The Teaching Theatre of Ancient Athens

William Shuler Jr

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This dissertation outlines the ways in which the theatre of ancient Greece functioned as a tool which generated common knowledge; the effect of this contributed to the cultural education of the citizens of Athens, but in doing so limited people’s agency to think by inculcating a restricted understanding of how to perform citizenship. Before examining the role of theatre in ancient Greece, I outline the unique way in which the Athenians understood education, or rather their word paideia, specifically as it pertains to the development of cultural knowledge of one’s laws and customs (nomoi). It is shown that the citizens of Athens looked to the tragedians for nomological teaching. The intentions, expectations, and receptions of tragedies were soaked in its didacticism. The method of learning outlined in Jacques Rancière’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster, universal teaching, is shown to be akin to the midwifery model of teaching espoused by Platonic Socrates and is furthermore positioned as the way in which learning took place both in the theatre and in Plato’s dialogues. The Platonic use of character to teach his pupils capitalised on the use of character to educate employed by the tragic poets of ancient Athens. On the one hand, nomological knowledge by means of universal teaching in the theatre is exemplified by unpacking classical receptions of the Antigone, demonstrating that there is a myriad of ideas to be learned by the autonomous spectatorship. Furthermore, there is evidence of universally taught embodied knowledge for the citizen chorus members as it relates to formulating identities of the self and the other. On the other hand, the effect of this cultural education by means of tragic universal teaching concretised a limited understanding of citizen identity amongst the Athenians; the consequence for the breaking of which became all too familiar to Plato’s tutor.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Wiles, David, Supervisor
Award date1 Nov 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015


  • Ancient Greek Theatre
  • Greek Theatre
  • Greek tragedy
  • Tragedy
  • Plato
  • Jacques Rancière
  • Teaching

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