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Ancient Greek Theatre

The ‘tapestry scene’ of Aeschylus’ Oresteia, NT 1999, dir. Katie Mitchell

Module code: CX267/367

Module value: 30 CATS

Module teacher: Dr Emmanuela Bakola

Timetable in 2024-5: One two-hour lecture a week, with seminars in weeks 4 and 8 of Terms 1 and 2.

Students taking the Greek text component: One one-hour text-reading class every week, in addition to lectures and seminars above.


This module explores the unique nature and continuing significance of ancient Greek theatre. It offers an integrated study of Greek tragedy, comedy and satyr drama through close readings of the plays (in translation; the module is available with a Greek text element for students of advanced Greek) and an exploration of how they would have worked in performance. As well as performance and theatricality, the module explores the political, social and literary dimensions of Greek plays, their economic, religious, social and political context, issues of translation, as well as their ancient and modern reception.
The set plays include Aeschylus’ Oresteia and Suppliant Women; Sophocles’ Electra and Women of Trachis; Euripides’ Medea, Bacchae, Orestes; Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, Women at the Thesmophoria and Frogs, as well as satyr dramas, tragedies and comedies which have only survived in fragmentary form.


50% Assessed coursework (Terms 1 and 2), 50% exam (summer term)

For the most up to date information, please always consult your Moodle page for this module.

Course Outline 2024-2025

Term 1

Week 1: Introduction to the module. Introduction to Greek theatre and its context; the dramatic festivals of Athens and their social, political and financial context; the spread of the theatre in the Greek world; Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and the 98% that has been lost

The sub-genres tragedy, satyr drama and comedy; the political, social and intellectual context of early tragedy; ways of ‘reading’ Greek tragedy; Greek tragedy and contemporary thought; Greek tragedy and performance criticism; theatrical and dramatic space

Week 2: Aeschylus’ Oresteia and its impact on later Greek theatre. The Agamemnon and the focus on the house. Theatrical space and polysemy. Props, textiles and the ‘tapestry scene’: the materialities of Greek tragedy.

Clytemnestra, Cassandra and the feminine in the Oresteia. The Erinyes.

Week 3: The Libation Bearers and theatrical space. Homecomings. Mirror scenes in the Oresteia.

The chorus of the Libation Bearers and the Erinyes

Week 4: The Eumenides: a happy ending? Oresteia and the politics of its time. The transformation of the Erinyes

Reception of the Oresteia in modern translation and performance

Week 5: Sophocles’ Electra: In the shadow of the Oresteia; Sophocles’ perception in antiquity; Characters in Sophocles; Natural order, justice and the family; Philia in Greek tragedy; Time and past in Sophocles and in Electra; The ending of the play and the ‘absence’ of the Erinyes.

Week 6: Reading week – no meetings

Week 7: Euripides’ Medea: gender ideology; marriage as overarching theme; heroic ideology; children in Greek theatre and in Medea; myth and tragedy; ethnicity and the ‘other’

Week 8 Reception of Medea in modern literature and performance

Week 9: Introduction to the genre of comedy; Aristophanes' Frogs: comedy, parody and literary criticism I; Frogs and poetic journeys; comedy and ritual (the death and regeneration motif of mystic initiation)

Week 10: Aristophanes’ Lysistrata: the female in Greek comedy; sex and gender on stage; feminist or patriarchal poetics?; domestic and public space; the body and the polis

Term 2

Week 11: Aristophanes' Thesmophoriazousae; Aristophanes and other playwrights; comedy, competitiveness, innovation, experimentation; Aristophanes' fascination and rivalry with tragedy; comedy, parody and literary criticism; comedy’s self-definition through tragedy

Week 12: Aristophanes' Ecclesiazusae; the politics of the obscene; comedy and utopia 

Week 13: Sophocles’ Women of Trachis and the performance of masculinities and femininities; Sophoclean endings and the ending of the Women of Trachis

Week 14: Satyr play and the Dionysiac: Fragment 314 from Sophocles’ Searchers, and Tony Harrison's The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus (Lost dramas in Classical Athens: the missing 98%, part I - Satyr Drama)

Week 15: The Dionysiac and Greek tragedy: Euripides’ Bacchae; thinking about the Dionysiac through space; costume and disguise in the Bacchae; the mysteries in performance; madness and psychotherapy on stage;

Religion, ritual and Greek theatre

Week 16: Reading Week, no meetings

Week 17: Euripides' Orestes and the development of the tragic genre; the perception of Euripides in ancient and modern imagination; Orestes in the shadow of the Oresteia; re-defining the tragic

Week 18: Aeschylus' Suppliant Women as part of a lost trilogy; the Suppliant Women and immigration; female choruses in modern imagination

Week 19: [Aeschylus’] Prometheus’ Bound and fragmentary tragedy; Lost dramas in Classical Athens: the missing 98%, part II - Tragedy

Week 20: Seminar: Lost dramas in Classical Athens: the missing 98%, part III - Comedy

Term 3

Week 21: Aeschylus and Sophocles Revision

Week 22: Euripides, Comedy, Satyr drama and Fragments Revision

Week 23: Exam practice



Principal Module Aims

1. For students to understand the special nature of Greek tragedy, comedy and satyr play as performative genres through selected readings, screenings, class discussions, and practical workshops.
2. For students to gain a thorough knowledge of the spectrum of theatre practice in the fifth century BC and its engagement with earlier and contemporaneous literary and cultural production.
3. For students to understand the links between aesthetic events with their political, social and cultural contexts.
4. For students to understand the continuing significance of Greek theatre in the modern world.

Principal Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module students should:
1. Have a thorough knowledge of the spectrum of Greek theatre in its performative, social, political and cultural contexts
2. Have enhanced their research, writing and communication skills.
3. Have gained an understanding of the availability, uses and limits of primary source material, both literary and archaeological.
4. Have experience of working alone and as part of a team to achieve individual objectives, facilitating transition from university to an independent professional environment.
5. Be able to deploy electronic technologies in their learning.

Additionally, final-year students will :

• develop the ability to set their findings into a wider comparative context, drawing in other aspects of the study of the ancient world;
• engage creatively with a wider range of secondary literature that includes discussion of classical literature within broader comparative, including critical-theoretical, frames.