October 16, 2004

Visual Resources : Staging the Eumenides

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/theatre_s/ug/courses/th106/ancient/theatrontasks/

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?

I think the Phylakes stage looks quite small and restricting, especially for a play such as the Eumenides. The chorus of Furies would have been acting extremely dramatically, and I imagine they would need quite a large space to act in. Also, the stage is needed in the 3rd part of The Oresteia to represent Apollo's temple at Delphi, and also Athens (where Orestes flees to Athene's image). I think the very plain wooden stage, with pillars across the back, would be hard to imagine as such different settings. However, the stage is raised up on a level above the audience; this would appear to give the Furies more power and status as they are on a higher level.

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

The Ghost of Clytemnestra could start speaking from behind the stage, or possible under it; this could be effective as the audience would not be able to see her. Apollo should be placed high up, as he has the high status of a God; we also respect him in this part of the play when he shows sympathy for Orestes. Orestes should be on the normal part of the stage, but probably kneeling down, as he has come to Apollo's temple for help.

iii. Where could the chorus have performed?

I think it would be effective to have the chorus of Furies standing at the front of the stage; they would then be closer to the audience, which would make them more terrifying. They would also be at the same level as the audience, showing that normal people, the people in the crowd, are the ones who can be punished by the Furies if they commit an act worthy of their vengeance.

3. In Theatron, explore the model of the Theatre of Dionysos, which represents the theatre as it may have been during the Lycurgan period (338 - 326 B.C.E.). Compare and contrast its stone skene with the wooden Phlyakes stage.

i.What possibilities and limitations for performance does each type of scene building allow or impose?

ii.The action of the Eumenides is set in three locations. What are they?

1 – Outside the Temple of Apollo at Delphi
2 – Inside the inner shrine of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi
3 – the Temple of Athene in Athens

iii.How might these scene changes have been staged?

An image of Apollo could signify the Temple of Apollo; whereas an image of Athene could be used for Orestes to hide behind in Athens – a screen at the back with a view of Athens could help the audience to understand where the scene takes place for the second half of the play.

To show the differences between the interior of the exterior, there can simply be no one on stage when the priestess makes her first speech, then she could 'enter' the temple simply by walking to the back of the stage, then running to the front again in shock. When the priestess leaves and we see the inner shrine, the Furies, Orestes and Apollo need to enter and the Furies must lie on the floor asleep to show we are in the shrine.

4. Traditionally, it has been assumed that the theatrically 'strongest' position for an actor was directly in front of the central doors of the skene. Recently, however, in Tragedy in Athens, David Wiles has argued that, for Athenians, the most symbolically potent position was the centre of the orchestra. Explore both of these theories by considering the 'binding scene' in the Eumenides:

i. What kinds of spatial and choreographic relationships between theatre, spectators, actors and chorus, could have been established in each case?

ii.How might different spatial relationships have affected the meaning of the scene, or the characterisation and status of the characters and chorus?

Relationships between actors in plays are echoed in their spatial relationships onstage; for example, Orestes' fear of the furies would be demonstrated by his obvious wish for distance between him and the women; similarly they would continually be moving towards him threateningly, wishing to carry out their revenge for Clytaemnestra's death.

Orestes' respect for the God Apollo would be shown in a position of reverence and pleading as he would kneel to the God in the temple. The chorus would always be grouped together, as they share an opinion, a place and a status in the play. Apollo and Athene would both be placed high up, as they are gods and have the highest status of anyone in the play.

5. Where are the best and worst seats in the 4th century theatron? Why?

The central kirkede, or wedge in the theatre, would be the best place to view the stage, as the view is straight-on. The outer wedges, where other people (not the demes) sat, would have a very side-on view and various characters would be blocked from that view, I imagine. Being at the front of the semicircular seating area would be preferable to being at the back, as you would have been more likely to hear everything that was said (despite the fantastic acoustics). For this reason, it was the front seats that were reserved for the most important people – the prohedria.

i. How did the physical conditions of spectatorship for ancient Athenian audiences differ from the usual conditions of spectatorship in a conventional theatre building today?

The audience were packed very close together in their seats, so that emotions would have passed throughout the crows in reaction to the action on the stage. There was also no obligation to watch the play in silence; the audience would have shouted out at the play's action, and talked throughout the performance. The huge numbers of spectators would have led to a completely different mood throughout the audience, and there would have been a massive feeling of national pride and unity, as nearly all the spectators would have been Athenian citizens.

ii. Do these differences suggest a fundamentally, or merely superficially different theatrical experience?

Because of these specific conditions, the playwright would actually have been affected in his writing of the play; whereas most conventional plays today are performed as a text, and the audience or theatre just happens to differ according to the specific production, the Greek playwrights knew exactly who they were writing for, and the specific performance conditions of their play. For this reason, I think the differences would have been fundamentally different.

Our performance conditions today for a Greek drama would be so different; I think the conventional theatre today is much more a personal than a group experience – we are much more restrained in our reactions and emotions, and our feelings generated by the action do not reflect back to the actors and/or the rest of the audience in the same way as would have happened in the ancient Greek theatres.

iii. Read the short note on Greek Audiences, and the longer text by Csapo and Slater. How might a style, or styles, of performance have evolved in response to the scale and sight-lines of the theatre, and the nature of the spatial and emotional relationship between Athenian spectators and performers?

iv. Might different parts of the theatre have demanded different styles of performance?

v. How might the style of choral performance have differed from that of the character actors?

Obviously parts of the chorus speeches would have been said at the same time by all the chorus members, whereas the individual character lines are said simply by the specific character. The choral performance would have had parts of it set to music, and to dance; the sections are long and include poetic descriptions, and comment on the action of the play. The chorus speeches do not add to the action of the play, they merely reflect on what we have seen and give us a chance to think about it; we do not need to focus on each word to follow the plot of the play, so using dance, music and other devices to make the speeches more aesthetically pleasing to watch, are particularly effective in choral sections.

6. Taking into account your findings in the above explorations, suggest one or more ways in which the voting scene, and the final hymn by the Women of Athens have been staged in the Eumenides.

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