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The lost dimension of greek tragedy, by peter d. arnott

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  • 1. The Lost Dimension of Greek TragedyAuthor(s): Peter D. ArnottReviewed work(s):Source: Educational Theatre Journal, Vol. 11, No. 2 (May, 1959), pp. 99-102Published by: The Johns Hopkins University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3204731 .Accessed: 23/09/2012 13:36Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.. The Johns Hopkins University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Educational Theatre Journal.http://www.jstor.org
  • 2. THELOSTDIMENSION OF GREEK TRAGEDYPETER D. ARNOTT In a recent article in these pages1 Mr. Aristophanes rewrote his Clouds after itsWilliam J. Calder has raised several in- dismal first reception, but it is far fromteresting questions about the perform- certain whether the revised version wasance and appreciation of Greek tragedy. ever performed; competition for theHe rightly stresses the need for pro- available time was too severe. Revivalsduction as a means to understanding, became popular only with the fourthand, equally rightly, criticizes Profes- century, when the dearth of good play-sor Websters view that the dramatist wrights and the growing secularizationwrote mainly with an eye to the reading of the theatre, with a consequent in-public. Quoting from the population crease in performances, forced actors tofigures of fifth-century Attica, he con- fall back on old material. As Aristotlecludes that, as the dramatist could reach tells us, the fifth century was the age ofmost of his followers in the one per- poets, the fourth the age of actors. Theformance allowed him, it was in pro- great tragedies were continually revived,duction, not in publication, that he suffering numerous corruptions andfound his main channel of approach. spectacular interpolations in the process.I believe, however, that while Professor In the fifth century, as Mr. CalderWebster and Mr. Calder each see part shows, the dramatist could count onof the truth, the real answer lies some- only one performance, and made thatwhere in between; and I shall attempt as powerful as he could. But could hehere to develop this argument and its convey his full message in a playingrelevance to present-day revivals. time of some ninety minutes? We must It is true that the fifth-century dram- beware of over-estimating the intelli-atist could never be certain of a re- gence of the public. The fifth-centuryvival in his life-time. The plays were audience is usually characterized aspart of a communal act of worship, erudite and quick-witted, ever ready toperformed only on certain specific oc- pick up a hint or allusion-largely oncasions. Not every dramatist could emu- the evidence of Aristophanic comedy,late Aeschylus and go on tour to Sicily. which is full of parodies, quotations,Peter D. Arnott is at present Visiting Lecturer and allusions. It is certainly true thatin Classics at the State University of Iowa. He Aristophanes can still mock the cele-has recently published translations of TheBirds and The Brothers Menaechmus (Crofts brated gaffe of the actor HegelochusClassics). three years after it was perpetrated;2 and 1 The Single-Performance Fallacy, ETJ.Oct., 1958. 2 Frogs, v. 303.
  • 3. 100 EDUCATIONAL THEATRE JOURNALthe debate between Aeschylus and Eu- memnon choruses would be absorbed inripides in the same play seems to pre- these conditions?suppose an audience au fait with poetic There is another important factortechnicalities and green-room gossip. relevant to the choruses; that they wereBut in a small and segregated commun- not declaimed but sung, to the accom-ity good jokes would tend to remain in paniment of elaborate dance figures.currency for a long time; and I have The fact is known, but its implicationsmyself performed Frogs to audiences rarely realized. Dance was an integralwho had never heard of Aeschylus and part of dramatic production. Acting andEuripides, but still accepted the play as dancing were closely allied, and thehilarious comedy. chorus movements were highly involved. Surely we come nearer to the vulgar Phrynichus and Aeschylus were famousreaction in Aristophanes Birds." Here not only as poets but as choreographers.the chorus give as one advantage of The former boasted that he had com-wearing wings that the spectator who is posed as many dance figures as there"bored by a tragic chorus" can fly away, were waves on the sea, and the latterhave a meal, and return in time for seems to have been hardly less ingenious.the comedy. Again, Euripides complaint Dancing was vigorous and mimetic, rep-in Frogs that Aeschuylus choruses resenting a wide range of emotions. Not"would wade through a string of songs every dance would have been as activefour on end, while the actors said not as those in Bacchae, or in Sophoclesa word"4 must have expressed the Searching Satyrs, whose chorus bendthoughts of many a man in the Athenian double with their noses to the ground;street who found the elaborate choral but there would normally have been astructures passing above his head, and considerable amount of movement. The little we know of Greek music islonged for the robust diversions ofcomedy and satyr-play. The Theatre of equally suggestive. How much do weDionysus, too, had its groundlings. hear of a modern opera chorus? The two are not strictly comparable, but This prompts a further, again slightly there is surely a sufficient similarity.heretical, question. Would even the in- Turning again to Frogs,5 we find Diony-telligentsia have grasped everything at sus commenting on Aeschylus Persians,one sitting? Several considerations sug- whose chorus "stood clapping theirgest that they would not. Tragedy seems hands like this, and shouting Yowoi! "to abominate a dramatic pause. Action This exclamation does not occur inis always covered by dialogue; entrances Aeschylus text; and in spite of mis-come during the lines, not between guided attempt to write it in, is it notthem. Even the later commentators no- more likely that Dionysus means thattice this fact. Tragedy is more like dra- he found the words unintelligible?matic oratorio than drama, and when a I suggest, therefore, that the dramatistdramatic pause does occur, it has the wrote both with performance and pub-effect of a sudden rest in a symphony. lication in mind. The immediate impactThere was no opportunity for things to would come with performance, and Isink in. How much of the compressed, shall venture to say that here the effecthighly complicated thought of the Aga- of the chorus would have been mainly spectacular. As F. L. Lucas has happily 8 Vv. 785ff. 4Vv. 914ff. Vv. izo8ff.
  • 4. THE LOST DIMENSION OF GREEK TRAGEDY 101put it, "Where the modern spectator ing, certainly; but the folly of attempt-refreshes himself with ten minutes in ing to interpret Greek drama with mod-the theatre buffet, the Greek listened to ern, naturalistic methods has been plen-a burst of music and poetry."6 But we tifully demonstrated.must not forget that our present texts This is more than a question of ped-are only the libretti of wonderful operas, antry. By speaking the choruses we riskand many nuances would have been disturbing the balance of the play, oflost in the theatre. Those who wished dragging into the theatre somethingto study the philosophy of the choruses, properly belonging to the study. Thethe full beauty of thought and language, beauty of the classical method was dem-would have to have recourse to the pub- onstrated for me by two productions oflished text, just as Dionysus in Frogs Lysistrata in 1957, one in London, thespeaks of himself as sitting on board other in Athens. In the former theship reading Euripides Andromeda. chorus was blended with the actors as This raises an important question of Hourmouzios suggests, singing, it isproduction. Are we falsifying the dram- true, but in a naturalistic, almost apol-atists intention by splitting up the ogetic manner. The result was a sensechoruses, declaiming them and giving of strain and artificiality. In Athenseach word full weight? Are we not giv- the chorus of 48 was given full balleting them the wrong sort of emphasis? treatment, with music by the popularDo they not (heresy again) grow some- composer Hadzidakis. Though half thewhat tedious, particularly in some plays words were lost, there was no sense ofof Euripides where the content is neg- deprivation. Here, it seemed, was Greekligible? This has been thrashed out in comedy as it should be played, with fulla recent debate, recorded in World The- attention to spectacle even at the ex-atre.7 The chief exponent of the modern pense of the text.view is emil Hourmouzios, Director- Unfortunately, producers feel com-General of the Greek National Theatre. pelled to treat tragedy with greater re-Dismissing "pedantic adherence to an spect. Minotis production of Hecubaarchaeological tradition" he holds that at the same Athens Festival lost the"if we consider the chorus as a group- effect of a beautifully rhythmical chorusactor having the same obligations as the entry by later splitting them into groupsleading actors of the drama, we arrive and allowing them to converse naturally. ... at results more aesthetically convinc- It is now, of course, impossible to re-ing.... Besides, it would be unjust and construct the Greek unity of music,harmful to sacrifice the logos, suffocating song, and dance. What dramatic musicit with musical additions and dancing survived the classical period was swal-exhibitions of doubtful value." The last lowed up in the religious controversiesthree words beg the question. The of Byzantium, and we are left with onlydramatists certainly did not intend their the fragment from Orestes. But wewords to be unaccompanied, and there should not merely accept the loss andis no need for the music to be bad. do nothing. A whole dimension of theHourmouzios concludes "Group recita- performances has vanished, and cannottion and mimicry is a negation of the be recaptured by excessive reverence forvery nature of acting." Of modern act- the text. Experiments now in progress 6 Medea, Cambridge University Press, 1923. With Byzantine music may prove fruit-v. o319n. 7Vol. VI no. 4, Winter, 1957. ful. Failing that, we have two alter-
  • 5. 102 EDUCATIONAL THEATRE JOURNALnatives. We can write our own music: change, or the technique used in thein England, at the Department of modern Greek verse play Dighenis,Drama of Bristol University, Professor where two of the chorus mime the storyH. D. F. Kitto has produced a musical the others are telling. This could be veryAntigone which was notably successful, effective in the "sacrifice of Iphigeneia"and I have myself used Welsh folk mu- chorus in Agamemnon. But whateversic for the choruses of Cyclops; alterna- happens, the chorus must be a distincttively, we must compensate the audience formal unit; to treat it realistically, tofor the lack of spectacle by something make it merely another group of actors,else-perhaps an elaborate lighting is to nullify the whole spirit of tragedy. De Gustibus... You make me laugh with your rules, which you are always blasting in our cars, to confound the ignorant. To hear you talk, one would think that these rules of art are the greatest mysteries in the world; and yet they are only a few obvious observations that common sense has made, regarding what can diminish ones pleasure in such productions. And the same common sense which made these observations long ago readily makes them over again every day, without any help from Horace and Aristotle. I should like to know if the great rule of all rules is not merely to give pleasure, and if a play which has attained this end has not taken the right course. -Moliere, The Critique of The School for Wives, Dorante speaking