender and cultural studies, and feminist approaches to ancient texts. Karen Bassi is Associate Professor of Classics, University of California, Santa Cruz.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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Introduction: The Search for Origins

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pp. 1-11

Greek drama demands a story of orIgms. The most seductive of these, and the one that has persistently attracted scholarly adherents in the history of European drama, begins with an act of transcendence. In this anthropological narrative, dramatic mimesis has its primeval ancestor in early cult or ritual practices in Greece in which some form of mimetic enactment is preparatory to the taking on of a new identity. 1 Less seductive...

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1. Nostalgia and Drama

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pp. 12-41

In the introduction, I discussed the critic's desire to inhabit the position of the masculine subject of antiquity and the persistence of that desire in the critical history of Greek and European drama. Here I want to elaborate on that claim by discussing this form of nostalgia in the context of four historically dominant-if very different-approaches to dramatic production: Plato's critique of dramatic mimesis in the Republic, Aristotle's formal analysis of tragedy in the Poetics, Freud's narrative of sexual object choice and identity formation in his reading of Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus, and the account of theatrical experience in contemporary drama criticism and performance studies. It is obvious that I will not be presenting a comprehensive...

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2. Scripted Speech

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pp. 42-98

In the previous chapter, I argued that spectatorship and bodily impersonation are the principal features of drama as a practice and as a conceptual category. But with the obvious exception of mime, dramatic impersonation comprises both bodily acts and speech acts. Despite the fact that Aristotle can do away with opsis and can simultaneously reduce the verbal articulation of a play to the reading...

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3. The Theatrical Body

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pp. 99-143

In chapter 1, I suggested that the concept of spectatorship is not born with the institution of the dramatic festivals in the sixth century but develops in the context of earlier Greek literary and visual traditions in which representations of the human body invite the attention of a spectator. In this chapter I want to consider the ways in which such representations invite the attention of an implied spectator, and to suggest how that invitation...

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4. The Theater of Tyranny

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pp. 144-191

As a defining feature in the history of the developing Athenian polis, the Pisistratid narratives represent a transition from primarily mythological or legendary descriptions and explanations of past events to a more recognizably historical account of contemporary people and places. At the same time, the generic differences between myth (or poetry) and history that enable this notion of a transition ultimately fail to conceal the fact that historical...

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5. The Theater of Dionysus

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pp. 192-244

The meaning of spectatorship as a theoretical and historical practice in fifth-century Athens cannot be detached from its meaning in Greek history and culture in general. At the same time, however, it is obvious that spectatorship has a special significance in the context of the Theater of Dionysus. In this context, the spectator becomes explicitly defined as a category of analysis and is particularized within Athenian civic ideology and the history...

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Epilogue: The End of Nostalgia

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pp. 245-250

Focused on performance practices in London in the eighteenth century and New Orleans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Roach's formulation is also useful for understanding the performance history of classical Athens. In this book, I have argued that the theater and its critical discourses in ancient Greece-and, by extension, in the European canon-are forms of a cultural nostalgia. This model of cultural production, born from...


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pp. 251-266

Index Locorum

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pp. 267-272

General Index

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pp. 273-283

E-ISBN-13: 9780472026951
E-ISBN-10: 047202695X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472106257
Print-ISBN-10: 0472106252

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 1999

OCLC Number: 651657400
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Acting Like Men

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Nostalgia -- Greece.
  • Men -- Greece.
  • Nostalgia in literature.
  • Gender identity -- Greece.
  • Masculinity -- Greece.
  • Men in literature.
  • Greek drama -- History and criticism.
  • Literature and society -- Greece.
  • Gender identity in literature.
  • Drama -- Psychological aspects.
  • Masculinity in literature.
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