The Classic Experience
Tragedy and Comedy 5th century BC - 18th century
An introduction to the theatre from the Golden Age in Greece to the American and French Revolutions, with synopsis of plays that most influenced Western cultures.
Included are acting techniques, exercises and improvisations.
"What is important is not your role in life but the way you interpret it, and it’s not the longest roles you must ask for, but the most challenging."
Epictetus - 100 AD
At one particular point in Pythagoras' life he and his sect are allegedly chased by angry townspeople through a field of lima beans. He has a profound aversion to the bean, and it could have been added to the original story to give it spice. Maybe he's allergic? How does this influence the way he runs through the field? How does it influence the cult members, do they help him or is it to each his own, what inspired them to join his sect?
To truly appreciate and enjoy the classics one must have an idea of the cultural context in which they were produced. However, there is so much information it's a challenge to tie it all together.
To satisfy my desire for continuity I lined a wall of my living room with paper and assembled/classified an overview of the social, political, theological, philosophical, scientific and artistic connections to the plays. Like working on a massive puzzle hunting for missing links in the rise and fall of civilizations. Hopefully all the names and dates are correct; this is not a history book. The objective was to have a birds-eye view, a chronological canvass.
The early philosophers put out the idea that men and not the gods were responsible for their actions, which had great influence over the Greek poets. Was Oedipus an innocent victim in the hands of fate or ultimately responsible for the murder of his father? Why did a witness avoid telling the truth when questioned? Sophocles' Oedipus Rex is arguably the world's first detective story.
The theatre is the most effective and entertaining way to study both the classics and general knowledge because the information is assimilated. Repetition is the key factor,
The exercises and improvisations can be applied to any subject; how much more interesting the Pythagorean Theory becomes when we discover details on the eccentric and arrogant mathematician and philosopher who thought up the equation.
- The Classical Period -
Around the 6th and 5th century BC in Greece an eclectic group of philosophers (a word allegedly coined by Pythagoras) questioned the ultimate powers of their unpredictable gods in Olympia, and used instead logic and observation to determine Man's presence on earth. These strong personalities of unwavering principles were drôle and wise and popular; they figured if they could understand the physical world through science and mathematics (the open discourse between monism and dualism starts here) they would find clues to unravel the mysteries of life.
The philosophers advanced the idea of moral commitment and personal accountability which in turn influenced the tragic poets in their interpretation of Homer's main characters. It is no longer a god's whimsey that determines the actions of the tragic hero. It is misguided ego and arrogance - hubris - that can lead people to do terrible things. Nonetheless there is redemption if one takes responsibility, as did Oedipus and Orestes. The same Furies that torment them for their crimes become The Benevolent Ones; a rite of passage through the darkness where we are purified and freed.
As societies evolved the classics have been intermittently pushed aside or revived depending on the political and social climate. As a rule of thumb whenever institutions tried to enforce the classic model as dogma, artists and writers rebelled to discover new creative paths. They never questioned the quality of the ancient masters - they wanted to find their own way. The classics are timeless and remain the foundation upon which one can learn as well as explore.
During the Classical period (Hellenism or Hellenic Period) artists, architects and poets were continuously experimenting with style and form. From its earliest stages the creative and intellectual drive for perfection was never intended to be a cannon, but a continuous quest. The element of discovery that made the classical period unique stopped when Greece was occupied between the 4th and 1st centuries BC, first by King Philip of Macedonia and his son Alexander (the Great) and later by the Romans. The occupiers continued to uphold the Greek standard, but there would be no major change in style. Instead, it became dogma.
Very general overview of the Classic Periods
507 - 323 BC
Hellenic Period or Hellenism - Classical period from the first democracy and Pericles, to the death of Alexander the Great.
The Hellenistic Civilization Alexander' had enforced Greek culture, language and classic standard throughout his empire. Not to be confused with Hellenism or Hellenic, which came before. Sculptures evolved into increased movement and extreme emotions.
Roman Empire Rome occupies Carthage and Greece Punic Wars and integrates classical art and architecture into their more rudimentary, younger culture. The Romans, who learned most everything from the Etruscans lacked a proper artistic and literary base to work with that the Greek culture provided.
5th -15th century circa
Mystery plays The Greek classical writings and philosophy were banned by the Catholic Church in Rome, as well as theatrical performances, to be replaced with dogma and liturgical themes. The comedians forced to wander Europe a thousand years, settled in Florence and opened the first actors guild.
15th - 16th century circa
The Classic Revival of the Renaissance. After the fiasco of the Crusades the popes were losing their authority. They could not stop the wealthy merchant families in Florence from funding translations of the Greek classics and commissioning non-religious subjects in art. The Church was also being scrutinized over the extravagant lifestyle of the higher clergy. The 1453 occupation of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks was a death blow to its credibility.
Classicism revives the ancient Greek standard in contrast to the frivolous baroque-rococo style in vogue at the time, especially in France. Idealism in art, plays written by Corneille and
Neoclassicism was popular during and after the American and French Revolutions, particularly architecture. The rigid style was contested by the Romantics in the 19th century.
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