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Athenian Tragedy in Performance

A Guide to Contemporary Studies and Historical Debates

Melinda Powers

Publication Year: 2014

Foregrounding critical questions about the tension between the study of drama as literature versus the study of performance, Melinda Powers investigates the methodological problems that arise in some of the latest research on ancient Greek theatre. She examines key issues and debates about the fifth-century theatrical space, audience, chorus, performance style, costuming, properties, gesture, and mask, but instead of presenting a new argument on these topics, Powers aims to understand her subject better by exploring the shared historical problems that all scholars confront as they interpret and explain Athenian tragedy.

A case study of Euripides’s Bacchae, which provides more information about performance than any other extant tragedy, demonstrates possible methods for reconstructing the play’s historical performance and also the inevitable challenges inherent in that task, from the limited sources and the difficulty of interpreting visual material, to the risks of conflating actor with character and extrapolating backward from contemporary theatrical experience.

As an inquiry into the study of theatre and performance, an introduction to historical writing, a reference for further reading, and a clarification of several general misconceptions about Athenian tragedy and its performance, this historiographical analysis will be useful to specialists, practitioners, and students alike.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Series: Studies Theatre Hist & Culture

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book began with a performance, when I first crowned my head with ivy and sang Bacchae’s odes in the Barnard/Columbia Ancient Drama Group’s production of Euripides’s masterpiece, in Ancient Greek. Many years have passed since my first year at Columbia, and many friends, colleagues, students, and teachers too numerous to name have helped me along the way to produce this book. ...

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pp. 1-10

This book presents an introduction to the analytical and creative ways that scholars of fifth-century Athenian theatre use the historical sources — and the lack of them — in descriptions and interpretations of the ancient plays and their performances. How does analytical skill combine with imaginative muscle to address the known and the unknown, the historical record and the holes within it? ...

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1. Theatrical Space

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pp. 11-28

The study of Athenian theatrical space is a complex endeavor. Complicated and sometimes conflicting terminology abounds: diegetic space or the narrated space of the dramatic text, offstage space or indexical space, which is indicated by the onstage narrative, mimetic space or the scenic space of the acting area also known as iconic space or onstage space, spatial patterning or blocking, ...

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2. Audience

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pp. 29-46

The ancient evidence testifies to an Athenian audience characterized by its demonstrative communication. Whistling, hissing, and heel-drumming in the theatre were apparently as common as shouting, interrupting, and scowling in the law courts,1 yet this lively crowd has left no surviving personal recollections, diaries, reviews, registers, or recordings to complement accounts of them by Aristophanes, Demosthenes, Plato, and Plutarch.2 ...

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3. The Chorus, Music, Movement, and Dance

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pp. 47-64

From mourning and initiation rituals to the dithyrambic and dramatic competitions, choral performance was a tradition that, according to Plato, educated citizens.1 Although Aristotle’s Poetics implies that the role of the chorus in tragedy was marginal,2 other sources, such as the epigraphic records commonly known as the Fasti, ...

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4. Performance Style

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pp. 65-78

Theatre historians struggle with the subject of fifth-century performance style for several reasons. For one, many components factor into the subject. Performance style begins with the body, but the space of the theatre, the audience, and the actor’s physicality, training, and costume all inform styles of movement. ...

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5. Costuming and Properties

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pp. 79-98

Because no material remains of ancient Athenian costumes or clothing have survived, visual and literary artifacts serve as evidence in the reconstruction of fifth-century theatrical costuming conventions. Representations of performers in tragic costume on fifth- and early fourth-century vase-painting, ...

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6. Gesture and Mask

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pp. 99-116

Scholarship on gesture in the fifth-century theatre depends in large part upon theatrical scenes on vases1 and upon dramatic texts. These sources provide ample examples of actions such as kneeling, weeping, kissing, embracing, sitting, lying down, running, striking, bowing the head, prostration, and the handling of objects and tokens. ...


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pp. 117-150

Works Cited

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pp. 151-172


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pp. 173-186

Series Page

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E-ISBN-13: 9781609382575
E-ISBN-10: 1609382579
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609382315
Print-ISBN-10: 1609382315

Page Count: 210
Illustrations: 15 b&w images
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: paper
Series Title: Studies Theatre Hist & Culture