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Greek Tragedy, Agonistic Space, and Contemporary Performance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 April 2018

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In this article Stephe Harrop combines theatre history and performance analysis with contemporary agonistic theory to re-conceptualize Greek tragedy's contested spaces as key to the political potentials of the form. She focuses on Athenian tragedy's competitive and conflictual negotiation of performance space, understood in relation to the cultural trope of the agon. Drawing on David Wiles's structuralist analysis of Greek drama, which envisages tragedy's spatial confrontations as a theatrical correlative of democratic politics, performed tragedy is here re-framed as a site of embodied contest and struggle – as agonistic spatial practice. This historical model is then applied to a recent case study, Aeschylus’ The Suppliant Women as co-produced by Actors Touring Company and the Lyceum, Edinburgh, in 2016–17, proposing that the frictious effects, encounters, and confrontations generated by this production (re-staged and re-articulated across multiple venues and contexts) exemplify some of the potentials of agonistic spatial practice in contemporary re-performance of Greek tragedy. It is contended that re-imagining tragic theatre, both ancient and modern, as (in Chantal Mouffe's terms) ‘agonistic public space’ represents an important new approach to interpreting and creatively re-imagining, interactions between Athenian tragedy and democratic politics. Stephe Harrop is a Lecturer in Drama at Liverpool Hope University, where her research focuses primarily on performances and texts adapted from, or responding to, ancient tragedy and epic. She is co-author of Greek Tragedy and the Contemporary Actor (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming).

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