- Performance in Greek and Roman Theatre ed. by George W. M. Harrison and Vayos Liapis
In the past few decades, scholars of Greek and Roman drama have slowly but steadily turned their gaze towards various aspects related to the performance of ancient plays, that is, to the extra-textual parts of classical drama (such as costumes, masks, and props). Scholarship on performance has altered our understanding of the Greek and Roman theater to such a degree that we now take for granted the fact that ancient playwrights were writing for an audience of spectators (and not readers), and that visual image can be just as crucial as words in conveying meaning. This volume, which gathers an impressive twenty-four essays discussing various aspects of performance in the ancient theater, is a timely and welcome one, as it presents one of the broadest and clearest examinations of the subject. Specialists and nonspecialists alike will find pertinent and engaging discussions of many nonverbal elements of Greek and Roman theater, ranging from the question of three actors in Old Comedy and the role of stringed instruments in fifth-century Athenian theater to considerations of pantomime and gesture in the Roman Empire.
The introduction to the volume should be necessary reading for anyone wishing to invoke the term “performance” in the classroom or on the page, as the editors, collaborating with Costas Panayotakis, provide a comprehensive history of performance studies in scholarship on Ancient Greek and Roman theater. For Greek theater, for example, the discussion ranges from the appeals made by Russo and Hourmouziades in the early 1960s to locate the study of ancient drama in its original historical and performative contexts, to the many studies inspired by Taplin’s seminal works on stagecraft and iconography, to the more recent approaches on the spatial dynamics of ancient performance. The Roman section discusses the shifts in methodological approaches that have similarly led scholars to see Latin plays from the Republican to the Imperial periods as performance events rather than textual ones, and to consider issues relating to their stagecraft and the conditions under which they were presented. Students and scholars at all levels will profit greatly from such a thorough and lucid overview of the field of ancient performance studies.
The volume is divided into five main sections. Several essays in the first section (“Opsis, Props, Scene”) seek to redeem Aristotle’s views on opsis, which is devalued in the Poetics; in this section readers will find close analyses of the philosopher’s views on drama alongside considerations of typically undervalued dramatic elements, such as props. The second section examines various visual and topographical effects in Aeschylean theater, as well as physical elements (stage buildings, props, costumes) in various Sophoclean and Euripidean [End Page 137] tragedies. Though consisting of only three essays, the third section offers valuable broad treatments by experts on some of the most important questions relating to the logistics of performing Old Comedy in Athens. The fourth section is the most theoretical and the most wide-ranging of the five; the essays in this section, which are centered on spectacle in Roman culture and drama, range from a consideration of “visual intertextuality” in Republican tragedy to an essay analyzing the influence of Lucian’s On Dance on our understanding of pantomime. Of the five, the final section (“Integrating Opsis”) is the least coherent, as it throws together a discussion of the stringed instruments used on the fifth-century stage with explorations of the modern reception of the visual elements of Greek tragedy and sculpture. The individual essays are fascinating, but their combination seems rather forced, especially in a section that incorporates the word “integrating” in its title.
For a volume on performance in Greek and Roman drama, however, there is an overwhelming focus on Greek theater, with only six essays devoted to Roman drama. Comedy is also underserved, since the majority of the contributions tackle Greek and Roman tragedy and its afterlife. This is perhaps due to...