WHY I THANK RELIGION FOR “LES MIS”

Sing it,  Javert!

Sing it, Javert!

The theatre as we know and understand it today — essentially; all of it — was invented by the ancient Greeks. More specifically; Classical Athens.

Classical Athenian theatre was an integral part of society, and it was highly political in that it was religious. The Athenian calendar included the three major festivals of the year: Great Dionysia, Rural Dionysia and Lenaea; all cities which were named for the god, Dionysus. Classics Scholar, Paul Cartledge, views Athens as a “performance culture,” as it hosted more religious festivals (performances of both drama and tragedy for competition) than any other Attic state.

It is important to note that ALL Athenian tragedy was performed within a religious context. Antigone buried her brother (who died at the hand of his brother, both of whom fought on opposing sides in battle) in defiance of Creon’s decree. Despite the fact she was an unmarried women whose father was dead, she shunned both her duty to the State and to her family (Creon) and was wholly confident the gods would judge her actions as honourable. Likewise, Electra offers the notion that the gods will deem her actions just, whilst simultaneously, Clytemnestra begs Apollo not to punish her for killing her own son. There is, within tragedy, an almost bipolar element  in that there are two opposing sides, with no grey areas.  The tragedy lies in the fact that a resolution — a tragic one — is inevitable for one side.  Note the religious element, as mortal law conflicts with divine law.

As a woman, I am acutely aware that despite the absence of legal status afforded to Greek women who were not slaves and their imposed seclusion and separation (see Solon Laws), women were not only not forbidden to attend religious festivals (as they were from entering into legal and financial transactions), they were INTEGRAL to them.  It could even be said that women were superior to men in religious rites and festivals.  however, there is no compelling evidence one way or the other regarding the attendance of women at either the Great Dionysia or Lenaea festivals.

I could say a lot more on the subject; however, I shall close by saying as a theatre-lover, woman and even an atheist, I thank religion (or the “STARS…” in your multitudes!) for “Les Mis!”

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