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Reimagining Greek Tragedy on the American Stage

Helene P. Foley

Publication Year: 2012

This book explores the emergence of Greek tragedy on the American stage from the nineteenth century to the present. Despite the gap separating the world of classical Greece from our own, Greek tragedy has provided a fertile source for some of the most innovative American theater. Helene P. Foley shows how plays like Oedipus Rex and Medea have resonated deeply with contemporary concerns and controversies—over war, slavery, race, the status of women, religion, identity, and immigration. Although Greek tragedy was often initially embraced for its melodramatic possibilities, by the twentieth century it became a vehicle not only for major developments in the history of American theater and dance, but also for exploring critical tensions in American cultural and political life. Drawing on a wide range of sources—archival, video, interviews, and reviews—Reimagining Greek Tragedy on the American Stage provides the most comprehensive treatment of the subject available.

Published by: University of California Press

Series: Sather Classical Lectures


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-x


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pp. xi-xii


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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. xv-xx

...A lover of Greek tragedy since I played Antigone in high school, a passionate theater buff, and a scholar of Greek drama, I began to think about this project from the time I moved to new york to teach in 1979. Starting in the late 1960s, but mushrooming from the 1980s to the present, Greek tragedy, both performances of the originals in translation and adaptations and new versions, began to make increasingly regular appearances on the New York...

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pp. 1-26

...Greek tragedy in nineteenth- century America largely met with indifference or resistance on the professional stage. nevertheless, a growing interest in reading and studying the texts both within and outside colleges and universities, and in viewing Athenian democracy as a precursor to America’s own, began to pave the way for a greater receptivity. no longer an image of mobocracy, Athens came in the second half of the nineteenth century to serve as a corrective to Jacksonian-era corruption, materialism...

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1. Greek Tragedy Finds an American Audience

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pp. 27-75

...By the end of the nineteenth century, American commercial theater was becoming increasingly entrenched in stereotypical modes of production and a limited repertoire that was largely generated in new york before moving on established circuits to other parts of the country.Although twentieth- century scholarship on early American theater has defended a number of nineteenth-century plays and playwrights, Edgar Allan Poe, commenting as early as 1845...

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2. Making Total Theater in America

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pp. 76-121

...Margaret Gage served as the choreographer of Greek tragedies at the all-female Bennett School of Liberal and Applied Arts in Millbrook, new york, from 1920 to 1935. The school’s productions regularly traveled to other colleges and occasionally to professional theaters in major cities and were reviewed and discussed with admiration in new york papers and theater journals. Although many other betterknown dancers, from Isadora Duncan and Martha...

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3. Democratizing Greek Tragedy

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pp. 122-159

...Performed at large public festivals for the god Dionysus in Athens before an audience of Athenians (though possibly not women) and visitors from elsewhere, Greek tragedy used a repertoire of Panhellenic myth to create a dialogue between the world of its democratic audience and Greek cultural traditions. Tragedies from Aeschylus to Euripides unquestionably respond to changing social...

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4. Reenvisioning the Hero

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pp. 160-189

...Oedipus as an innocent victim of the gods and the ideal American citizen, who optimistically struggles to earn his or her way in the world and to be rewarded for virtue and hard work. Sophocles’ hero in fact aggressively insists on discovering a fundamental civic pollution/his own human identity, reinterpreting his fate, and taking an extravagant and brutal responsibility for his unwitting crimes. American democracy has often preferred to look forward, or perhaps, like the chorus at OT’s conclusion, not to look at terrible truths at all—though Sophocles’ chorus does not in the end avert its gaze from Oedipus...

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5. Reimagining Medea as American other

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pp. 190-228

...Chapter 1.2 examined important early twentieth- century performances of Euripides’ original by Margaret Anglin, who made Medea a triumphant semi-barbarian who deliberately kills her children, and by Ellen Van Volkenburg, who emphasized Medea’s intelligence and conviction. American actresses have continued to have some success with Euripides’ heroine in the United States, although none after Anglin could compete with various actresses performing Robinson Jeffers’s adaptation of the play...

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pp. 229-238

...in translation and new versions repeatedly confronted an American desire to modify tragic plots and make them conform more closely or respond more appealingly to the nation’s preference for remaking both itself and the lives of individuals. This impulse converged with a concern, often influenced by a longstanding national taste for melodrama, to define and expand on moral consequences of the tragic action; from the nineteenth century...

Appendix A

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pp. 239-248

Appendix B

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pp. 249-258

Appendix C

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pp. 259-264

Appendix D

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pp. 265-276

Appendix E

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pp. 277-294

Appendix F

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pp. 295-302

Appendix G

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pp. 303-308


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pp. 309-342


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pp. 343-362


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pp. 363-375

E-ISBN-13: 9780520953659
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520272446

Page Count: 396
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Sather Classical Lectures