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Reimagining Greek Tragedy on the American Stage

Helene P. Foley
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 396
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  • Book Info
    Reimagining Greek Tragedy on the American Stage
    Book Description:

    This book explores the emergence of Greek tragedy on the American stage from the nineteenth century to the present. Despite the gap separating the world of classical Greece from our own, Greek tragedy has provided a fertile source for some of the most innovative American theater. Helene P. Foley shows how plays like Oedipus Rex and Medea have resonated deeply with contemporary concerns and controversies-over war, slavery, race, the status of women, religion, identity, and immigration. Although Greek tragedy was often initially embraced for its melodramatic possibilities, by the twentieth century it became a vehicle not only for major developments in the history of American theater and dance, but also for exploring critical tensions in American cultural and political life. Drawing on a wide range of sources-archival, video, interviews, and reviews-Reimagining Greek Tragedy on the American Stageprovides the most comprehensive treatment of the subject available.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95365-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction Americanizing Greek Tragedy
    (pp. 1-26)

    For Americans, “human possibility,” the effort to repair and remake the world, stands “as an animating faith.”¹ Greek tragedy as a genre, however—and above all Sophocles’Oedipus Tyrannus, paradigmatic owing to Aristotle’sPoetics—has frequently appeared to the American mind to represent fatality, a sense of over-determination on multiple levels, inimical to the nation’s Horatio Alger–oriented mythology. With the exception of new versions of Euripides’Medea, Greek tragedy in nineteenth-century America largely met with indifference or resistance on the professional stage. Nevertheless, a growing interest in reading and studying the texts both within and outside colleges and universities,...

  6. ONE Greek Tragedy Finds an American Audience
    (pp. 27-75)

    By the end of the nineteenth century, American commercial theater was becoming increasingly entrenched in stereotypical modes of production and a limited repertoire that was largely generated in New York before moving on established circuits to other parts of the country. Although twentieth-century scholarship on early American theater has defended a number of nineteenth-century plays and playwrights, Edgar Allan Poe, commenting as early as 1845 on one of the better new American plays, Mrs. Mowatt’sFashion, reflected a stream of later critical opinion when he remarked:¹ “It is a good play—compared with most American drama it is avery...

  7. TWO Making Total Theater in America: Choreography and Music
    (pp. 76-121)

    Margaret Gage served as the choreographer of Greek tragedies at the all-female Bennett School of Liberal and Applied Arts in Millbrook, New York, from 1920 to 1935. The school’s productions regularly traveled to other colleges and occasionally to professional theaters in major cities and were reviewed and discussed with admiration in New York papers and theater journals. Although many other better-known dancers, from Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham to, more recently, Bill T. Jones, have responded to the problem of conceptualizing Greek dance, myth, and drama on the stage, Gage was probably the first truly ambitious American choreographer of full...

  8. THREE Democratizing Greek Tragedy
    (pp. 122-159)

    Performed at large public festivals for the god Dionysus in Athens before an audience of Athenians (though possibly not women) and visitors from elsewhere, Greek tragedy used a repertoire of Panhellenic myth to create a dialogue between the world of its democratic audience and Greek cultural traditions.¹ Tragedies from Aeschylus to Euripides unquestionably respond to changing social and political realities in the Attic polis, even though from an early date the plays began to be performed in other Greek city-states around the Mediterranean and developed an international following. Yet the plays were rarely overtly topical and probably never deliberately subversive....

  9. FOUR Reenvisioning the Hero: American Oedipus
    (pp. 160-189)

    These two reviews of the 1882 professional version of the HarvardOedipus Tyrannus(hereafterOT) discussed in chapter 1.1 typically assume a tension between Oedipus as an innocent victim of the gods and the ideal American citizen, who optimistically struggles to earn his or her way in the world and to be rewarded for virtue and hard work. Sophocles’ hero in fact aggressively insists on discovering a fundamental civic pollution/his own human identity, reinterpreting his fate, and taking an extravagant and brutal responsibility for his unwitting crimes. American democracy has often preferred to look forward, or perhaps, like the chorus...

  10. FIVE Reimagining Medea as American Other
    (pp. 190-228)

    New versions of Euripides’Medeawere the only Greek tragedies to make a consistent mark on the nineteenth-century American professional stage, and in various incarnations the play has remained the most-performed Greek tragedy in the twentieth century. Both adaptations and new versions have again appeared with increasing regularity since the 1970s.¹ Chapter 1.2 examined important early twentieth-century performances of Euripides’ original by Margaret Anglin, who made Medea a triumphant semi-barbarian who deliberately kills her children, and by Ellen Van Volkenburg, who emphasized Medea’s intelligence and conviction. American actresses have continued to have some success with Euripides’ heroine in the United...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 229-238)

    This book has argued that in various incarnations on the American stage Greek tragedy has frequently responded to national aspirations. Both productions ofOedipus Tyrannusin translation and new versions repeatedly confronted an American desire to modify tragic plots and make them conform more closely or respond more appealingly to the nation’s preference for remaking both itself and the lives of individuals. This impulse converged with a concern, often influenced by a long-standing national taste for melodrama, to define and expand on moral consequences of the tragic action; from the nineteenth century to this day, for example, sympathetic Medeas have...

  12. APPENDIX A. Professional Productions and New Versions of Sophocles’ and Euripides’ Electras
    (pp. 239-248)
  13. APPENDIX B. Professional Productions and New Versions of Antigone
    (pp. 249-258)
  14. APPENDIX C. Professional Productions and New Versions of Aeschylus’s Persians, Sophocles’ Ajax, and Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound
    (pp. 259-264)
  15. APPENDIX D. Professional Productions and New Versions of Oedipus Tyrannus
    (pp. 265-276)
  16. APPENDIX E. Professional Productions and New Versions of Euripides’ Medea
    (pp. 277-294)
  17. APPENDIX F. Professional Productions and New Versions of Euripides’ Iphigeneia in Aulis and Iphigeneia in Tauris
    (pp. 295-302)
  18. APPENDIX G. Other Professional Productions and New Versions
    (pp. 303-308)
  19. NOTES
    (pp. 309-342)
    (pp. 343-362)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 363-375)