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Crossing the Stages:
The Production, Performance and Reception of Ancient Theater


Ronald Vince
The School of Art, Drama and Music
McMaster University

Feminist Scholarship and Athenian Drama

The Aristotelian theatrical paradigm, with its emphasis on dramatic text, on the applicability of Aristotelian precepts to Western drama in general, and especially on the universal validity of the theatrical experience provided by Greek plays, is breaking down. Feminist scholarship in particular has been highly critical of Athenian culture as well as of the male-dominated scholarship that elevated its worth and drew inspiration from it. Some theatre historians have argued that theatre in its origins (assumed to be Greek) is male gender specific, anti-female, patriarchal, hurtful to women. In this paper I explore this issue, arguing that fifth-century drama was in fact deeply imbued with a sense of female power, but that its specific performative context imposed a particular ideological interpretation. I argue that an erroneous assumption underlies both the traditional and the feminist view of Athenian drama; that is, that a dramatic text carries its performative ideology with it, that 5th-century Athenian ideology is validated by 20th-century performance. We can learn to experience, to understand and to take pleasure from the remnants of earlier and other cultures, but in order to do so we must accommodate those remnants in terms of our own ideological and cultural matrix. The messages of Athenian drama are a complex amalgam of ancient materials and modern perceptions.

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