Greek Drama in the History Classroom

During the last few days, I have used some Greek plays as part of my unit on Classical Greece. We have read excerpts from plays and though I have done this for the past couple of years, it is only this year that I have come to appreciate fully the value of these plays.

Yesterday and today, I have had my students record themselves as they are acting out a play, and after they are done with their acting, they record a discussion on a couple of questions that force them to reflect on the play. Not only do most (not all, but most) students seem to like the acting, but it also provides them with a different view of some of the themes that we have covered in a more traditional way. Lately we have focused much of our attention on the role of Greek women and some of the obvious contradictions between the development of a more inclusive political system and the treatment of women. Despite my best efforts, my regular discussion of these issues often leave the students with a relatively simplistic view of how women were treated. (Second class citizens, had no power, poorly treated, etc) But, after reading a few (school appropriate!) excerpts from Lysistrata, they were able to deepen their understanding of this issues in a way that I would have struggled to do through any other activity.

By analyzing how Aristophanes portrayed Greek women, my students were able to refine their view of gender relations in ancient Greece. The play offered an alternative way to make students reflect on how complex history really is, which is always one of my goals.  Not only does engaging with literary sources excite many students who normally do not like history, but it also offers a unique and different compliment to my traditional sources. I know that these are not new revelations to any teacher, but it is always rewarding when one can witness students grappling with historical complexity.

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