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The Play of Space

The Play of Space: Spatial Transformation in Greek Tragedy

Rush Rehm
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 480
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  • Book Info
    The Play of Space
    Book Description:

    Is "space" a thing, a container, an abstraction, a metaphor, or a social construct? This much is certain: space is part and parcel of the theater, of what it is and how it works. InThe Play of Space, noted classicist-director Rush Rehm offers a strikingly original approach to the spatial parameters of Greek tragedy as performed in the open-air theater of Dionysus. Emphasizing the interplay between natural place and fictional setting, between the world visible to the audience and that evoked by individual tragedies, Rehm argues for an ecology of the ancient theater, one that "nests" fifth-century theatrical space within other significant social, political, and religious spaces of Athens.

    Drawing on the work of James J. Gibson, Kurt Lewin, and Michel Foucault, Rehm crosses a range of disciplines--classics, theater studies, cognitive psychology, archaeology and architectural history, cultural studies, and performance theory--to analyze the phenomenology of space and its transformations in the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. His discussion of Athenian theatrical and spatial practice challenges the contemporary view that space represents a "text" to be read, or constitutes a site of structural dualities (e.g., outside-inside, public-private, nature-culture). Chapters on specific tragedies explore the spatial dynamics of homecoming ("space for returns"); the opposed constraints of exile ("eremetic space" devoid of normal community); the power of bodies in extremis to transform their theatrical environment ("space and the body"); the portrayal of characters on the margin ("space and the other"); and the tragic interactions of space and temporality ("space, time, and memory"). An appendix surveys pre-Socratic thought on space and motion, related ideas of Plato and Aristotle, and, as pertinent, later views on space developed by Newton, Leibniz, Descartes, Kant, and Einstein. Eloquently written and with Greek texts deftly translated, this book yields rich new insights into our oldest surviving drama.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2507-3
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vii)
  3. Figures
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-xi)
  5. A Note to the Reader
    (pp. xii-xv)
    (pp. 1-34)

    I base this book on the simple premise that space is a proper value of the theater, part and parcel of what it is and how it works. Until recently, the function of space has gone relatively unnoticed in scholarship and criticism of our earliest drama. Now that the subject has emerged, it usually takes the form of a set of spatial binaries, reflecting the influence of structuralism. We confront a spatially discrete world, in which distinctions such as public-private, outside-inside, cultured-wild, center-margin are applied to the spaces of tragedy. Armed with this oppositional structure, critics argue (some with great...

    (pp. 35-62)

    We can describe the fifth-century theater of Dionysus at Athens as a spare architectural frame set in a natural landscape,¹ in contrast to the enclosed buildings we usually think of as theaters. This expansive outdoor space gathered a large and diverse audience. Theatergoers arrived by foot from the city, via animal cart from the environs of Attica, and by sea from elsewhere in Greece. They made their way to the precinct of Dionysus Eleuthereus, past the god’s altar and temple, then through the eisodoi (the same side entrances used by the performers), across the hard earth of the orchestra, and...

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 63-75)
    (pp. 76-113)

    NO NARRATIVE CAPTURED the Greek imagination more than that of a hero’s return (nostos) to his home and family, usually after war or exile. In her study of Pindar, Kurke examines the “loop of nostos” that reflects the cultural imperative to achieve kleos ‘fame’, ‘renown’. Whether athlete or mythic warrior, a hero’s trajectory involves leaving home and returning with the “goods.”1 Befitting a hero who comes to question the Trojan War (Il. 1.149 60, 9.337 45, 400 420), Achilles understands that his return to battle means he will never go home:

    In less heroic contexts, initiation and marriage rituals, annual...

    (pp. 114-167)

    The term “eremetic,” from the Greek erēmia ‘desert,’ ‘desolate area,’ ‘wilderness without people’, has entered our vocabulary primarily via the monastic tradition of the Christian hermits, spiritually driven to deny themselves normal human society in order to escape its temptations and godlessness. For the Greeks of the fifth century B.C., however, no such positive valence existed for hermetic isolation. On the contrary, eremetic space in tragedy stands in opposition to the valorized space represented by nostos, the subject of the previous chapter. The association of “desert” with “deserted” indicates that a barren landscape is so by virtue of its lack...

    (pp. 168-214)

    That the body is important in establishing and transforming space in the theater is evident. InAntigone, the distant bodies of Polyneices and the entombed Antigone lead to the deaths of Haimon and Eurydice and the display of their corpses, the culminating image of Creon’s onstage desolation. The hero’s corpse inAjaxturns the deserted beach where he dies into a place of contending forces, as does the diseased, talismanically charged body of Philoctetes on Lemnos. InPrometheus Bound, the physically ravaged Prometheus and Io testify to the tyranny of Zeus but also to the instability of his rule. The body...

    (pp. 215-235)

    As we saw with Euripides’Bacchae, the body parts of Pentheus that appear onstage present a spatial nexus joining the city of Thebes (where Pentheus ruled), the distant space of Cithaeron (where his pieces were gathered), and the reflexive space of the theater of Dionysus (theprosōponof Pentheus’ head, and the Pentheus actor who later appears as Agave). Thecompositio membrorumprompts a series of private memories given public utterance by Pentheus’ grandfather and mother. Viewed as a series of objects—dismemberment literally objectifies the body—each part generates a specific recollection, the sum of which constitutes a narrative...

    (pp. 236-269)

    In recent theater scholarship, the presentation of “the Other” has received so much attention that we stand in danger of being “othered out.” Scholars dealing with representation in fifth-century Athens have proven particularly adept; women, barbarians, Persians, Spartans, Amazons, Thebans, metics, slaves, bastards, Centaurs, satyrs, children, the noncitizen, the private (repressed) self, animals, and gods have achieved (in various quarters) the status of the “Other.” For Vidal-Naquet, “every Athenian tragedy is a reflection on the foreigner, on the Other, on the double.” Whitehead thinks of the Athenian metic as an “anti-citizen,” the negative image of what it meant to be...

    (pp. 270-272)

    This book approaches space in Greek tragedy from a different perspective than those favored by structuralist, semiotic, deconstructionist, and postmodern critics. I begin with the physical reality of the Athenian theater of Dionysus, including its natural and civic environment. Because Greek tragedies were performed in large outdoor public theaters, the interplay and transformation of space emerges as an important aspect of the way the dramas work. To understand the “play of space” in fifth-century tragedy, I employ six categories as a general framework for analysis: theatrical space, scenic space, extrascenic space, distanced space, self-referential (metatheatrical) space, and reflexive space.


    (pp. 273-296)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 297-404)
    (pp. 405-436)
  18. Index
    (pp. 437-450)