Metatheatre in Aeschylus' Oresteia
Athens Journal of Philology
Lionel Abel coined the word ‗metatheatre' in his 1963 book, Metatheatre: A New View of Dramatic Form, claiming he had discovered a new type of theatre, and cited Shakespeare's Hamlet as the first metatheatrical play. Over the intervening decades, various scholars have pushed the incidence of the earliest metatheatrical play back beyond Hamlet. Richard Hornby, in his 1986 book, Drama, Metadrama, and Perception, found instances of metatheatrical elements in many plays before Shakespeare and
... akespeare and likewise found it in the theatre of other cultures. Despite that, he did not accept classical drama as being ‗fully' metatheatrical. However, Hornby provided the fullest taxonomy of metatheatrical characteristics: ceremony within the play, literary and real-life reference, role playing within the role, play within the play, and selfreference. Since then, Old Comedy has been accepted as fully metatheatrical, primarily because of the inclusion of the parabasis. For many, Greek tragedies have not been accepted as fully metatheatrical. An earlier paper by the author advanced the claim that Euripides' Medea was a metatheatrical play. Now a point-bypoint comparison with Hornby's metatheatre taxonomy and Aeschylus' Oresteia posits that the Oresteia is also a fully metatheatrical play. The conclusion is that each day's plays by the tragic playwrights at Athens's City Dionysia, particularly with the inclusion of the satyr play, makes those plays fully metatheatrical. Hence, we should accept that metatheatricalism is a characteristic of all drama, not just of plays from a particular period.