Athenian Tragedy in Performance
"Powers’s guidebook is excellent for reviewing familiar yet unsettled issues about Greek tragedy. It provides a critical summary of prevalent debates, scholarly methods, and the shaky knowledge about each issue without proposing new interpretations or solutions for the missing pieces in the historical puzzle. It simply lays bare the inability of scholars to resolve issues conclusively when they add their contradictory theories to the confl icting testimony of their sources."—Theatre Survey
"This is a salutary book that reminds us that nearly everything we think we know about the practicalities of the ancient Greek theatre can crumble under rigorous questioning. Even then, Powers is brave enough to test the exposed interrogations out on the staging and interpretation of Euripides’s Bacchae. All those interested in the staging of Greek tragedy will find their ideas sharpened by this wide-ranging critique.”—Oliver Taplin, University of Oxford
“A book of value to students and teachers of the history of performance in ancient Athens and to the many of us today who believe that the study of history and historiography must go hand-in-hand.”—Gary Jay Williams, Catholic University of America
Foregrounding critical questions about the tension between the study of drama as literature versus the study of performance, Melinda Powers investigates the methodological problems that arise in some of the latest research on ancient Greek theatre. She examines key issues and debates about the fifth-century theatrical space, audience, chorus, performance style, costuming, properties, gesture, and mask, but instead of presenting a new argument on these topics, Powers aims to understand her subject better by exploring the shared historical problems that all scholars confront as they interpret and explain Athenian tragedy.
A case study of Euripides’s Bacchae, which provides more information about performance than any other extant tragedy, demonstrates possible methods for reconstructing the play’s historical performance and also the inevitable challenges inherent in that task, from the limited sources and the difficulty of interpreting visual material, to the risks of conflating actor with character and extrapolating backward from contemporary theatrical experience.
As an inquiry into the study of theatre and performance, an introduction to historical writing, a reference for further reading, and a clarification of several general misconceptions about Athenian tragedy and its performance, this historiographical analysis will be useful to specialists, practitioners, and students alike.