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Ancient Greek Theatre - Dept. of Classics Module


Module teacher and convenor: Dr Emmanuela Bakola


The ‘tapestry scene’ of Aeschylus’< /font>Oresteia, NT 1999, dir. Katie Mitchell


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 closereadingsof the plays (in translation) and an exploration of how they would have worked in performance. As well as performance and theatricality, the module explores plays’ political, social and literary dimensions, their economic, religious, social and political context, issues of translation, as well as their ancient and modern reception.

The set plays include Aeschylus’< /font> Oresteia and [Aeschylus’] Prometheus Bound; Sophocles’ Electra andWomen of Trachis; Euripides’ Medea and Bacchae; Aristophanes’< /font>Lysistrata, Women at the Thesmophoria and Frogs, as well as satyr dramas, tragedies and comedies which have only survived in fragmentary form.

The module offers two practical workshops (on the Oresteia and the Prometheus Bound) with theatre practitioners, as well as the opportunity to apply your knowledge to the production of the student-led annual Classical play.


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

Course Outline

Week 1 (L):

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; chorus and the actors; body and space in tragedy and comedy + (Q)

Week 2 (L):

Aeschylus’ Agamemnon;theatrical space and the characters; the house of the Atreids and its polysemous nature; imagery in performance; props; the ‘tapestry scene’ + (Q)

Followed by the screening

of a modern production of Aeschylus’ Oresteia on campus

Week 3 (W): Practical workshop based on the Oresteia, led by a theatre practitioner

Week 4 (L): Aeschylus’< /font> Agamemnon and the Oresteia: trilogies and their special nature;salient themes of the Oresteiaand the different approaches to it over the years in scholarship and in performance + (Q)

Week 5 (L): Sophocles’< /font> Electra; in the shadow of Aeschylus’ Choephori and Eumenides: space and characterisation; Aeschylean and Sophoclean Furies; the Sophoclean house of the Atreids.

+ (S): Close reading and literary interpretation of selected texts on the handling of the mythical cycle of the Atreids

Week 6: Reading week – no meetings

Week 7 (L): Sophocles’< /font> Women of Trachis: myth, space and structuralism;space andtime in Sophocles; barbarity and civilisation; Sophoclean theatre and the scholarship of J. P. Vernant and Charles Segal + (Q)

Week 8 (L): Sophocles’< /font> Women of Trachis and the performance of masculinities and femininities;Sophoclean endings and the ending of the Women of Trachis + (Q)

Week 9 (L): Aristophanes’< /font> Lysistrata and Thesmophoriazousae:the female in Greek comedy; sex and gender on stage; feminist or patriarchal poetics; domestic and public space; the body and the polis; Aristophanes’ engagement with tragedy + (Q)

Week 10 (S): Aristophanes’ fascination and rivalry with tragedy; performing the poetic persona in comedy [excerpts from different plays and fragments]


Week 11 (L): [Aeschylus’] Prometheus’ Bound: the question of authenticity; the lost trilogy; the political context; Zeus and the divine element; play and staging; ancient and modern reception + (Q)

Week 12 (L): Aristophanes’< /font> Frogs: ‘poets’ on journeys and‘poets’ on stage; comedy on tragedy and the role of drama in ancient literary criticism + (Q)

Followed by a screening of

a Prometheus Bound on campus

Week 13 (W): Discussion and practical workshop with a theatre practitioner

Week 14 (L): Euripides’< /font> Medea: the myth of Medea; killing children in Greek literature; Greek theatre and patriarchal ideology; gender and ideology; the ‘other’ in performance + (Q)

Week 15 (L): Euripides’< /font> Medea: space in Medea: scenic and extra-scenic spaces, esp. the house;‘civilised’ and ‘uncivilised’ spaces and human psyche; gestures and proxemics + (Q)

Week 16: Reading week – no meetings

Week 17 (L): Satyr play and the Dionysiac: Euripides’ Cyclops, and fragments from Aeschylus’ Net-Haulers and Sophocles’ Trackers + (Q)

Week 18 (L): The Dionysiac and Greek tragedy: Euripides’ Bacchae; tragedy and Athenian religion; the mysteries in performance; Dionysus, theatre and gender+ (Q)

Week 19 (L): Euripides’< /font> Bacchae and theatre space: the house and the mountain; female and male choruses; madness on stage in this and other plays; modern versions of the Bacchae

+ (S) on the different representations of the female in selected plays

Week 20 (L): Lost dramas of Classical Athens: the missing 98% + (Q)


Week 21 (L): The role of theatre performance in Greek culture; theatre in the Greek world in the fourth century and later + (Q)

Week 22 (S): Seminar across playwrights

Week 23 (L): Revision class + (Q)

Key: L = Lecture; S = Seminar; W = Workshop; Q = Work with the original Greek for students of Q800