When it comes to Ancient Greek Theatre – the Tragedians were all over it. Poor ol’ Aristophanes has kind of been left in their wake! Many teaching resources are the same, I have found. When I started planning for a couple of lessons on Greek Comedy for my year 10 class, I really struggled to find activities and resources that I could use – and that they would find remotely interesting!
One resource, however, which must surely have been sent by Dionysus himself were the National Theatre Discover clips on Greek Theatre. Above is a 5 minute clip looking at Comedy and Satyr drama. I was hesitant at first, showing this to a bunch of 15 year olds (who seem to laugh at everything!) as those of us in the know will realise that the Satyrs have some rather splendid appendages on display – as is their wont. But truly, these clips are so succinct and well put together that I couldn’t censor it for them. A quick “I trust you’ll be mature about it” was said, and then I did not even hear a peep. I don’t even know if they realised to be honest!
What I love about the clips is that they are interspersed with stills from the NT’s shows of Greek Theatre, which give students some modern-day context, but on top of that, providing you have the technology handy in the room, these can be shown as part of a lesson, and you need not lose a whole hour to watching a film. Students will still have time to move around in drama.
Having struggled to find suitable activities in books or online, I decided to go free-range and make one up myself. I did not have an abridged version of Lysistrata, and the class aren’t looking at this text any further after my two lessons, so I made do with a detailed synopsis. We read this in class, then read through the structure of a Greek Comedy, which I summarised as thus:
Prologue: An introductory scene between two characters, giving context and back story to the play (the same as in Tragedies).
Parode: An entrance ode by the Chorus, where they take a position either for or against the hero of the tale.
Agon (Contest): Two speakers debate the key issue of the drama, and the first speaker loses. Choral songs sometimes occur towards the end.
Parabasis: Also known as the ‘coming forward’, after the other characters leave the state, the chorus members remove their masks and step out of character to address the audience.
Episode: As in tragedies, these are short scenes of action within the story. In a comedy, these often deal with the outcome of the Agon.
Exode: The exit song sung by the Chorus. These often have a mood of celebration, with riotous revelling, joyous marriage, or both!
I had found an Agon from Lysistrata, and building on the girl/boy competition already in the class, separated the class in two, and got them to practice as their Chorus of Old Women and Chorus of Old Men. I took turns reading the alternate lines for each group so that they could practice.
I told them that I wanted a whole group tableau for the start and end of their scenes. Unfortunately in my lessons I didn’t have enough time to really go through exactly what I was looking for, but I think if the students had more practice, these tableaux would be a great way for them to get into character. As it stands….well, let’s just say the tableaux were somewhat…wobbly!
I got them to rehearse in the next lesson, and we finished by journal writing three dot points about something they found interesting, something they like (or hate!) about Greek Comedy. I got people to share if they were comfortable doing so, and this lead to a nice discussion, which calmed them all down for the end of the lesson.
If I had the lesson again, I don’t think I would change much. I’d love to cover Comedy in more detail, but not enough time seems to be the standard these days!
If you have taught Greek Theatre before, I’d be delighted if you would share with me – every resource helps!