Greek Plays Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

designing the stage for a play, and especially ancient Greek plays such as Euripides' Medea and Aeschilus' Agamemnon, there are a variety of important factors to bear in mind. The basis and central ideas of the play for example have to be kept in mind. These have to be reflected in the stage design. Furthermore the orientation of the designer and the audience need to be incorporated to form an ultimately enjoyable experience for the audience.

Traditionally for example violent scenes such as murder were performed off-stage in the Greek play. This however has changed and society currently has developed a taste for visual violence. These considerations are then important when designing the stage for Greek plays. Both Medea and Agamemnon are particularly violent tragedies involving murder and revenge within families. The shock effect of the events therefore provides sufficient material for visual violence if the stage designer should choose to incorporate this. On the other hand, a more traditionally oriented artist may prefer to maintain the Greek tradition of subduing the visual violence in order to focus more on the other aspects of the play. When designing the final scene of each play then, it is important to keep in mind the above-mentioned factors: the plot of the play, the orientation of the stage designer, as well as the expectations of the audience need to be considered in the design of the final gruesome scenes.


The action of Medea focuses on scarred emotions. Medea, having sacrificed her former life to be with Jason, is betrayed by his association with Glauce. Jason's emotion here is petty and self-serving, whereas Medea is justifiably angry and hurt when her husband rejects her and her children in favor of another woman. The wound is exacerbated when she is banished with her children in order to remove the possible danger of her revenge. Medea uses emotion to plan her revenge, and Jason allows her to remain for one day.

The violence in the plot of Medea then stems from her pain and disappointment. These are passionate and strong, but at the same time leaves a sense of emptiness, stemming from Jason's denial that he has acted out of anything but fairness towards everyone involved. Jason's obvious selfishness gives the audience greater sympathy for Medea than for her husband, and the murder of Glauce is completely understood and even justified.

The murder of Glauce and her father are described in fairly gruesome terms. In this case stage designers could therefore choose how much violence should occur on- and offstage. Personally, I would portray both the murder and the bodies of Glauce and her father as graphically as possible. They are killed by the poison in Glauce's gifts of coronet and cloak. Blood could then pour from the actor's mouths and skins and stain their clothing. The bodies could also remain onstage for some time in order to maintain and enhance the effect of the shock.

Modern audiences are very visually oriented, and thus the effect of onstage violence would be greater than the described violence of the traditional Greek play. This has been cultivated by films, works of art, and even the general orientation of society in terms of crime and violence in reality. Thus, in order to establish the cruelty of the murders in Medea as well as the depth of Medea's betrayed emotions. This then serves both the purpose of fulfilling audience expectation and the central emotion of the scene in the play.

The end of the play is however another matter. The true tragedy lies in the fact of not only Medea's betrayal, but also her pain. These come together when she makes the final decision to kill her children rather than let them be victims of Jason's revenge. The pain of losing them is not as important to Medea as the satisfaction of seeing Jason at least equally hurt. The shock of this is then depicted in Medea's final act of murder. Medea's tragedy lies in the fact that she did not see a choice in the matter. The shock effect is profound -- a mother is killing her own children for the sake of revenge.

For a modern audience I feel the very concept of killing one's own children is profoundly shocking. It is therefore not necessary to enhance the shock value by displaying the murder itself onstage. The nature of the murders, as well as the character's reaction to them, forms a balance between the tragedy and the violence of the play. The audience is therefore moved to pity and fear both parents and their losses, although Jason shows little remorse for his own actions. My stage design for the final scene in the play then would include the bodies of the children, but with little or no graphic display of the violence that was done to them. Both the fact that they are children and the nature of their death require a sense of discretion in order to maintain the balance of the events in the play. This would also form a poignant contrast with the graphic violence of the previous death scene.

To graphically portray the balance between vengeful violence and emotional pain, I would therefore also balance the way in which death is portrayed in the body and the end of the play. In all cases I would use mute actors rather than dummies, in order to enhance the effect and the reality of the shock.


The brutality of the murders in Agamemnon leaves little room for discretion or pity. In contrast to Medea, Aeschylus' play focuses on betrayal and revenge rather than the intense emotional pain experienced by Euripides' main character. The conflict in the former play is thus external rather than internal. Medea experienced intense internal conflict with regard to her children. Her decision is reached on the grounds of what Jason did to her and his refusal to take responsibility for it. Although he never does admit to his mistakes, Medea at least has the satisfaction of seeing his pain. This pain echoes hers, but she finds this preferable to Jason's comfortable refusal of guilt. In contrast, the characters in Aeschylus' work are in conflict with each other as a result of family rivalry.

The murders in this play are even more gruesome than the ones in Medea. The murders occur from political rather than emotional motives, and politics are at the basis of all action within the plays. The audience is therefore not moved to the emotional pity that is the case for Medea and her children. Furthermore the audience is prepared for violence by the history between Agamemnon's and Aegisthus' families. The murder of Theystes' sons is for example exacerbated by the brutality of feeding them to their father without his knowledge. I would therefore portray all scenes of murder in the play as graphically as possible. This includes the end, during which I would make the body as graphic as possible, probably using a dummy rather than an actor for the role of the body after the murder.

The relationships in the play are also based upon politics and the brutality of the action rather than emotion. Clytemnestra is the stronger of the partnership between herself and Aegisthus, her lover. He makes excuses for not being strong enough to avenge his family himself. While Clytemnestra initially wins the favor of the audience, her character is also later portrayed in a more negative light when she murders the defenseless Cassandra. This is also a murder that I would portray onstage, and as graphically as possible. This would again serve the purpose of the play in terms of violence.

The central violence in Aeschylus' work would therefore be served most adequately by onstage portrayal of the murders, as…

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