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Objects As ActorsProps and the Poetics of Performance in Greek Tragedy$
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Melissa Mueller

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226312958

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226313009.001.0001

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Electra’s Urns: Receptacles and Tragic Reception

Electra’s Urns: Receptacles and Tragic Reception

(p.111) 4 Electra’s Urns: Receptacles and Tragic Reception
Objects As Actors

Melissa Mueller

University of Chicago Press

Chapter 5 offers a new reading of the urn in Sophocles’ Electra, an object that casts Electra unexpectedly into the role of a mourning mother on the model of Niobe. Even before it materializes on stage, the urn stands for the already canonical tradition of “Electra plays,” inviting spectators to reflect on how Sophocles’ tragedy signals its reception and reshaping of earlier tragic material through props. Receptacles and their everyday function in preserving goods prove highly adaptable to the needs of tragic stagecraft and performance. Equipping both the dramatist and characters with a powerful tool for interrupting the linear flow of time, the urn exemplifies the malleability of the performance medium; its association with an actor named Polus, who reportedly substituted the ashes of his son for the empty stage urn in a 4th century BCE performance of Electra, is emblematic of the close collaboration between tragic props and reception history.

Keywords:   Sophocles’ Electra, Electra’s urn, receptacles in literature, Electra, Polus, props, reperformance, tragic reception

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