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Author Topic: Understanding Greek Drama  (Read 2846 times)
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« Topic Start: February 10, 2009, 10:54:09 am »

I'm not quite sure how to phrase this, so please bear with me if I'm not exactly clear at first.

Right.  So, as some of you know, I keep trying to be a little more scholarly and do some serious reading, but tend to find dry academic texts about how the ancient Greeks went about religion really difficult.  (Which I find a bit embarrassing, because I feel like, I'm a good reader, I should be able to handle that.  But this is probably not the time or place to get all angsty about that.)  So I thought I'd change tactics and start just reading some Greek plays in hopes that it would be easier reading and still informative.  And, hey, primary source, right?

So far, so good.  Sophocles is not bad reading.  But, at the same time, I'd like to dig a little deeper here, not just read the text but explore the themes and cultural context and so forth.  I feel like that would be a way to sort of get my feet wet in the sort of research I'm trying to do in a way that would be more engaging to me personally and therefore more successful.  Problem is, I'm not sure where to start.

Or, rather, I have a fuzzy idea that it might be good to find commentaries or study guides written about the plays I'm reading, but I'm not certain where to start finding good reputable ones.  Anyone have suggestions?  Authors?  Titles?  Study-guide series that you'd recommend as having relatively good information in them?  (I mean, obviously I've heard of things like Cliff's Notes and whatever, and I'm sure they're very good at summarizing things and pointing out the way characters interact with each other and whatever, but I have no idea how reliable their actual information about how the play fit into the culture of the time would be, for example.)  I've just finished Antigone, so anything specific to that would be especially appreciated, but I'm not exactly stopping there so I'm open to sources on just about anything, really.  I'm not particular about the format (web vs. print), as long as it's fairly reliable and I can get my hands on it.

(I also had the idea that I could just take a university class on the subject, which I'm almost certain our local uni probably offers in some form, but I don't think I really have the time or the money.  So self-study seems to be maybe a bit better option.)

...Did that make one damned bit of sense?
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« Reply #1: February 10, 2009, 10:56:18 am »


Might also be worth doing - find out what the college offers, and then find the textbook for that class.  Sometimes the text is enough.

As long as it's not written by the prof - that's not ALWAYS a bad sign, but it's not a good one!
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« Reply #2: February 10, 2009, 11:17:17 am »

I've just finished Antigone, so anything specific to that would be especially appreciated, but I'm not exactly stopping there so I'm open to sources on just about anything, really.  I'm not particular about the format (web vs. print), as long as it's fairly reliable and I can get my hands on it.

This was my father's area of expertise, and especially a) how the drama actually worked on Greek stages and b) how it fit into the broader cultural background, but giving his name means giving out my last name. So, I'm sending you a PM with that and some titles, and anyone else who's interested please feel free to let me know.

(For those who don't know, my father died in 1990, so material is somewhat dated - but he had a real knack for accurate but readable writing on the subject, far more so than a lot of other material I've read. A number of his books are still accessible via public library)

The real things for it are:

- Recognise that the scenic conventions are totally different. If you read translations, there's a whole lot of "Look, here comes Oedipus, and he's just put his eyes out and is bleeding!" stuff in there that doesn't make much sense if you think modern theatre - but makes a lot more sense if you remember people were watching in spaces the size of a football stadium, and could only see the most general visual cues. (Really broad hand gestures, etc.)

- Some of it is general background knowledge of the culture and community - a good knowledge of the myths, etc. helps a lot, for example, when you get to Euripides, and his tendency to turn the stories on their head. (I'm much more a Euripides fan girl than Sophocles, I've got to say...)

- If looking at translations, especially to get a sense of the theatre, not the pure text, go for something recent, and focused on flow of language, rather than precise word for word translation.

(My father's theory was that you need to do a new translation every 10-15 years - not because *vocabulary* use changes that fast, but because how we expect sentences to flow and overall pacing shifts gradually over time. You can see this if you listen to newscasts from the 40s or the 60s or the 80s - general casual speech has shifted in those ways, even before you consider slang and other things changing. I've got to say I agree with him, though I don't have great translation recommendations, because these days, I tend to go for language preciseness, and look at the Greek at the same time.)
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« Reply #3: February 10, 2009, 11:45:44 am »

This was my father's area of expertise, and especially a) how the drama actually worked on Greek stages and b) how it fit into the broader cultural background, but giving his name means giving out my last name. So, I'm sending you a PM with that and some titles, and anyone else who's interested please feel free to let me know.

Got it, and thank you very much for that info and your response here.  Our local public library isn't much on the Greeks in general, and thus their selection is sorely lacking...  but the university library has the titles you sent me and, it looks like, a few others.  (I have a library card there already--they allow the local public access--and it's in the stacks which means I can renew it for, like, forever as long as no one else requests it, so in some ways that's actually better than finding it in the public library.)  This seems like kind of the sort of thing I was looking for.  Thank you thank you thank you.

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(I'm much more a Euripides fan girl than Sophocles, I've got to say...)

*nods*  I'll get there, probably pretty quickly; I admit I just sort of picked a starting place at random, which is probably not the best way to start out.  (Well, not totally at random; we did Oedipus Rex back in high school, so I had an idea of what happened there and thought it wouldn't be a bad thing to round out the trilogy.  But that's not far removed from randomness, given how dim my memory of the play is anyway.)
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« Reply #4: February 11, 2009, 05:46:01 am »


I'm taking Theatre History right now and we focused a bit on Greek and Roman theatre (our teacher loves antiquity).

One of our textbooks is A.M. Nagler's A Source Book In Theatrical History, which has a chapter on Greek and Roman theatre full of primary sources, including a biography of Aeschylus and some other interesting bits. The other book is Living Theatre: A History, which has a good 40 page chapter on Greek theatre.

Our book from last semester was Anthology of Living Theater, Third Edition, by Edwin Wilson and Alvin Goldfarb. It has Antigone and Lysistrata in it, as well as background on both. The earlier editions may have different plays and notes on them. I'm not sure.

There's also my teacher's notes, which are available online. If it's alright, I'll PM you the link.


Also, everything Jenett said was awesome. And HeartShadow's suggestion about just checking out the books at a local university on Theatre History is a good idea.


Hope this helps!
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