The Lamenting Brain: Emotion, Action and the Journey of Feelings in the Actor's Mournful Art

Panagiotis Papageorgopoulos

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis is motivated by the question of how and why actors perform and experience emotion, especially in cases when the emotional demands are as extreme and urgent as in Greek tragedy. In order to answer this question the thesis embarks on two main tasks: (a) to reappraise the position, function and technique of emotion in the work of four key practitioners of twentieth century Western acting (Stanislavski, Meyerhold, Brecht and Grotowski) from the point of view of contemporary neuroscience, and (b) to trace their original paradigm in the professional mourners’ psychotechnique of emotion, as found in ancient and modern Greek ritual lamentation for the dead.
The first part of the thesis attempts to reread and reframe twentieth century western acting’s technique of emotion by adopting the radically new neuroscientific paradigm of emotion, which reappraises emotion as a catalytic faculty in the formation of motivation, decision-making, reasoning, action and social interaction. It appears that the general shift of emphasis of twentieth century acting theory from emotion to action, as epitomised in the Stanislavskian Method of Physical Actions, was in reality a shift from feeling to emotion. The second part of the thesis investigates how Greek professional mourners (aoidoi) manage to generate feelings in their audience, by simulating the symptoms of grief, while also motivated by a naturalistic stance towards the community, life and death. By juxtaposing neuroscientific, theatrical and anthropological data, the thesis concludes that both actors and lamenters function as psychagogoi and share a common basic emotional psychotechnique, which relies on building and delivering a score of emotional action that combines physiological knowledge with memory, imagination and real pain. The findings are tested for their efficiency and limitations through documentation of the rehearsal process of Euripides’ Trojan Women.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Wiles, David, Supervisor
  • Hodge, Alison, Supervisor
Award date1 Dec 2010
Publication statusUnpublished - 2010

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