Experiences and roles of spectators in and outside the theatre

Experiences and roles of spectators in and outside the theatre

09 Friday
From Fri, 09/09/2022 to Sat, 10/09/2022



In Book VI of the Republic, which recounts a discussion fictionally set around 410 BC, Socrates accuses the public places where young people gather of perverting them, and this “when the multitude are seated together in assemblies or in court-rooms or theaters or camps or any other public gathering of a crowd, and with loud uproar censure some of the things that are said and done and approve others, both in excess, with full-throated clamor and clapping of hands, and thereto the rocks and the region round about re-echoing redouble the din of the censure and the praise.” (Rep., VI, 492b-c, transl. J. Adams, 1969). A relationship of continuity, if not identity, is thus established between the theatre and other places of public gathering, and the “spectators” seem to behave in a comparable manner. This workshop proposes to focus on these multiple spectatorial practices in 5th-century Athens, in order to better grasp the ways in which they accumulated, juxtaposed or compartmentalized various experiences acquired in multiple performance venues, in the broadest sense of the term.

In fact, theatergoers belonged to a variety of socio-cultural groups and subgroups (Roselli 2011; Robson 2016) and were confronted, in their public or private lives, with a variety of spectatorial practices and situations. As men (or women?), citizens and non-citizens, they importer their prior experience of performances into the theater. For example, free Athenian citizens – but perhaps also women (Budelmann & Power 2015) – possessed a common education and choral culture (Revermann 2006), and thus attended performances not as neophytes but as “insiders.” Athenian citizens, one might assume, also mobilized their political baggage as participants in the public life of their city. The characters of Aristophanes explicitly address the bouleutes, but the poet did not forget either the presence in the public of foreigners. Theater spectators were also actors and audience at the “judicial spectacle” given in the courts of the city (Villacèque 2013). They were also officiants or participants in religious rituals and festivals taking place in a public or private setting. They were fathers, brothers, uncles, sons, (and in the case of women, mothers and daughters), and received the spectacle as members of an oikos whose functions and affects were also socially determined. Finally, it is assumed that they could also interpret the performance in light of their knowledge and practice of other art forms, especially visual arts (Hedreen 2007). In the theatre, poets can thus assign multiple “identities” or “roles” to spectators – two notions to be questioned – but we must also think about the ways in which the roles of “theater spectators” could be summoned in other contexts than that of theatrical performance.

This symposium aims to reflect on these questions in a fresh way. It will take the form of a workshop with time slots planned for collective reflection on texts and methods, aiming to bring out new critical strategies.



  • Pascale Brillet-Dubois (Université Lumière Lyon 2)
  • Felix Budelmann (University of Groningen)
  • Jennifer Devereaux (Harvard University)
  • Al Duncan (The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
  • Hanna Golab (American School of Classical Studies at Athens)
  • Mathieu Hainselin (Université Picardie Jules Verne)
  • Vayos Liapis (Open University of Cyprus)
  • Christine Mauduit (PSL, ENS Ulm)
  • Théo Millat-Carus (Université Toulouse II, Jean Jaurès)
  • Anne-Sophie Noel (ENS de Lyon)
  • Anna Novakhatko (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, Freiburg, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)
  • Martin Revermann (University of Toronto)
  • Gabriele Sofia (Roma Tre)
  • Dimos Spatharas (University of Crete, Rethymno)
  • Evert van Emde Boas (Aarhus University)
  • Naomi Weiss (Harvard University)