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Claire Greenhalgh

Research Student

Thesis subject: Depictions of Liberty and Servitude in Ancient World Television Drama 1995-present (started 2014)
Supervisors: Dr Joanna Paul, Dr A G Keen, Dr Trevor Fear

Outline of research project

This research project aims to investigate the reception of the ancient world (primarily Rome) in recent mainstream television drama and the role played by this influential medium in shaping popular perceptions of the classical past.

My research will initially focus on a range of popular TV texts from the last 10 years: HBO's Rome (2005-7), STARZ’s Spartacus (2010-13: Gods of the Arena, Blood and Sand, Vengeance and War of the Damned), and ITV2's hit comedy series Plebs (2013-present). While each of these texts offer audiences very different contemporary perspectives on the ancient past, the broad themes of 'liberty' and 'servitude' feature heavily, particularly in the treatment of ancient slavery, the limits of personal and political freedom and the exercise of paternal authority within the Roman familia.  

Liberty and servitude also have many different meanings (political, civic, personal, spiritual, familial) within both ancient and modern societies  and the concept of freedom in particular has enjoyed a long and rich tradition in political and philosophical thought. Examining how these complex, often conflicting, ideas have been appropriated, interpreted and depicted onscreen for modern TV audiences will be a central concern in this thesis.

Although my research is still at an early stage, I have focused initially on exploring how issues like characterisation, representations of gender and slave ‘types’, dialogue, cinematic influences, narrative priorities and the visual aspects of the production convey screenwriters’ dramatic intentions. I am also examining how the extant historical sources from the late Republican/early Imperial period inform us about prevailing socio-cultural attitudes.

Finally, rather than analysing these modern texts’ numerous historical anachronisms, this research project will investigate the more relevant questions of how and why mainstream programme makers choose to depict the past in the way they do and the kinds of agendas driving their re-working of antiquity for the modern television era.

Educational background

BA Hons Russian and French, University of Durham (1987-1991)
MSc Russian and East European Studies, CREES, University of Birmingham (1992-1993)
MBA, Open University (1996-2000)
PGCE in Secondary MFL, University of Exeter (2006-2007)
MA in Classics, Open University (2008-2011)

Other background

I have always been interested in cinematic depictions of antiquity, from classic Hollywood epics such as Ben Hur and Quo Vadis? (avidly watched every Easter Sunday) to more recent adaptations like Gladiator and Agora. While studying for my MA in Classics, I began to realise how far the 'Hollywood' version of the past deviated from the known 'facts' as they have been transmitted to us from antiquity and I was keen to understand more fully the different agendas (political, cultural, social, ideological, commercial) shaping these dramatic re-configurations of the classical world. I was intrigued by what these texts had emphasised, elided, adapted, misunderstood or simply 're-written' for modern audiences. While classical reception and film has been studied extensively, ancient television drama - although it shares many similarities with cinema in its approach to depicting the past and is arguably a more influential medium - has been somewhat neglected by recent receptions scholarship and offered a potentially worthwhile opportunity for original research.