POLUS AND HIS URN: A Case Study in the Theory of Acting, c. 300 B.C. - c. A.D. 2000

April 2005
International Journal of the Classical Tradition;Spring2005, Vol. 11 Issue 4, p499
Academic Journal
Case Study
The renowned Greek actor Polus (fl. c. 300 B.C.) is said, when acting the title-role of a revival of Sophocles' Electra, to have made his performance more moving by using the urn containing his late son's ashes to represent that supposed to hold the remains of Orestes. In this article I consider the use made of the anecdote by theorists of acting and of rhetoric from the Renaissance onwards; I notice a change during the eighteenth century from approval to disapprobation, a loss of interest in the nineteenth century, and a revival--both for praise and for blame--in the twentieth, and attempt to correlate the judgments made of it, positive and negative, respectively with empathetic and imitative theories of acting. I conclude by considering the metatheatrical exploitation of the story made by Thomas Goffe in the early seventeenth century.


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