classical theatre vs epic theatre


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classical theatre vs epic theatre

  1. 1. Epic theatre presents a form of political drama intended to appeal to reason rather thanthe emotions. Epic Theatre replaced the unities within episodic structure; an important featurewas the alienation effect, in which actors and audiences were discouraged from identifying withthe characters or scenes depicted. The name and theory were derived from Aristotle andpioneered in Germany in the late 1920s by Bertolt Brecht and his associate Erwin Piscator (1893- 1966).Both were avowed communists who sought an ideal theater with social and politicalrelevance that would stimulate playgoers into both thought and action; Theatre ofCommitment, Theatre of Social Action, and Theatre of Social Conviction were alternative namesfor the genre. Brechts Man is Man (1926) is usually considered the first Epic Theatre play;Piscators offerings included a dramatization of Tolstoys War and Peace. The tradition wascontinued by many of the left-wing playwrights of the 1960s and 1970s.In classical theatre, there are two types of drama:Comedy: where the main characters usually “get action”Tragedy: where violent action leads to misfortune for the main charactersAristotle has defined Tragedy as:“Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete and of a certain magnitude: ina language embellished with each kind of artistic ornaments, the several kinds of being found inseparate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity andfear, wherewith to accomplish catharsis of emotions…”Brecht also defines the contrast between the traditional, Aristotelian dramatic and hisown epic as corresponding to idealist and materialist philosophical positions:“The epic drama, with its materialistic standpoint and its lack of interest in any investmentof its spectators emotions, knows no objective but only a finishing point, and is familiarwith a different kind of chain, whose course need not be a straight one but may quite wellbe in curves or even in leaps. [...] Whenever one comes across materialism epic forms arisein the drama, and most markedly and frequently in comedy, whose tone is always lowerand more materialistic”.
  2. 2. It is this materialist perspective on the world, and specifically on the human being, thatrenders the epic form particularly appropriate and useful to the dramatist, Brecht argues.Contemporary science (the term includes what English calls human sciences; especially,for Brecht, historical materialism) reveals that the human being is determined by anddetermining of its circumstances (social and physical). The epic form enables the dramato stage humanity in a way that incorporates this scientific understanding; the dramatistbecomes able to show the human (the level of interpersonal relationships) in interactionwith the larger forces and dynamics at work in society (the supra-personal, historical scale):“Today, when the human being has come to be seen as the sum of all socialcircumstances the epic form is the only one that can embrace those processes whichserve the drama as matter for a comprehensive picture of the world. Similarly man,flesh and blood man, can only be embraced through those processes by which and inthe course of which he exists”.The Bacchae is a classical tragedy. It is based on the mythological story of King Pentheusof Thebes and his mother Agauë, and their punishment by the god Dionysus (who is Pentheuscousin) for refusing to worship him. In a play that follows a climatic plot construction, Dionysusthe Protagonist, instigates the unfolding action by simultaneously emulating the plays author,costume designer, choreographer and artistic director. Helen P. Foley wrote of the links betweenthe importance of Dionysus as the central character and his effect on the plays structure, shewrites: "the poet uses the ritual crisis to explore simultaneously god, man, society, and hisown tragic art. In this proto drama Dionysus, the god of the theatre, stage-directs the play."At the start of the play, Dionysus disguises himself as a Lydian bacchant, the Stranger,and along with his group of maenads, enters Thebes. Pentheus orders soldiers to arrest him,Dionysus only too willingly allows himself to be taken. In three encounters Dionysus talks, tricks,and converts Pentheus into becoming a voyeuristic transvestite who goes to watch the Bacchaerites.A frenzied Agauë dismembers her own son Pentheus which gave rise to climax and arousecrisis of feeling in audience. Catharsis/purgation arises at major conflict, when Dionysus the
  3. 3. protagonist arrives in Thebes to demonstrate his divinity and punish the family of Cadmus. TheKing of Thebes, Pentheus, is a violent opponent of Dionysian worship and rite. Action falls on theend as Agauë takes her sons head back to Thebes still under the delusion that it is a lions head.Cadmus finally makes her see the truth which highlights the feature of reversal/peripeteia ofclassical drama.It follows the unity of time, place and action. The place of action is Thebes; sinceits action takes place properly according to plot, it has proper beginning, middle and end in acertain time.Characters are the most important assets of Classical theatre as they preach the ethics toaudience. Limited number of characters in the drama conveys the message. They make theaudience to identify themselves and rise pity, fear and catharsis of feelings. Characters in TheBacchae are:Dionysus, protagonist and central axis of The Bacchae, this god of wine, theater and groupecstasy appears mostly in disguise as a beautiful, longhaired, wine-flushed Lydian, the Stranger.His non-human forms and powers are also felt acutely throughout the play and Dionysus the godis clearly different from Dionysus in disguise, as the Stranger, and yet they are the same. Still,they exist in their different forms simultaneously, so while the audience and the chorus hear thedivine god give the command for the earthquake, the Stranger is inside the palace torturingPentheus. Dionysus is the son of Zeus and the mortal Semele, daughter of Cadmus.Pentheus is the king of Thebes, son of Agaue, grandson of Cadmus and the first cousin ofDionysus. Structurally Pentheus is Dionysuss foil, thus he is a preserver of law and order, amilitary man, a stern patriarch, and ultimately a doomed mortal. Pentheus is not merely a mirroror inverted double of Dionysus; he is puritanical and obstinate, but also curious and voyeuristic.Agaue is mother of Pentheus and daughter of Cadmus. Agaue is already one of the maenads (aworshipper of Dionysus participating in orgiastic rites, from the Greek mainad to be mad) at thestart of the play. Even though she only enters the play at the very end, her scene is the mostpowerful and tragic in the play.Cadmus, former king of Thebes, father of Agaue and Semele, grandfather of Pentheus andDionysus is the only one in his family to declare allegiance to Dionysus.Servant - He captures the Stranger and brings him to Pentheus in Scene II.
  4. 4. First Messenger - One of three anonymous witnesses in the play. The first messenger is a cowherdwho spies on the maenads and comes back to relate the incident to Pentheus.Second Messenger - The second messenger accompanied Pentheus and Dionysus up the mountainand witnessed the death of his king. He returns to the palace to relate the event to the chorus.Chorus - Female bacchants from Lydia, led by Dionysus in his human form as the Stranger.Tiresias - A famous Theban seer and friend of Cadmus. Tiresias persuades Cadmus to worshipDionysus.The characters of this classical drama contains physical or superficial (external) orpsychological and spiritual (internal) qualities. They hold the physical attributes of names,physical appearance, physical nature, manner of speech and accent, manner of dress, social status,class, community interests and Internal characteristics like thoughts, feelings and emotions.The structure of Greek tragedy is characterized by a set of conventions. The tragedy usuallybegins with a prologue, in which one or more characters introduce the drama and explain thebackground of the ensuing story. The prologue is followed by the parodos (after which the storyunfolds through three or more episodes. The episodes are interspersed by stasima choral interludesexplaining or commenting on the situation developing in the play. The tragedy ends with theexodus concluding the story. It should be noted however that some plays do not adhere to thisconventional structure.In the prologue, Dionysus, son of Zeus, addresses the audience, describing to us howThebes is his birthplace and is also the ancestral home of his mortal mother, Semele. Parodos orOde of Entry is the performance and dancing area for actors and chorus, which was utilized byGreek theater to inform audiences of what happens "off stage". In The Bacchae, The chorus entersfrom both sides of the stage, exalting Dionysus. The ode they chant consists of three segments:a)(Prelude): a call for holy silence b)(Hymn in four parts): a declaration of the blessed state of amaenad, a summary of Dionysuss birth, a call to Thebes to worship the Bacchae and a history ofthe place of the drum in their cult. c)(Epode or refrain): further description of the ecstasy of thebacchants.
  5. 5. Non- Aristotelian derma, or the „epic form‟ of the drama, is a kind of play whosedramaturgical structure departs from the features of classical tragedy in favor of the features ofthe epic, , as defined in each case by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle in his Poetics(c.335BCE).The German modernist theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht coined the term non-Aristotelian drama to describe the dramaturgical dimensions of his own work, beginning in 1930with a series of notes and essays entitled "On a Non-Aristotelian drama." Brecht writes, "thedifference between the dramatic and epic forms was attributed to their different methods ofconstruction." Method of construction here refers to the relation the play establishes between itsparts and its whole:“The epic writer Döblin provided an excellent criterion when he said that with an epicwork, as opposed to a dramatic, one can as it were take a pair of scissors and cut it intoindividual pieces, which remain fully capable of life.”Brecht thought the "old" forms of European theatre based on Aristotle, which, in the faceof changing contemporary circumstances was inadequate to represent social reality. Therefore hecame up with the concept of “epic theatre”. This direction of theatre was inspired by Brecht‟sMarxist political beliefs. It was somewhat of a political platform for his ideologies. Epic theatre isthe assimilation of education through entertainment and is the antithesis of Stanislavsky‟sRealism and also Expressionism. Brecht believed that, unlike epic theatre, Expressionism andRealism were incapable of exposing human nature and so had no educational value. Heconjectured that his form of theatre was capable of provoking a change in society. Brecht‟sintention was to encourage the audience to ponder, with critical detachment, the moral dilemmaspresented before them.The epic theatre of Brecht invites spectators to analyze dominant issues concerningeconomic, social, and political matters, additionally guiding them to consider possible alterations.In his plays, Brecht strives to prohibit the metamorphosis of spectators by creating a gap betweencharacters and spectators thereby encouraging them to develop critical ideas about society.Readers therefore should avoid being subjective, and consequently be able to view contemporary
  6. 6. issues objectively and critically. In The Life of Galileo, Brecht avails himself historical resourcesfor resolving a significant modern issue, thereby transforming his play into a historical drama.According to Brecht, science should reflect social responsibility in order to be in thedisposition of human aims. There are several schemes in The Life of Galileo. In the first scheme,Brecht believes that any scientific evolution brings about general progress for people-an ideaderived from Galileo. In other schemes such as nuclear power and arms for the massacre ofhumanity, Brecht has questioned scientific evolution. In epic theatre there is no proper coherencein events and no unities.Catharsis was not the aim of the epic theater and a thoughtful audience was a necessity. Ratherthan play for emotional empathy, the epic theater calls the audience to “learned to be astonished atthe circumstances within which (the drama‟s hero) has his being” (Benjamin, 18). According toWalter Benjamin, the “relaxed interest” of the epic theater‟s audience comes from the lack ofappeal made towards their empathy (Benjamin, 18).In order to achieve such a dramatization which allowed the spectator to critically engage with theperformance, Brecht used what he referred to as the “alienation effect.” The ultimate goal of thiseffect was to eliminate any and all sense of total immersion the traditional theater had previouslygiven. “The production (takes) the subject-matter and the incidents shown and (puts) themthrough a process of alienation: the alienation that is necessary to all understanding. Whensomething seems „the most obvious thing in the world‟ it means that any attempt to understandthe world has been given up” (Brecht, 71). Epic theater is not the illusion of reality but the re-representation of events. Probably the most vital aspect of the epic theater is the presence of whatBrecht refers to as the “alienation effect.”In Brecht‟s plays, the alienation effect was employed stylistically in a number of ways, broadlythrough the use of various media which had traditionally lain outside of the realm of the theater.As customary with many of his plays, each scene of Brecht‟s “Life of Galileo” begins with stage“inter-titles” (like those commonly used for dialogue in silent cinema). Projected upon a screen onstage amidst the scenery and action is an explanation of the event(s) to be reenacted. This leads tothe audience‟s immediate disillusionment of their expectation that the actions of the scene will
  7. 7. unfold. For Brecht, rather than detract from the story, the jarring and unfamiliar break in theaction on the stage, the incorporation of mechanical techniques in the stage play, allowed for anincorporation of the narrative element.Through the actor‟s gesture as well as the character‟s dialogue, a complete character was shownon the stage who was self motivated while at the same time confined by his or her place in thesocial construct of the portrayed society. It creates a multilevel representation of the on-stageaction and makes it accessible to the critical audience.Brecht has also projected explanatory captions for the readers/audience to drive importantmessages. Narrators are important as they fill in the missing action. Narration has been givenbefore starting any scene that is a major characteristic of an epic drama. In this play the authorrelates an account in a way that invites the readers to consider the events involved and then tomake their own evaluation of them. Scene 3 begins with the caption “…Galileo Galilei abolishesheaven” which instigates the reader to search for the truth. The caption of scene 4 describes theclash between the ideologies of church and reason, empiricism and science with the significantbrevity. The old says: what I‟ve always done I‟ll always do. The new says: If you‟re useless youmust go.In order to accomplish this greater understanding, the epic theater employs the use of variousmediums. The audience becomes unfamiliar with the theater, and in turn the play at hand, whenoutside media are used within it. This alienation of the theater production and demystification ofthe audience enables the epic theater, for Brecht, revolutionize theater.