Performing Rituals in Ancient Greek Tragedy Today
Date: 15 July 2014
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
PhD in Drama
This thesis sets out to display the dynamic role fragmented rituals have in the plot of tragedy. It contends that the tragedians deployed fifth-century ancient Greek religious practices from their cultural milieu as independent objects in their plots. Whether concise or fragmented, enacted or reported, they are modified into dramaturgical ...
This thesis sets out to display the dynamic role fragmented rituals have in the plot of tragedy. It contends that the tragedians deployed fifth-century ancient Greek religious practices from their cultural milieu as independent objects in their plots. Whether concise or fragmented, enacted or reported, they are modified into dramaturgical tools that move the story forward by effecting chains of reactions and link the past and the present with the aim of enhancing the critical ability of the audiences. These ritual representations in performance are most often either perverted or fail for various reasons. This thesis contends that this fragmentary re-imagining of cultural practices are an essential part of the tragic texts. However, rituals by nature are complex modes of actions and it seems that they retain much of their purposes, intentions and performativity within the texts. This complexity draws the attention to their individual treatment when they go through the process of translation, the expected reconstruction of the text to fit in the time limit of a performance, the editing and the directorial decisions for their staging. This research does not call for a ‘historically authentic’ performance of the rituals within the plays. Indeed, the lack of evidence makes it impossible to articulate with accuracy any elements of those early performances, and it is not the purpose of this thesis. This study strives to establish an analytical basis for understanding the balance between the demands of the play-text of the tragedians and the productions of a director from the perspective of the ritual content. This analysis is a response to a gap in scholarship concerning this aspect of the performative turn in the studies of ancient Greek texts. This thesis analyses, as far as we can determine, the classical Athenian rituals that were deployed in tragedy and fills in the scholarly gap created by the performative turn with regard to the historical awareness one needs as a tool to perceive the embedded functional role of rituals in tragedy. Their defining role in the story-line is then demonstrated with the textual analysis of rituals in five tragic plays. These plays are then studied in performance terms through analysis of three productions by the Theatrical Organisation of Cyprus. The discussion analyses the extent to which the ritual fragments dramaturgical functions were preserved in the productions, and the effects of their treatment in the experience of the spectator. The textual analysis and the performance analyses both concentrating on the ritual content, reveal the way in which rituals constitute the substrata in tragedy, and as such they require special attention in both a textual analysis and for a text-based production. The concluding discussion analyses the implications of the relationship between rituals and tragedy for contemporary performances, and suggests ways in which one might stage these ritual fragments today for contemporary audiences.
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