Performing well on a final exam

Culture of Ancient Greece class at Elon University presents parody of ‘Hippolytus’ as final exam

Marlena Chertock

MARCH, 14, 2011

A Culture of Ancient Greece class wrote, designed the set and costumes and performed a parody of Euripides' play "Hippolytus" Monday, March 14 from 12:30 to 1:15 p.m. in McKinnon Hall. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

One class’ final exam wasn’t a test at all. The Culture of Ancient Greece class had to perform a play about one of Euripides‘ tragedies for its final on Monday, March 14 at 12:30 p.m.

The play, performed in McKinnon Hall, was a parody of Euripides’ tragedy “Hippolytus.” It ran for 30 minutes.

It is important to find different ways for students to understand ancient Greek culture, said Kristina Meinking, a Visiting Assistant Professor of Foreign Languages who had her class perform the play.

“Hippolytus” is a play about forbidden love. Hippolytus does not pray to the goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of love, as much as he does to Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and chastity. Aphrodite casts a spell on Hippolytus’ stepmother, causing her to fall in love with him, her stepson. Tragedy ensues as the stepmother and family decide how to deal with her love.

Students read four plays by Euripides, a playwright from 480 A.D. to 406 A.D., throughout the two-credit class.

“The first day of class I said you don’t have a final exam, you put on a play,” Meinking said. “A lot of students dropped. It went from 33 to 25.”

But the smaller class size made it better, according to sophomore Amanda Wooton.

“I’m constantly looking for ways for students to get a sense of what the culture of ancient Greece was like, what sorts of issues came up, what did people think about, what were the roles of the gods?” Meinking said. “One way of getting at those questions would be to use the lens of tragedy.”

Students rewrote the lyrics for "I Won't Say (I'm in Love)" from Disney's "Hercules" and other songs for the parody. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

Writing and putting on the play was a good way to learn about ancient Greece, Wooton said. The process became more interactive, she said.

“I was able to understand it better,” she said. “We had to modernize each part [of the play] and cut it down. Through that we had to really analyze the play to be able to get the true meaning of what each person was saying.”

Meinking stole the idea from her undergraduate studies at Skidmore College, she said. She took a course called Society on Stage where the class read classic plays and performed them.

Plays offer a useful way to think about women’s issues, religion and the connections between tragic and comic, Meinking said.

“For this play, the students have opted to really play up the connections between tragedy and comedy,” she said.

Students included several songs in the play that they rewrote lyrics to. The songs included are “Wasn’t Me” by Shaggy, “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)” from Disney’s “Hercules” and the theme song from the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”

Reading plays in class gives students the basis, but performing a play helps students learn more, according to senior A.J. Ridley.

“You get the overall concept of the script and the theme from reading the play,” he said. “But performing it ourselves and then relating it to today, to what we can relate to, our experiences, you learn a lot more.”

***

Ridley talks about what he learned from class play

Ridley talks about learning through performing

Opening scene of parody of Hippolytus

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About Marlena Chertock

Marlena Chertock's first collection of poetry, On that one-way trip to Mars, is available from Bottlecap Press. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, Marketplace, and WTOP. Her poems and fiction has appeared in The Deaf Poets Society, Moonsick Magazine, and Paper Darts.

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