Classical Studies
CLA 1-364-2003

Masterpieces of Greek and Roman Theater

Lyconides' slave eavesdropping on Euclio, the old miser, in Plautus' Pot of Gold

Instructor: John Gruber-Miller,

Office: 312 College Hall; x4326

Class Meetings: M-F 9-11; M Th 1-2:15

Office Hours: M W 11:00 - 12 and by appointment.

Required Texts:

Peter Meineck, trans. Aeschylus. Oresteia. Hackett, 1998.

David Grene and Richmond Lattimore, eds. Sophocles II: Ajax, Women of Trachis, Electra, and Philoctetes. Chicago, 1957.

Ruby Blondell, Mary-Kay Gamel, Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz, Bella Zweig, trans. Women on the Edge: Four Plays by Euripides. Routledge, 1999.

Shawn O'Bryhim, ed. Greek and Roman Comedy. Texas, 2001.

E. F. Watling, trans. Seneca. Four Tragedies and Octavia. Penguin, 1966.

Course Goals

  • to read with sensitivity a representative sample of Greek and Roman tragedies and comedies;
  • to understand how the plays interacted with the cultures and societies of classical and hellenistic Athens and of republican and imperial Rome;
  • to explore the performance dimension of ancient drama;
  • to investigate how gender affects our understanding of performance and its reception by ancient and modern audiences;
  • to come to a better appreciation of the living tradition of tragedy and comedy;
  • to become sensitive critics of our own and other's writing.

Course Format

Discussion, oral and written reports, collaborative learning, in-class writing, workshop, conference. Throughout the course, you will learn to share and express ideas clearly and effectively, to collaborate, to critique others' ideas, and to give and receive criticism about one's own ideas and writing.

Course Requirements

Four major components will determine your grade:
a) class attendance, active and sensitive participation in class discussion, based on having read and reflected upon the reading for the day, reports on modern productions, in-class writing, pop quizzes and worksheets 20%
b) 1 oral report on the context of ancient drama 10%
c) 2 performances 20%
d) 3 papers/project (1=15%; 2=15%; 3=20%) 50%

As you prepare for class, it is a good idea to write marginal notes in your text to remind you of significant imagery, suggestions for staging, recurring themes, historical background, and questions you have about the text. It is also very helpful to get together with others in the class and read the plays aloud to try to understand the action, get into the different characters, etc.

Once each week, you will read about at least one modern production of a play we are reading in class that week. Using images, reviews, scripts, playbills, etc., you will contribute to a discussion about how recent productions make choices that shape the meaning of one our plays for a particular audience at a particular moment.

You will work collaboratively with others in the class to come to grips with the context of Greek and Roman drama. Using readings from Green and Handley, Csapo and Slater, and others, you will be confronted with the same sources that scholars are faced with in trying to determine how ancient theatre worked. Each group will then share these analyses with the rest of the class in short presentations (15 minutes). Each member of the group is expected to participate in the presentation.

Twice during the course, you will have a chance to understand ancient drama from the inside. Collaborating with others from the class, you will perform a scene or two from one of our plays. By looking closely at the scene(s) to be performed and reading it carefully to determine what internal cues are available to determine stage directions, you and your collaborators will discover how the scene should be played out. After the performance, each member of the group must be prepared to explain his/her decisions both orally to the class.

You will choose three papers from four related topics: 1) a comparison of translations; 2) recovering the performance dimension of our plays; 3) research on performance conditions of Greek and Roman theater, and 4) exploration of a modern performance/adaptation of one of our plays. They will be due at 5:00 p.m. on the first, second, and third Fridays of the block. Each student will choose three of the four topics. Plays performed for class and plays discussed in papers should not overlap.

The comparison of translations should involve at least three translations of one of our plays. One can be the translation we use in class. The primary question to consider is what choices has each translator made and how do these choices affect the style, meaning, and staging of the play. It would be useful to analyze specific scenes in detail that illustrate your analysis. A successful comparison of translations will have a narrow thesis that may focus on a single character (e.g. Clytemnestra), or set of images (e.g., entrapment), or theme (e.g., gender). Alternatively, the difference between translations may have to do whether they were intended to be performable, to capture the poetic language, or to enable the reader to get a sense of the literal meaning of the text.

The paper on recovering the performance dimension of Greek and Roman drama involves looking closely at a scene or two from one of our plays, reading it carefully to determine what internal cues are available to determine stage directions and how the scene should be played out. Ideally, the paper would be blueprint and rationale for performing the scene under ancient performance conditions. It would also address how this scene fits into the play as a whole. Questions to address include 1) what is the evidence for who is on stage and when (i.e., entrances and exits); 2) where are they on stage and how does this basic blocking reinforce who is in control in the scene; and 3) how do they act (e.g., are there internal cues in the text that suggest various gestures or postures or movement).

The paper on evidence for performance conditions can be based on research for your report as well as examination of secondary literature on the same topic. The paper should not be simply a summary of your report, but should go beyond the oral report by discussing how knowledge of this dimension of the ancient theater informs and shapes our understanding of a particular play. In other words, your paper have a thesis with evidence to support it. Some successful student papers in this category have included an examination of the chorus in one of the plays, an exploration of how the three actor rule would have affected which actor played which roles, a discussion how comic playwrights create expectations about stock characters (and then subvert those expectations), and an exploration how characters appeal to the audience through various metatheatrical techniques such as monologues, asides, and eavesdropping.

The modern performance/adaptation of a play will build on our discussions of modern performances of Agamemnon, Iphigenia, and others. By modern, I mean any text or production since 1500. Either A) You may chose to analyze a modern production of one of the plays we have read. If so, you may use a film/video of the production, a contemporary description of the play, interviews, scripts, or a published version of the play, as well as secondary sources such as reviews, articles, etc. Or B) You may choose to develop your own production/adaptation of one the plays we have read.

Part A assignment | Part B assignment

Cautionary advice: Papers displaying significant carelesness--typos, misspellings, errors in quoted materials--will be returned for correction before I actually grade them. Proper citation of sources is expected (use MLA style or Turabian), and of course plagiarism--using others' ideas, words, phrasing, sentence structure--will result in a failing grade. Finally, no late work will be accepted. If an emergency or illness occurs, please let me know immediately so that other plans can be arranged.

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