It is said, “Aeschylus’ theatrical genius can be fully appreciated only through an awareness of the context in which these plays were performed” and the Royal National Theatre’s production of the Oresteia demonstrates this principle (Aeschylus xi). Elements such as the music, costumes, scenery, and actors in the live production highlights different relationships within the play, which allows for an audience to have a different interpretation of the plays than someone who might read the plays. With this said, it is the mask of the costume that I will focus on in this review because the mask considerably affects how characters’ actions are conveyed, thus leading to differences between the interpretation of the text and the live performance.
To understand the mask we must look at the complete costume of Greek myth. While we don’t know exactly what costuming would have looked like during the time period of the Oresteia, typically tragic actors wore a long-sleeved (xiv). The tragic mask, which covered the whole head, in combination with the costume enabled the same actor to play characters of different ages and sexes since their entire body except the hands were covered (xiv). This type of costuming was upheld in the Royal National Theatre’s production of the Oresteia, making it a good example of what a Greek myth looks like in performance, and thus a successful version of the drama.
This completely covered type of costume made expressions harder to deliver to the audience since humans rely so much on facial expressions to depict emotions. This led to exaggerated actions and gestures throughout the course of the live plays that is not picked up on when reading the plays. The actor who played Clytemnestra is a key example of the exaggeration that stems from the use of the mask. After Agamemnon tells Clytemnestra about his new servant, Cassandra, in the live performance of Agamemnon, the actor who plays Clytemnestra is able to portray shock and...
Cited: Aeschylus. Oresteia. Trans. Peter Meineck. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing, 1998. Print.
Oresteia: Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, and The Furies. By Aeschylus. Dir. Peter Hall. Royal National Theatre, 1983. Performance.
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