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400Comparative Drama Shadi Bartsch. Actors in the Audience: Theatricality and Doublespeak from Nero to Hadrian. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994. Pp. vi + 309. $37.50. Shadi Bartsch examines the changes that took place in the relationship between Roman audiences and the emperor from the reign ofNero to that of Hadrian. Carefully documenting her work through contemporary sources—e.g., Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio, Juvenal, Martial, Pliny—she focuses on the theater and the gladiatorial games as a most appropriate place to analyze this interaction through the time ofNero; she draws on dramatic works as well for her analysis in the post-Nero period. Bartsch announces in her Preface that she has not written an introduction, for instead she has preferred "to let the reader travel through [the period's] twists and turns unequipped with the lamp of foreknowledge" (p. vi). This is indeed what she has done, for she presents the history of the times by relating how the writers and historians of the first century A.D. reported events—not necessarily as they were but as pulled by their reaction to the transformation of Rome from a republic to an empire and as distorted by reaction to the strong influence ofa despotic emperor. Thus she must confront two problems: how much of the report is accurate, and what is the result of distortion? In addition to her attention to the historians, she utilizes as one of her bases for analyzing the behavior of the audience a "set of modern interpretive approaches to social, historical, and political phenomena" (p. 10). These have in common the idea that whenever one member is more powerful than another, the less powerful one will resort to acting, to a mode of theatricity. "The notion of theatricity borrows from the theater its terms, its emphasis on role-playing, and its focus on the function of the gaze" (p. 10). The audience is shown to have played a role in the theater and in the gladiatorial games beginning during the Late Republic, since these are places where they could plead for political concessions or could enrage the despot by not cheering for his favorite. Too often the political requests were not granted, and frequently the offenders, if caught, faced severe penalties, including death. Such extreme punishment was particularly meted out under Caligula. By scorning even threats of the most drastic punishment imaginable, the audience was playing its role. Of course, at this time not only the people but also the emperor would have been included in the audience. The role of the people, like that of the emperor, might involve a level of self-absorption that precluded anything but the most cursory observation of the show or spectacle being performed for them. Such had been the situation until the time of Nero, when there was a radical change in the role of the audience. Nero became a performer on the stage—a reversal of the actor-audience relationship, while the people in the audience became the actors. Such was the importance Nero attached to the audience's reaction that the emperor placed spies, Reviews401 soldiers, and a claque ofprofessional clappers, the Augustiani (eventually 5,000 in number), in the crowd to ensure an enthusiastic response to his performance. Hence Nero was not the performer in reality: he was the observer of the audience's reaction. We see here in action the function of the gaze, an important element of theatricity, taking place as the watched audience performs its role to please its superior watcher, the emperor. Note how Dio uses theatrical language in describing the audience : "The entrances and exits, the gestures, nods, and cheers of these men [of the senatorial class] and ofthe others alike were always keenly observed" (Dio 63.15.2). We may further note how Tacitus described the watched audience. He observed that everyone watched performances in fear, virtual prisoners , and would be forced to extraordinary stratagems to depart from the theater. Men would pretend to faint, mothers would induce labor, while others (since the entrances were closed) would court death by jumping from a wall. He mentions two of the senatorial class who refused to applaud : Vespasian and Thrasea Paetus. The historian...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 400-402
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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