Theatrica and political action in Plutarch’s Parallel lives
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Dubreuil, Raphaëla Jane
This thesis explores Plutarch’s use of metaphors and similes of the theatre in order to represent, explore and criticise political action in his Parallel Lives. Most of the studies available on Plutarch’s use of the theatre have tended to address his understanding and employment of the tragic, that is what is defined as tragedy as a genre from the conventions of language, plot and characterisation. This approach belongs to the textual, literary aspect of theatrical production, the word of the writer, and the interpretation of the reader. Although interlinked with my study, this is not what my thesis examines. I am concerned with the performative aspect of the theatre. This envelops all the components which define the activity of the theatrical spectacle: the professionals involved in the production, from the sponsors, to the musicians and dancers, the actors and their performance, from its preparation to its presentation, the costumes, the props and the sets, the intention of the performance, the impact on and the reaction of the audience. Plutarch has two means of approaching the theatrical world. He draws on the reality of theatrical productions, showing an awareness of the technical demands involved in the creation of spectacle and drama. He also draws upon the tradition of theory and definitions of the theatre which had been laid down by philosophers and playwrights. But whether his understanding stems from a familiarity with theatrical productions or a reading of theoretical discourse, Plutarch’s deployments are consistent: they become a tool to assess morally the statesman or political body he is observing. While Plutarch’s judgement tends to be severe, he recognises the impact and effectiveness of histrionic politics. This thesis concentrates on three political structures: kingship, oratory and the relationship between statesman and assembly. Plutarch’s moral assessment is consistent, and yet he draws on different aspects and different theories to represent not only these different structures but also individual approaches to the office of statesman. While absolute monarchs tend to resort to staging, some put the emphasis on spectacle and the experience of the observer and others concentrate on their own person by styling themselves as actors. If some orators draw on techniques used by actors, they do not equally resort to the same methods but according to their character and origin, choose different aspects of the acting profession. Although several assemblies take place in the theatre, their histrionic behaviour depends on the statesman who influences them. While other studies have notes the theatrical quality of Plutarch’s Lives, this thesis offers the first in-depth analysis of the intricacy and richness of Plutarch’s understanding of theatre as a political tool. Other works have tended to put characterisation at the centre of Plutarch’s use of theatre. I propose, however, to focus on political action, revealing Plutarch’s attitude not only towards the spectacular, but also, and crucially, towards some of the most important political structures of antiquity.