Strategies for Teaching Antigone and Greek Drama: Classical Drama

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Greek Drama in the Portable

I loved Greek Drama. I loved teaching Antigone. Everyone in the class slept–except Mr. Toughreview who was evaluating me. He fell asleep 15 minutes later. Fearing a bad review, I chopped off Mr. Toughreview’s head, put it in a sack, and stashed it in the school cafeteria where the stench would go undetected.

Days later the school fell under a curse. Birds invaded the principal’s office. The English department copy machine broke. The basketball team lost its 14th straight game. Policemen had overturned desks, cabinets, lockers, and students who got in their way while searching for Toughreview’s body. Later that day a telephone pole fell on the portable I was in, leaving nothing but my teaching Antigone lesson plans. After seeing how boring they were, the police knew it was I who killed Mr. Toughreview. “If only he had taught strategies for reading Classical or Greek Drama, this would have never happened.

Dramatic Terms

Students should be familiar with the following when reading Greek Drama:

  1. The Theater: Greek drama usually accompanied religious festivals and was part of the fanfare. The stage was built into a hillside and plays were performed during the day before thousands of onlookers. A large orchestra, located in a pit between the stage and the audience, provided music before, during, and after the performance.
  2. Actors: All roles were played by men wearing large masks, extravagant robes, and platform shoes. Sophocles, the most popular of Greek dramatists, used three actors who changed costumes between scenes.
  3. Chorus and Choragus: The chorus commented on the play’s action and consisted of around 15 men. The choragus, the chorus leader, conversed with the actors. The chorus danced and entertained between scenes.
  4. The Tragic Hero: A tragedy recounts the downfall of a dignified character, usually of noble birth. The tragic hero possesses a tragic flaw which leads to a catastrophe.

Strategies for Reading Classical Drama

  • Visualize: Imagine the play as it was originally staged or as it might be staged now.
  • Analyze what motivates the tragic hero and what makes him a nobleman.
  • Examine conflict and determine what the causes are.
  • Analyze characters and identify the hero’s tragic flaw.
  • Pay attention to the role minor characters play in the drama.
  • Don’t forget about the chorus, which often acts as the conscience of the characters.
  • Follow the reading process.
  • Determine what the play shows is important to the culture in which it was originally performed.

Lesson Plan for Teaching Antigone

Antigone broke the law. She did it because her conscience dictated she do it. Her law was motivated by a higher source, the same higher source that compelled thirteen colonies to rebel from England in 1776, and the same higher law that Civil Rights protestors appealed to in the 1960s. Help students make this connection by doing the following:

  1. Make a chart: Label the left column “People who broke the law for reasons of conscience”; Label the next column “The Law Broken”; Label the next column “Reasons for breaking the law”; and label the last column “Results of Breaking the Law.”
  2. Instruct students to research at least 10 historical figures who broke the law for reasons of conscience. Examples are Ghandi or MLK.
  3. Teenagers are kind of stupid. They will put down people like Hitler or Osama Bin Laden. To avoid such idiocy, emphasize breaking the law for reasons of conscience, and not to obliterate an entire race or gain power.

This post is part of the series: Understanding the Bard

In addition to sounding pretentious, using “the Bard” as part of the title of my understanding Shakespeare lesson plans draws attention to the fact that there is more than one understanding Shakespeare lesson plan and that you should click on the one you haven’t read.

  1. Strategies for Understanding Shakespeare
  2. Julius Caesar Lesson Plan: Analyzing Speeches
  3. Webhunt Questions for Shakespeare Online: Fun Lesson Idea
  4. Strategies for Teaching Classical Drama
  5. Teaching Summarizing: Strategies in the Classroom