Week 3 – further discussion


Thank you to Catherine Edwards for a great workshop. Her extremely detailed lecture notes are available here and are well worth a look, with links for further reading. Here is a link to her powerpoint too.


What particularly struck me was how the tradition in which a playwright works shapes a production. When Catherine talked about ‘internal cohesion’, with a play needing a clear start, middle and end to ‘work’, I thought about how this modern approach to narrative differs entirely from the tragic theatre of fifth-century Athens. Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and their tragedian contemporaries plied their trade from within a framework of myth (with the exceptionof Aeschylus’ Persians). While some modern playwrights may use the start, middle and end formula to increase suspence, get an audience invested in characters or to heighten anticipation, the ancient audience, familiar with the mythic travails of their heroes and heroines, would require a different approach (of course, not all modern playwrights use the start, middle and end formula, something that you may want to explore in your own reading). In Euripides’ Heracles, for example, the hero’s murder of his wife and children would not come as a shock to an audience well versed in myth. In such a context, the distinctions between start, middle and end collapse into each other. While innovations to a plot were not out of the question (e.g., it is generally believed that Euripides was the first to add infanticide to Medea’s list of crimes), the trajectory of a mythic character was already mapped out (e.g., Medea going from Corinth to Athens). How then, do you think, did ancient playwrights manage to put their individual stamp on a mythic story? See the agon between an imaginary Aeschylus and Euripides in Aristophanes’ Frogs (from 1378) for a humorous take on how tragedians set themselves apart.


Catherine also talked about the practice of summing up your production with one question, with all action in the play revolving around its answering. Her version of Medea posed the question: ‘how can a woman survive in a man’s world?’. Could you do the same for your practical piece?


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