October 22, 2004

Visual Resources – Staging the Eumenides

1i. Is it possible to determine whether the ancient vase paintings are depictions of theatrical performances, or of the myths upon which the plays are also based?

i) It is difficult to determine, whether the vase paintings were based on theatrical performances, or whether both come from the same main source, i.e; Greek Myths. It is very likely that the majority of the vase paintings, like the plays being written and performed at the time, were depitcions of the ancient myths. Mythology was a very central point to Greek culture, much emphasis was put on the gods, pleasing them and learning about the ancient stories. With this in mind it is more probable that the vase paintings, like the plays were based on the Greek myths.

ii. In the light of your response to i. above, how significant may ancient vase paintings be as evidence for ancient theatre practice?

ii) The depictions on the vases, give us very clear ideas about the type of clothes, i.e. costumes that would have been worn. They also give evidence on the way Greeks liked certain gods or characters to be characterised, for example the vases show Dionysos often with a Thyrus (garland on his head) and his Satyr (follower) by his side. In this way the vases give evidence about how characters might have been shown on stage. In some cases the vase painting can give us very clear evidence about theatrical performances, for example the Promonos Vase a commemerative vase which depicts two actors in elabroate costumes holding masks at the end of the Dionysos.
However many vases show women and animals, and we know that neither of this would have been seen on a Greek stage. So although they may give clues they cannot be relied upon as evidence for ancient Greek theatre practice.

Visual Resources – Staging the Eumenides

2-i.The 4th century B.C.E. Phlyakes vases from the south of Italy show temporary wooden stages which we believe are similar or identical to those that would have been used for comic performance in the 5th century B.C.E. How adequate or appropriate would such a stage have been for the performance of tragedy in the 5th century B.C.E., in particular the Eumenides?

2 i) The Phlyakes Stages depicted in the Italian vases, is little more than a wooden platform, with a back wall and door. However for the performance of Greek tragedy this type of stage would have more than likely been adequate. There were often only 3 main actors in a Greek tragedy, each playing all the roles, there was also a chorus (normally present on stage throughout the play). The Phlyakes stage offers a place for the performer to change costume. The raised stage allows the audience to see the performers clearly.
The only problem with this type of stage may have been the space. With a chorus of up to 15, plus the elaborate costumes and large helmet-like masks, the stage may have become quite cramped. For example, during Eumenides, when the Furies are on stage, and when the court is being held to decided the fate of Orestes.

ii. Where could Klytemnestra, Apollo and Orestes have performed in the opening scene of the play?

iii. Where could the chorus have performed?

The chorus may have been able to perform off stage or along the front of the stage, only moving on to the stage for long speeches this would also give a feel of the chorus representing the common people of Athens (particularly in the Court of the Areopagus).

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