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31.1.Robinson

Oliver Taplin’s 1977 publication, The Stagecraft of Aeschylus: The Dramatic Use of Exits and Entrances in Greek Tragedy, was a watershed moment in the study of staging in Greek tragedy and of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon in particular. Taplin offered an insightful picture of Clytemnestra’s actions and character in the Agamemnon: she dominates the stage and the entrance to the palace. This paper engages with the topic of Clytemnestra’s domination of the stage from an aural perspective, showing that Clytemnestra’s control of the stage is mirrored in her control of ‘aurality,’ of who hears and what gets heard. Taplin’s insightful observation regarding Clytemnestra’s control over the threshold can be pushed to reflect on the aural as well as the visual dynamics of the staging of the Agamemnon: her visual dominance is reinforced by her aural control. Sight and sound work together to point up her control over the stage. By recognizing the aural aspect of the power dynamics at work in Aeschylus' play we are also better able to appreciate one of the most striking acoustic moments in Greek tragedy, the off-stage screams of the dying Agamemnon.

I focus on initially on the theme of silence: the chorus (261-3; 548), the watchman (34-7) and the house (37-8) are all silenced in both the presence and the absence of Clytemnestra. Their forced silence establishes the queen’s control over aurality in the play. I then consider the entrance of Agamemnon and the acoustic terminology describing his verbal defeat in his agôn with Clytemnestra (795-8; 830-33; 956-7). By way of comparison, I examine the self-imposed silence of Cassandra (1035ff) as well as her ability to hear what others do not upon Clytemnestra’s reentry. In particular, Cassandra is able to hear the supposedly silenced house and act as an aural go-between for the chorus and the audience, with whom she shares what she hears (1064-8). But, while this passage demonstrates that Clytemnestra’s aural mastery is not complete, the chorus’ continued silence and strange inability to hear what Cassandra is saying allows the queen to complete her plan. It is only with the screams of Agamemnon, which escape from behind the façade, that the chorus truly hears (1341ff). These screams, I contend, mark the culmination of Clytemnestra’s domination; her plan has succeeded and Agamemnon is dead. The members of the chorus have not interfered. But, at the same time, these cries signal the termination of her control over the acoustic space. She does not, or cannot, prevent the sound from finally escaping the house. By contrast, the chorus is able to cast off its submissive silence and assume a more potent role as a δικαστής ἐπήκοος (1420-21).

Taplin’s observation that Clytemnestra visually controls the threshold is the starting point of an investigation on the aural dynamics of the staging of the Agamemnon, in which we see that both visual and aural dominance work together to highlight her control of the stage. One of the main ways that Clytemnestra aurally controls the stage is by controlling who speaks and who is heard, by controlling silence in the play. But the screams from the skene reverse her aural mastery. And the house voices itself through Agamemnon, an act that paradoxically highlights both the culmination and the dissipation of Clytemnestra’s power. That is, she possesses a complete mastery, until the end of the play, of the acoustic space of the stage. Yet, beginning with her final dominant entrance, in which she reveals her deed and the corpses of Agamemnon and Cassandra, Clytemnestra’s control over the acoustic space is gone.

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