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Teaching Greek Tragedy in Prisons, with Nancy Rabinowitz

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Published on Oct 16, 2013

In the second interview with Professor Nancy Rabinowitz CC's Anastasia Bakogianni asks her about her work teaching Greek tragedy in American prisons. The starting point for her was the desire to diversify the appeal of Greek tragedy by engaging with modern revivals of Greek tragedy and by taking these ancient dramas beyond the classroom.

Nancy tells us about her internship with the Medea Project: Theatre for Incarcerated Women/HIV Circle organized and conducted by Rhodessa Jones. This project has brought Greek tragedy and classical mythology to women's prisons. In the case of Euripides' Medea the women, many of whom have left behind children of their own, did not sympathise at all with Medea's predicament. The work made them see their own responsibility for their children's lives. They had an easier time relating to Pandora, used by the gods as a means of bringing evil to mankind, and Persephone, the lost daughter incarcerated in the underworld.

Nancy argues that Greek tragedy does not shy away from the difficult questions such as current explorations of race, gender, sexuality, disease and disability. She tells us about her collaboration with Fiona McHardy (Roehampton University) on an edited collection entitled Difficult Dialogues: Teaching Sensitive Subjects in the Classics Classroom (Ohio State Press: forthcoming). This book is designed to help classics teachers engage sensitively with these difficult topics.

Nancy also tells us of her work with male prisoners who have grown to enjoy performing Greek tragedy disproving the belief that Classics is an elitist subject. Sophocles' Antigone proved particularly popular as an exploration of masculinity and the father-son relationship. Prisoners were hostile to Creon's perspective, while they saw themselves more like a returning Agamemnon worrying about what the family they had left behind while they were serving their sentences.

Finally Nancy testifies to her experience that education can help open people's minds to new worlds of the imagination. She also affirms the importance of continuing to perform the ancient Greek dramatic texts thus allowing new audiences to appreciate them and respond to them in a performance setting.

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