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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 2018/19: Lectures: Thursdays at 16.00-18.00. Location:OC0.04

Seminars: See below; Locations: H0.58 and OC0.04 (tbc)

Q800 students: Thursdays at 15.00-16.00; Location: H2.04


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) 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 Seven Against Thebes; 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 course work (Terms 1 and 2), 50% exam (summer term)

Course Outline

Term 1

Week 1 (4 October): Introduction to Greek theatre and its context; the dramatic festivals of Athens and their social, political and financial context; re-performances and their implications; theatrical and dramatic space

Week 2 (11 October): Aeschylus' Agamemnon: Theatrical space and polysemy; the myth from the Odyssey onwards; the house of the Atreids and interior spaces; props, textiles and the ‘tapestry scene’ (the materiality of Greek tragedy); the feminine in the Oresteia

Week 3 (18 October): Aeschylus' Libation Bearers and Eumenides: Mirroring scenes; shape-shifting choruses; Oresteia and gender; the Erinyes’ role in the Oresteia; Oresteia, class and Athenian politics

Week 4 (25 October): The Oresteia as a trilogy and its reception, including translation; second hour: attendance of a seminar on Aeschylus' Suppliants organised by Elena Giusti

Week 5 (1 November):

Seminar on Euripides' Electra: In the shadow of Aeschylus’ Choephori and Eumenides

Lecture on Sophocles’ Electra

Week 6 (8 November): Reading week – no meetings

Week 7 (15 November): Euripides’ Medea: killing children in Greek literature; Medea and gender ideology; Medea and heroic ideology;

Week 8 (22 November) Reception of Medea in modern literature and performance

Week 9 (29 November): 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 (6 December):

Seminar on Frogs

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

Term 2

Week 11 (10 January): 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

Week 12 (17 January): Sophocles’ Women of Trachis: myth, space and structuralism; space and time in Sophocles; barbarity and civilisation; Sophoclean theatre and the scholarship of J. P. Vernant and Charles Segal

Week 13 (24 January): Sophocles’ Women of Trachis and the performance of masculinities and femininities; Sophoclean endings and the ending of the Women of Trachis

Week 14 (31 January): 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 (7 February): 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; modern versions of the Bacchae

+ (Seminar on 8 February 11-12, 12-1, 1-2, H3.05): Religion, ritual and Greek theatre

Week 16 (14 February): Reading Week, no meetings

Week 17 (21 February) Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes (Seminar; 3 groups TBA, venues OC0.04 4-6pm, OC1.07 6-7pm)

Week 18 (28 February) Euripides' Orestes and the development of the tragic genre

Week 19 (7 March) [Aeschylus’] Prometheus’ Bound and fragmentary tragedy; Lost dramas in Classical Athens: the missing 98%, part II - Tragedy

Week 20 (14 March) Seminar: Lost dramas in Classical Athens: the missing 98%, part III - Comedy

Term 3

Week 21 (25 April): Aeschylus and Sophocles Revision

Week 22 (2 May): Euripides, Comedy, Satyr drama and Fragments Revision

Week 23 (9 May): 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.