In the Theatre of Dionysos

Democracy and Tragedy in Ancient Athens

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About the Book

Ancient Athens was unique in its politics, extraordinary in its religion and fanatic about its poetry. Yet its creativity peaked in a time of prolonged, avoidable and catastrophic war; the brilliance of Greek tragedy blazed while the people who made it were bringing ruinous defeat upon themselves.
This book describes the parallel lives of Athenian democracy and Athenian tragedy—how and why they concurrently arose, blossomed and died, shaped especially by a fatal Athenian penchant for war. The author, an actor visiting the Theater of Dionysos at Athens (where the Greek tragedies premiered), considers what hints time has left us of the life and death of Greek tragedy and of the three tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides) some few of whose plays survive. He demonstrates how drama emerged from a fusion of four unique elements in Greek culture: bardic poetry; open sporting competition; uncodified religion; and exploratory philosophy. With glimpses of the authors, backers, performers and audiences who collectively created that astounding body of work, the book imagines the evolution of the tragic genre from a practitioner’s viewpoint.

About the Author(s)

Richard C. Sewell, AEA, a founding director of The Theater at Monmouth in 1970, directed and acted there until 1993. He taught directing and theater history for the Colby College Theater and Dance department from 1974 to 2001. He lives in Maine, writing and directing. His plays have had recent productions in New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.

Bibliographic Details

Richard C. Sewell
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 216
Bibliographic Info: bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2007
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2993-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Introduction: An Amateur Time-Travel Memoir      1

I. In the Theater of Dionysos

An Actor at Play with the Past—Athens, 2005      5

Three or More Greeces      11

A Braid of Three Strands      14

Arion      17

A Thespian’s Dionysia      21

II. Aeschylus and War News

Arms and the Man and the News      31

… and the New      37

How This Theater Worked—the Early Years      44

III. First Plays and Other Newness

Philosopher as Playwright      60

Suppliants, Persians and Seven      68

IV. Prometheus, Then Orestes

Forethought      82

The Cry on the House of Atreus      93

A Son Comes Home      101

The Gods Come to Athens      106

Afterthoughts      115

V. Sophocles and Euripides—Worse War News

An Unpleasant Few Minutes      121

Theater Life after Aeschylus      124

Of Ajax and of Heracles’ Wife      128

A One against a Many      134

Problematics      141

Two Electras, Sophocles’ and Euripides’      146

VI. Then and Now

A Twinge      171

Hubris in a Theater of War      175

The Art of Old Age      180

Charon’s Steps      183

Then Afterthought Said      188

Bibliography      195

Index      199

Book Reviews

“Reading [this book] is like sitting down to a leisurely, open-ended chat—probably over a glass or two of scotch—with one of those passionate, marvelously well-informed, creative and freewheeling thinkers who manages also to be charming. There are insights here that I can’t wait to put to use in my next directing project, and enthusiasm here that rejuvenates the reader for the daily business of living a good life and/or doing good theatre.”—Shepard Sobel, Artistic Director, The Pearl Theatre Company, Inc.