On Friday Camilla and I went to see the "Oxford Greek Play" Clytemnestra (actually Aeschylus' The Libation-bearers, or Choephoroi).
This was the first of Aeschylus' plays I've seen staged, and watching it
brought home the difficulty in making his quite static drama accessible
to a modern audience.
There was a bit of a Japanese element to the scenery and costumes
(an odd element here came near the end, when Orestes waved around a
fragment of Agamemnon's white robe with a red spot right in the middle of it).
And some time is devoted to "extra" choreography -- the strangest to me
was Electra doing a Lady Macbeth and washing her hands furiously in the
background in the final scene.
The effect was quite operatic, and I think worked better in Greek (with surtitles) than it might have in English, with the gravitas of the foreign language with its unfamiliar prosody helping replace the religious power the original must have had (for some if not most of Aeschylus' audience).
The acting was also better than I had expected, perhaps because it drew
on a broader pool than just classicists -- the program explained that
three of the five chorus members didn't know any Greek. Overall, it was
an unexpectedly powerful performance.
The day before I'd gone along to a symposium put on to accompany the play,
which consisted of three consecutive seminars. Scott Scullion talked
about the original staging of Choephoroi, in particular whether
the "palace" or skēnē was present throughout, the way the audience
is given more negative information about Clytemnestra than Orestes,
through the Nurse's speech and Clytemnestra's attempt to obtain an
axe, and whether the Furies were present or just imagined at the end.
Fiona Macintosh talked about the reception of Choephoroi,
some of the modern Oresteias (the Oresteia being the trilogy consisting of
Agamemnon, Choephoroi and Eumenides), but mostly
about the early modern prominence of an "Agamemnon" that consisted
of about a third of that play and almost all of Choephoroi.
Which was apparently one of the inspirations for Shakespeare's
And Clare Foster talked about the history of the Oxford Greek Play going
back to 1880. This involved burlesques, drapery and cross-dressing,
bans on theatre, and strange combinations of early feminism with elite
status markers. There have been 500 odd modern performances of classical
Greek plays in the original language, of which more than half have been
in the UK.
That was a good mix of material. They also provided a good sandwich lunch and I got to see the Ioannou Centre for Classical and Byzantine Studies (the Classics faculty building), which one enters from an unassuming doorway off St Giles but which is an impressive construction that "fills in" all the space behind the streetfront. I don't know that I want to take up Ancient Greek, Latin and classical history again, but it's good to keep up some contact with that world.
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