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Journal of Modern Greek Studies 20.1 (2002) 165-168



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Book Review

Greek Theatre Performance:
An Introduction

(Dis)Placing Classical Greek Theatre


David Wiles, Greek Theatre Performance: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2000. Pp. xii + 243. Illustrated, maps. Paperback $19.95. Hardback $54.95.
Savas Patsalidis and Elizabeth Sakellaridou, editors, (Dis)Placing Classical Greek Theatre. Thessaloniki: University Studio Press. 1999. Pp. 498. Illustrated.

"Does the new century need a new introduction to Greek theatre," David Wiles asks in the opening lines to his book. He argues that, even though "[t]here has not been any avalanche of new discoveries," it is important that "we have changed." And he is right. Do students and scholars of drama need another book by Wiles on Greek theater? Again, my answer is a firm "yes."

Wiles's book provides a straightforward, very readable introduction to ancient Greek theater in less than 250 pages, which I warmly recommend to specialists as well as to lay students of drama. His perspective is fresh and his structural principles are highly accessible: he organizes his material under categories such as gender, space, the performer, and the writer, and he devotes more attention to those than to the more conventional categories of myth, ritual, and politics. Wiles's treatment of the playwrights themselves receives shorter shrift than that of the actors of classical theater (including the aulos-player!)—which is unusual. His first concern is with what happened on stage, not with what is preserved on the page. He analyzes in sufficient and convincing detail the various tools that ancient actors had at their disposal, such as voice, masks, song, dance, and visual and paraverbal action, to affect mass audiences, which were, at the same time, demanding civic audiences and tightly-knit social and cultural communities. Wiles has struck the right balance between a presentation of known information, on the one hand, which now includes the areas on which he himself has published extensively, and generous additions of intriguing new materials, such as his illustrated discussion of the aesthetically-pleasing acoustical masks made by the talented young Greek mask-maker Thanos Vovolis. [End Page 165]

Wiles also devotes a good thirty pages to the reception of ancient drama—a practice which will, I hope, encourage others to do the same and to make reception a permanent component of any theater study. Here again, Wiles pushes the boundaries of a conventional introduction to ancient Greek drama. He covers seminal productions as diverse as the 1585 production of Sophocles's Oedipus the King staged in Vicenza; the 1927 Prometheus Bound, which was presented as part of the First Delphic Festivals organized by Eva and Angelos Sikelianos; and Antoine Vitez' various stage explorations and productions of Sophocles's Electra, which span two entire decades. Yet, under the rubric of "reception," Wiles also includes issues of translating tragedy and—even more difficult—of translating ancient humor for modern audiences.

Students and "enthusiasts" (as the cover states) will appreciate Wiles's concise, no nonsense introduction to his work; his clear labeling of the materials under headings and sub headings; his generous insertion of plates, figures, and maps—even though the quality of some could be better—his basic two-page chronology; his well-organized suggestions and references for further reading (which end with a section entitled "Manifestoes by [or about] translators of Greek plays"); his detailed index; as well as the book's attractive presentation and affordable price.

(Dis)Placing Classical Greek Theatre, a voluminous collection of conference papers, again places itself at the end of one era and at the beginning of a new millennium: the original conference was entitled "Millennium Responses: (Dis)Placing Classical Greek Theatre." Patsalidis and Sakellaridou bring together more than thirty-five papers written by contributors from all over the world and from diverse scholarly, professional, and ethnic backgrounds. Topics range from more conventional themes, such as a discussion of the historical 1841 German production of Sophocles's Antigone (Erika Fischer-Lichte, 253-255), to a presentation of the Nobel...

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