3. The Theatrical Body
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3 The Theatrical Body 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 is pertinent to our understanding of spectatorship in the Athenian theater. More specifically, I will be looking at the representation of the disguised body as the model for what I am calling the theatrical body. As the primary locus of meaning and attention in Greek visual culture, the human body functions within a continuum of bodily display in which the nude body, the clothed body, and finally the disguised body-as a hyperbolically clothed body-are distinct categories . Conceived of as occupying a historical moment along this continuum, the theater focuses particular attention on this last category , that is, on the disguised body of the actor, which is at once displayed and concealed by his costume and mask. Occupying the other end of the continuum is Greek monumental sculpture, whose dominant subject is the nude male body. 1 Indeed, this nude male is 1. Nudity was a convention in Greek sculpture from the seventh century B.C.E. For a general discussion of sculptural conventions, see Woodford 1982, 20-23. Ridgway (1977, esp. 53-54) offers a detailed discussion of the nude male kouros. Cf. Sutton 1992,21: "Male nudity was a common convention in Greek art which attracts little attention except when first encountered, whereas female nudes are rare in Archaic and Classical Greek art except in the private medium of vase painting. . . . Pervasive male nudity is one of the more peculiar conventions of Greek art, one that is not easily explained." In this Sutton follows Ridgway, who notes (54) that although this representational convention may reflect nudity in athletic contests, it cannot be convincingly argued that the palaestra dictates male nudity in the plastic arts. 99 100 Acting Like Men the model from which other forms of bodily display differ or deviate. In this respect, the proposed continuum comprehends categories of bodily display not only in terms of clothing and its absence but also in terms of gender specificity. Larissa Bonfante offers a wide-ranging discussion of the overt and persistent display of male nudity, which she calls a "Greek innovation ."2 She points out that there are various registers of nudity, depending on the age, class, and gender of the subject and on the context (religious, magic, or athletic) in which it is encountered. What emerges is a "definition of [nudity] as heroic, divine, athletic, and youthful for men; and something to be avoided for women" (Bonfante 1989, 549).3 Moreover, where male nudity is on public display, it amounts to the corporeal manifestation of those virtues that define Greek masculinity, virtues that females obviously do not possess.4 The monumental male nude thus functions within the context of an elite martial ethos that persists from the archaic to the classical periods . So even though it is clearly a sign of weakness in the epics for a warrior to be stripped bare of his armor-it even makes him like a woman (d. Iliad 22. 122-25)-what is stressed in these instances is the transition from an armed to an unarmed state.5 The assimilation of a lack of physical strength and the absence of armor (as a form of nudity) is also culture specific. In his assessment of the Persians, Homosociality or homoeroticism may be put forward as an explanation for the athletic and artistic conventions (Sutton 1992, 21), but doing so only seems to beg the question. Bonfante (1989, 552 ff.) notes that female nudity is attested in initiation rituals, but insofar as nudity was a civic or public practice , the male nude predominates. Ferrari (1993) notes that kouroi sometimes have features, such as earrings and hairstyles, that may have been thought of as feminine. She comes to the provocative conclusion that these features refer "to the feminine skin that [the young male citizen of descent] has just cast off" (106). 2. Bonfante 1989, 549. 3. Cf. Plato Republic 452a7-b5. After proposing that women and men are to be similarly educated in his new society, Socrates observes that it would be considered particularly laughable...


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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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