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SYLLECTA CLASSICA 19 (2008): 183-185 2006 PANEL: CLASSICAL DRAMA AS POLITICAL DRAMA ERIC DUGDALE Ancient Greek drama is enjoying something of a renaissance at the dawn of this millennium. The plays of Aeschylus, Aristophanes and Euripides now regularly play in theatres across the globe, and the range of fresh interpretations of these ancient works has done much to dispel the shadow of elitism that previously cast these ‘classics’ as the purview of the privileged few.To take one example, earlier this year Molora played to critical acclaim at the Barbican Theatre. In this adaptation of the Oresteia by South African playwright Yael Farber, the cycle of revenge is set in the context of a hearing of theTruth and Reconciliation Commission , lending fresh urgency to the Aeschylean themes of dispossession, violence and justice. Scholarly research on ancient drama in modern performance is also burgeoning, aided by resources such as the Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama (Oxford), whose database and collection make accessible a growing number of performance-related materials. Much of this recent work has situated modern productions and adaptations of ancient drama within the cultural and political contexts in which they were performed. The first year of this three-year colloquium on Performing Ideology focused on the topic of Classical Drama as Political Drama. Presenters were invited to analyze how plays from antiquity have served as vehicles for political commentary, broadly conceived. All five presenters focused on Athenian drama or modern works inspired by it. Between them, the four papers published here analyze the ideologies underlying works of Aeschylus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Mikis Theodorakis and Tony Harrison, as well as modern productions of Medea. They offer insightful case studies which in turn raise broader issues in the mind of the reader, such as whether it is justifiable for modern productions to press ancient drama into the service of political ideologies. Hallie Marshall’s paper on the oeuvres of Tony Harrison sets his works against the backdrop of the Cold War and the post-Cold War era, and highlights the degree to which the individual convictions of a playwright/director can shape his relationship with the past. It is tempting to wonder whether this was the same for the tragic poet/didaskalos at Athens. Is Harrison’s appropriation of the figure of Hecuba any different from that of Euripides, for example? Ann Suter’s examination of 184 SYLLECTA CLASSICA 19 (2008) the Oresteia interprets Aeschylus’ treatment of the myth in the political context of the Kleisthenic reforms, identifying elements in the plays that argue the importance of the legal bond over blood-bond. Thus even in tragedy, despite its habit of ‘going away to Thebes’, we see reflected the political concerns of its Athenian context. The second half of Suter’s paper, which focuses on the reception history of Sartre’s Les Mouches, illustrates just how open-ended the interplay between drama and political context can be, as audiences in occupied France and then post-war Germany related the play to their present situation and drew from it quite different political messages. Though tragedy is often culture and context specific, its tendency to avoid explicit contemporary reference lends it a universality and underlying multivalence. It is not only the playwright and audience who bring meaning to a play, as is powerfully attested by Nancy Rabinowitz’s account of The Medea Project, an initiative in which celebrated director and performance artist Rhodessa Jones uses acting as a way to give agency to the incarcerated women who make up her cast. The process of creating their own version of the play and acting in it allows them to process their own life-choices and gives them a voice on societal issues raised by the play. Rabinowitz’s paper presents a challenging case study of performance being used as an instrument for social change. Thus scholars, too, are key players in the forum of competing ideologies. They foreground particular works, and play an active role in interpreting them and delineating their features. Given that the United States was embroiled in a controversial war in Iraq at the time this panel convened, it is probably no...


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pp. 183-185
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Archived 2021
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