'A Gesture That Reveals Itself As a Gesture: Thinking About the Metatheatricality of the Body in Greek Tragedy'
Theatre and Metatheatre
This chapter aims to question the metatheatricality of the body. Does the concept make sense, and is it relevant in the case of ancient tragedy? When the very notions of metatheatre and metatheatricality are controversial, 1 the answer will depend on the definitions we give for these terms, as well as for gesture. But the mere fact that we are asking these questions enriches our reflections on ancient drama, as I hope to show at the end of this chapter with an analysis of a scene from
... Orestes. 2 Do body movements have a metatheatrical dimension in Greek tragedy? Or, to borrow Pellegrini's definition of metatheatre in the Oxford Companion to Theatre and Performance, does gesture help make a play 'a self-reflexive drama or performance that reveals its artistic status to the audience'? 3 Does gesture show in any way an 'aesthetic self-consciousness'? 4 Given the specific nature of gestures, designated as schemata in Greek theatre, these issues are of great interest, as we shall see. Yet, the question being asked does not refer to the original idea of metatheatre as a genre in itself, like tragedy, comedy, and so forth. 5 It takes into consideration the fact, noted by Andrés Pérez-Simón, that 'scholars [. . .] have advocated in recent years the adoption of the term "theatrical" or "theatricalist" in lieu of the more popular "metatheatrical"'. 6 In other words, metatheatricality as a 'property' is what is considered here, i.e. the 'self-consciousness of enunciation,' as described by Pavis in his Dictionary of the Theatre: 1 In his Dictionary of the Theatre, Pavis (1998) presents four major definitions of metatheatre/ metatheatricality. However, the term does not appear in his Dictionnaire de la performance théâtrale et du théâtre contemporain (2017). Instead, Pavis reports it under the rubric 'autoreflexibility'. See also Pérez-Simón (2011), who revisits the basis of the concept. 2 This chapter is a continuation of my PhD thesis, Capponi (2020a), dedicated to the various relations between gesture and speech in ancient Greek drama. I warmly thank Magali de Haro Sanchez and Jon Wilcox for their excellent translation and editing of this article from the original French and for their valuable advice. 3 Pellegrini (2010) s.v. metatheatre. 4 Pellegrini (2010) s.v. metatheatre. 5 The founding work on the concept of metatheatre is Abel (1963). Rosenmeyer (2002), which we will often refer to, offers an excellent summary and a sharp critique. 6 Pérez-Simón (2011) 4.