Performing the law : the theatrical features of Demosthenes’ On the crown




Serafim, Andreas

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Scholarly analysis of rhetorical speeches over the last century has been concentrated on the “traditional” ways of approaching this kind of texts, without paying much attention to their theatrical nature. The old critical analysis paid attention primarily (if not exclusively) to textual issues such as the recognition of grammatical points and the use of such texts as sources of information about historical and legal issues. The interest of scholars focuses, recently, on the study of rhetorical speeches as performances. Although some critical approaches of Demosthenes’ On the Crown appeared over the last few years, there is no systematic argument about the theatrical features of this masterpiece.

By reading On the Crown, I emphasize the connection between law and theater and I suggest that rhetoric has its own “performativity”. The speech is a judicial performance: the speaker is like an actor, the court rostrum is like a theatrical scene and the audience that will vote for Demosthenes consists of the same people who take part in a theatrical performance, praising or booing the actors. The comic and tragic language and imagery, the use of emotional appeals (pathos) that is associated with the construction of characters (ēthopoiia), and finally, delivery (hypocrisis) are important theatrical devices, which Demosthenes uses in the speech. This report has a twofold structure: first, it offers a brief theoretical survey of the above-mentioned theatrical devices. Second, it provides a text-based analysis of the theatrical features of On the Crown, discussing how Demosthenes by using theatrical techniques in his speech succeeds in persuading the audience of the Crown trial and gaining an overwhelming victory over Aeschines.




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