About this project
Group Research Project: Masks and Faces of Clytemnestra
We’ve seen and/or read four different approaches to the Oresteia (Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, The Oresteia at the Shakespeare Theater, Klytamnestra: An Epic Slam Poem at the Anacostia Playhouse, and Sartre’s The Flies). Each takes a radically different approach to the story of Clytemnestra. See the ASSIGNMENT page for more details.
We have chosen to work with the speech made by Clytemnestra, in dialogue with the Chorus and the Chorus Leader, following the discovery of the dead bodies of Cassandra and Agamemnon (Lines 1390ff). This speech gives the audience insight into the thought process and emotions that led her to kill her husband and the enslaved Cassandra. It is rich in the violent imagery that we think would capture Antonin Artaud.
Aeschylus’s play tells the story of the aftermath of the Trojan War and Clytemnestra’s retribution against her war-hero husband, Agamemnon, for the sacrifice of her youngest child Iphigenia. Agamemnon is steeped in the Greek world of ritual, vengeance, and blood rites, which would appeal to Artaud’s surrealist vision of theater and its purpose. Through ritualised spectacles, Artaud argues, theater should recreate a “powerful feeling” in the audience, which he has described “the idea of the void” (Theater of Cruelty, 71). While Artaud claims that “theater of cruelty” does not mean blood and physical violence, violent and unsettling images are central to the production of this experience. The “cruelty” Artaud refers to in his work is “the much more terrible and necessary cruelty which things can exercise against us. We are not free. And the sky can still fall on our heads. And the theater has been created to teach us that first of all” (79).