Students will show their grasp of the basic understanding of the plots of three Greek tragedies by creating the stories with their bodies.
Texts: Their bodies, Greek stories
Literacies: Telling the stories in simplified versions, letting the students enact the plots by using their bodies, asking questions that allow the students to analyze the texts.
• A copy of the Festival of Knowledge: The Tragedies for each student Lesson 9.Tragic Plays Sheet
• A list of who will be in what group for the final assessment scenes.
• 3 Scripts (Medea, Agamemnon, Oedipus) and enough copies of each script for all the groups Lesson 9.Script Sides
• A copy of the final assessment rubric for each student Lesson 9.Greek Performance Rubric
Have the students walk around the room and get moving. Review the individual shape word association activity from lesson 8.
Now is when we talk about some of the actual plays that the Greeks performed. While there are many, we are going to focus on 3 important ones. Explain that they will be performing a scene from one of these three plays next week so they must participate and pay attention. Hand out “Festival of Knowledge: The Tragedies”. Tell the students that all these names are important, but we can’t write them all on the graffiti board, so we have given you this Festival of Knowledge to remember the names and the plots of these three plays. Instruct the students to write down notes as they watch student volunteers act out these three stories.
After they are moving tell them that they are going to use shape, gesture, and exaggerated physicality to act out the different roles we tell them. Have them space out in the room at arm’s length and to individually create shapes and gestures to portray these characters and the plot as we talk about them. Begin with Oedipus Rex.
• Pick a boy to be Oedipus, King of Thebes; Pick a girl to be Jocasta, queen of Thebes, Oedipus’ wife. Tell them: You are both the most powerful rulers in the world. Oedipus is the strongest and most amazing king ever. Jocasta the most beautiful and elegant queen ever. You are both very proud and very egotistical.
• Oedipus, you learn that your kingdom is suddenly cursed. The kingdom is cursed because someone murdered the old king, Jocasta’s dead husband Laius. How do you respond?
• You begin to interrogate and question all your subjects until you come to a blind prophet named Teiresias (pick a student to be Teiresias).
• Teiresias, tell Oedipus that he is the murderer from many years ago!
• Jocasta, you remember that years ago you received a prophecy that your son would kill his father and marry you, his mother. So to prevent it, you abandoned your son and thought he was dead.
• Oedipus, you were found by strangers and adopted and never knew your real parents. One day in your travels you fought an old man and murdered him and then when you arrived in Thebes married the queen Jocasta because her husband was dead. Do you think that you are maybe Jocasta’s son? How do you react?
• Oedipus and Jocasta, you realize that this is true. Jocasta, Oedipus is your son and he murdered his father. Oedipus, you killed your father and married your mother. How do each of you feel?
• Jocasta, you are so distraught that you hang yourself and die. Oedipus, you are so upset when you find your wife/mother dead that you gauge out your own eyes and are thrown out of the city.
Talk with the students about the text they just explored through their bodies. What was Oedipus’ tragic flaw? What were the major themes in the story? Can you think of any other plays you’ve seen or heard of with similar themes? Are these themes relevant in our everyday lives?
Now we are going to tell the story of Medea. We need 6 volunteers. As you read the story of Medea have the other teacher direct the students as they act out the story.
Medea by Euripedes (6 actors; Medea, Jason, Glauke, Creon, 2 sons)
Medea was the wife of the war-hero Jason. Medea was also a half-goddess, meaning her father was a god and her mother a human. At the beginning of the play, Jason has left Medea and has married a new woman: Glauke, princess of Corinth and Medea is banished by Glauke’s father Creon. Medea swears bloody revenge and swiftly sets about finding a way to kill them all.
First, she makes Jason believe that she approves of his new marriage. Medea gives Jason a beautiful gown and a golden crown as a gift for Glauke. Jason takes the gifts and his children back into the palace, not knowing that Medea has placed a curse on the gifts.
When the Princess puts on the gown and crown, she received a rather nasty surprise. Her entire body caught fire and the flesh melted from her bones. When Creon saw his daughter’s flaming corpse, he was so distraught that he threw his body onto hers and died as well. The final part of Medea’s revenge is to hurt Jason by killing their children.
The murder of her children isn’t easy for Medea. She struggles, but in the end her revenge is more important. Medea drags the boys inside the house and kills them with a sword. Jason arrives too late to save his sons. Just as he’s banging on the door to stop his wife, Medea erupts into the sky in a chariot drawn by dragons. Jason curses his wife, and she curses him back. He begs to have the children’s bodies so that he can bury them. She refuses him even this, and takes their corpses away with her as she flies away triumphant.
Who is the tragic hero in this story? What is his/her tragic flaw? What were the themes in this story? How were they similar or different to those in Oedipus? What are other pieces of art that have similar themes? Movies? Plays? Are these themes relevant to us? Why or why not?
Ask for 5 student volunteers:
Agamemnon by Aeschylus (5 actors; Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Cassandra, Aegisthus, Orestes)
Agamemnon is part of a three part story called The Oresteia.
Agamemnon is the king of Argos and is married to Clytemnestra. Agamemnon has been gone for 10 years at war with the Trojans and finally returns. Beside him in the chariot is Cassandra, a Trojan princess whom he has taken prisoner. Clytemnestra greets her husband and escorts him into the palace, leaving Cassandra alone.
Cassandra, who has prophetic powers, reveals the past and the future. What she sees of the past is a gruesome crime committed by Agamemnon’s father, Atreus. When Atreus was angry at his brother Thyestes for stealing his wife, he butchered Thyestes’s children and fed them to him. This, Cassandra says, has brought a curse upon the house.
Next Cassandra looks into the future: she says that she and Agamemnon are about to be murdered; she drops hints that the murderer will be Clytemnestra, but the Chorus doesn’t pick up on it. Finally, Cassandra says that she accepts her death, and heads inside the palace.
Soon after, the door of the palace opens, revealing Clytemnestra standing over the dead bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra. Clytemnestra boasts that she killed Agamemnon to avenge their daughter Iphigenia who Agamemnon had murdered years earlier. At the same time, she says that she is not responsible for the killing because she was just carrying out the curse that had been placed on the family by Thyestes, a generation ago.
Finally Agamemnon’s cousin Aegisthus appears. While Agamemnon was away at war, Aegisthus became Clytemnestra’s lover and he plotted with her to kill Agamemnon in revenge. Clytemnestra leads Aegisthus into the palace, saying that they will be joint rulers in Argos.
Who was the tragic hero here and what was his/her tragic flaw? What can we learn from this story? Is this story relevant to us today? What can we learn from it?
Ask: Was this a good way to tell a story? Can you relate to the characters at all? Why or why not? Did using your bodies help you to better understand the story and the characters? How?
Assign groups (4-5 students per group) and hand out the scripts (see SUPPLEMENTS for this lesson) and the rubric for the final assessment (see SUPPLEMENTS).