Sophocles and the Tragedy of Athenian Democracy

Sophocles and the Tragedy of Athenian Democracy

Sophocles and the Tragedy of Athenian Democracy

Sophocles and the Tragedy of Athenian Democracy

Synopsis

The Athenian democracy of the 5th century B. C. created the most important political theatre of western culture. Sophocles, the most successful tragic playwright of the age, was a radical innovator who produced his tragedies to present to his audience complex moral, social, and political issues of a kind that they might be faced with in their various legal and political assemblies. Beer examines Sophocles as a political playwright against the background of Athenian democracy, breaking new ground by showing the importance of the mask for understanding Sophoclean tragedy and redefining the notion of skenographia, or setting the scene. He concludes that Sophocles revolutionized the concept of dramatic space.

The Athenian tragic theatre was deeply political and played an important and active role in the life of Athenian democracy. This book presents an introduction to the political nature of Greek tragedy and Sophoclean tragedy in an effort to shed new light on the dramatic works of the 5th century playwright. As Aristotle noted, Sophocles' two most important innovations were the introduction of the third actor and skenographia, which brought tragedy to its fully evolved form. Beer argues that although his use of the third actor has been widely understood, his use of skenographia has not. Carefully exploring the true sense of this method of using dramatic space, Beer brings a new understanding to the works of this old master.

Excerpt

Lives of the Theatre is designed to provide scholarly introductions to important periods and movements in the history of world theatre from the earliest instances of recorded performance through to the twentieth century, viewing the theatre consistently through the lives of representative theatrical practitioners. Although many of the volumes will be centered on playwrights, other important theatre people, such as actors and directors, will also be prominent in the series. The subjects have been chosen not simply for their individual importance, but because their lives in the theatre can well serve to provide a major perspective on the theatrical trends of their eras. They are, therefore, either representative of their time, figures whom their contemporaries recognized as vital presences in the theatre, or people whose work was to have a fundamental influence on the development of theatre, not only in their lifetimes but after their deaths as well. Although the discussion of verbal and written scripts will inevitably be a central concern in any volume that is about an artist who wrote for the theatre, these scripts will always be considered in their function as a basis for performance.

The rubric Lives of the Theatre is therefore intended to suggest biographies of people who created theatre as an institution and as a medium of performance as well as the life of the theatre itself. This dual focus will be illustrated through the titles of the individual volumes, such as Christopher Marlowe and the Renaissance of Tragedy, George Bernard Shaw and the Socialist Theatre, and Richard Wagner and Festival Theatre, to name just a few. At the same time, although the focus of each volume will be different, depending on the particular subject, appropriate emphasis will be given to the cultural and political context within which the theatre of any . . .

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