Metatheatre and Performance in Aristophanes
Niall W. Slater
"Spectator Politics is a rich and imaginatively conceived study of the self-referential nature of Aristophanic comedy which envisions, often in precise detail, the original production of eight comedies in chronological order. . . . A welcome contribution to Aristophanic scholarship: original, well-informed and well-researched and, not the least of its virtues, amusingly written."—Bryn Mawr Classical Review
"Superb. . . . A book that should greatly appeal to anyone who is interested in the process of human thought and action. The themes are as pertinent to our world as they were to that of Aristophanes' audience."—Virginia Quarterly Review
"The quality of scholarship is first-rate; it is clearly and engagingly written and is full of fresh insights into a great many facets of Aristophanes' plays."—Jeffrey Henderson, Boston University
"An excellent book, lively, thought-provoking, full of insights—a book that will stimulate discussion for many years."—Scholia Reviews
Spectator Politics is the first major study of metatheatre, or theatrically self-conscious performance, in Aristophanes. Using a reception-based performance criticism, Niall Slater elucidates the comic effectiveness of the earliest surviving comedies in the Western tradition. Slater demonstrates that Aristophanes employed metatheatre not simply to entertain but also to teach his audience how to read and interpret performance in other key public venues of the ancient democracy of Athens, such as performances in the political assembly and law courts. Aristophanes was, Slater contends, the first performance critic.
Spectator Politics shows how Aristophanes' comedy served the Athenians by helping them to become active political participants, teaching them to see through deceptive performances, whether on stage or in the political sphere. His comedies use self-conscious performance to encourage the public to move out of the role of passive consumers of spectacle and to reengage the political process. Aristophanes' critique of performance prefigures much in the performance-dominated culture of the modern American political scene.
Throughout, detailed readings of the original stagings illuminate the plays for today's audiences and performers, while Slater's cultural critique provides much for those interested in Athenian democracy and its lesson for the contemporary political scene. Spectator Politics offers a salutary demonstration of the power of art to expose and resist the performance powers of would-be demagogues.
Niall W. Slater is Professor of Classics at Emory University and author of Plautus in Performance: The Theatre of the Mind.