"Greek drama demands a story of origins," writes Karen Bassi in Acting Like Men. Abandoning the search for ritual and native origins of Greek drama, Bassi argues for a more secular and less formalist approach to the emergence of theater in ancient Greece. Bassi takes a broad view of Greek drama as a cultural phenomenon, and she discusses a wide variety of texts and artifacts that include epic poetry, historical narrative, philosophical treatises, visual media, and the dramatic texts themselves.
In her discussion of theaterlike practices and experiences, Bassi proposes new conceptual categories for understanding Greek drama as a cultural institution, viewing theatrical performance as part of what Foucault has called a discursive formation. Bassi also provides an important new analysis of gender in Greek culture at large and in Athenian civic ideology in particular, where spectatorship at the civic theater was a distinguishing feature of citizenship, and where citizenship was denied women.
Acting Like Men includes detailed discussions of message-sending as a form of scripted speech in the Iliad, of disguise and the theatrical body of Odysseus in the Odyssey, of tyranny as a theaterlike phenomenon in the narratives of Herodotus, and of Dionysus as the tyrannical and effeminate god of the theater in Euripides' Bacchae and Aristophanes' Frogs. Bassi concludes that the validity of an idealized masculine identity in Greek and Athenian culture is highly contested in the theater, where--in principle--citizens become passive spectators. Thereafter the author considers Athenian theater and Athenian democracy as mutually reinforcing mimetic regimes.
Acting Like Men will interest those interested in the history of the theater, performance theory, gender and cultural studies, and feminist approaches to ancient texts.
Karen Bassi is Associate Professor of Classics, University of California, Santa Cruz.