Article Title

Directing as Political Act: The "Dangers" and "Fears" of Mounting Aeschylus's Oresteia in Contemporary Periods of "Tyranny"


Aeschylus’s trilogy has been the locus of directorial attention from as early as the 1980s. Presenting the play today is generally a guilt-free act of celebration and reaffirmation of Western humanist values, which foregrounds the contrast between autocracy and the validity of public voice. This essay will explore some of the challenges involved in staging the Oresteia in a world that is increasingly becoming socially, politically and culturally “tyrannized,” while still under the guise of democratic identity. Many contemporary readings have served the play’s textual dynamics, choosing, however, to update the setting of the action and the portrayal of the characters in ways that ultimately encourage direct and popular, if often reductionist parallels with specific totalitarian regimes. While for any director the enemy of literalness is always present, for the director of the Oresteia in particular, the stakes of interpreting a text whose explicit political statement is part of its appeal are even higher. Ironically, complications of a different nature arise when the Oresteia—with all its allusions to the devastating effects of despotic rule—is produced within a political context that has suffered or is essentially suffering from state tyranny. In this case, any director wishing to engage with the tragedy is probably faced with the dangers of mounting a text that inspired the birth and progress of civic justice throughout the history of modern civilization. The question of directorial ethics emerges potently when the choice to affirm and illuminate or, reversely, subtly revise and edit out certain “loaded” parts of the text, becomes a political act of resistance. Ultimately, whether through application of allegory and symbolism, or a more thorough operation of rewriting and adapting, directing the Oresteia today is a brave, if risky, undertaking, a commitment to an awareness of the special conditions that brought the text about as well as of the complexities of twenty-first-century societies, which are progressively being de-democratized.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.