Objects As ActorsProps and the Poetics of Performance in Greek Tragedy

Objects As ActorsProps and the Poetics of Performance in Greek Tragedy

Melissa Mueller

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780226312958

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Since Aristotle, text has been considered the essence of Athenian tragedy, while theatrical props have been relegated to the category of mere spectacle, external to the text. Objects as Actors argues that far from being inanimate, ancillary “things,” props are fully integrated in tragic text, agents that spark surprising plot turns and unexpected reactions from viewers inside and outside the theatrical frame while furnishing some of the genre’s most purely thrilling moments. Whether it’s the uncanny sword or the diachronic shield of Sophocles’ Ajax, the visually overpowering tapestry of Aeschylus’s Choephoroi, the mythically and politically charged recognition tokens of Euripides’ Ion, the canonical urn of Sophocles’ Electra, or the metatheatrical tablet of Euripides’ Hippolytus, props demand our attention. They bridge—even as they disrupt—time, space, and genre; they manipulate even as they are manipulated. Combining theater studies with cultural poetics, this book proposes a new dimension in the study of how tragic plays communicate with each other: not just intertextually, but also intertheatrically. Through their compelling presence and associative power, props provide the key to a new way of looking at the central tragic texts—and, indeed, at theater as a whole.