Tuesday, 12 February 2008

"How different the bare limbs of the stalwart British undergraduates!"

One of the themes for research at Athens was ancient Greek drama. Ernest Gardner excavated the theatre at Megalopolis in the early 1890s. The combination of the continuing interest in Greek theatre and the appearance of new sculptural finds available for study - such as the painted korai from the Athenian akropolis - probably lay behind Ethel B. Abrahams’ research into Greek dress during the 1905-6 session (published as Greek Dress [1908]).

As part of the first International Archaeological Congress at Athens in April 1905 the Antigone was performed in the stadion (as it had been for the 1896 Olympics) and it was observed in The Times that the actors ‘were incomparably superior to most of those who have interpreted the Greek drama at Oxford and Cambridge’. The choice of venue was criticised:
The enormous Stadion, on the restoration of which immense sums have been spent and much magnificent material wasted, was never a beautiful structure and can hardly be adapted to any useful purpose in modern times, least of all to a dramatic representation.
The contrast was made with the Oxford and Cambridge plays ‘in which every detail was scientifically worked out in accordance with the ascertained usage of the Greek stage’. The report noted
the incorrectness of the costumes, the inartistic arrangement of the drapery, the negligent grouping of actors and chorus, and the inadequate decoration of the architectural background. There was, in fact, a total absence of the picturesque and the sculpturesque, although Athens abounds in ancient models and in archaeologists whose advice might have been sought to ensure accuracy in drapery and architectural detail. Thus Ismene wore a chiton like a modern petticoat, and the armed attendants, who resembled Roman legionaries rather than Greek hoplites, wore, like the other actors, opéra comique “tights”—how different the bare limbs of the stalwart British undergraduates!—while no attempt was made at polychrome decoration of the architectural scena.

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