Plays

Agamemnon (Play One from The Oresteia)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Aeschylus’ The Oresteia is a trilogy of Greek tragedies concerning the murder of King Agamemnon of Argos, together with its aftermath. The name derives from the character Orestes, the son of Agamemnon, who sets out to avenge his father's murder. The three plays – Agamemnon, Choephori (Libation-Bearers) and Eumenides (The Furies) – were originally accompanied in performance by a satyr play, Proteus, now lost. The Oresteia, which won first prize at the Dionysia festival in 458 BC, is the only surviving example of an ancient Greek theatre trilogy.

This translation by Marianne McDonald and J. Michael Walton is based on the Oxford text (to which the line numbers refer). It follows a distinction in the original text between the lines spoken by the characters (which are mostly composed in iambics), and those spoken by the Chorus (which adopt a much freer lyric verse); here, the lyric passages belonging to the Chorus are identified by the use of initial capital letters for each new line. In addition, various expressions such as io, pheu, oimoi and others have been left transliterated from the original Greek, being (in the words of the translators) 'indications of grief rather than actual words'.

The first play of the trilogy, Agamemnon, details the homecoming of Agamemnon, King of Argos, from the Trojan War. Waiting at home for him is his wife, Clytemnestra, who has been planning his murder, partly as revenge for the sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia, and partly because in the ten years of Agamemnon's absence Clytemnestra has entered into an adulterous relationship with Aegisthus, Agamemnon's cousin and the sole survivor of a dispossessed branch of the family (Agamemnon's father, Atreus, killed and fed Aegisthus's brothers to Aegisthus's father, Thyestes, when he took power from him), who is determined to regain the throne he believes should rightfully belong to him.

The second play, Choephori, deals with the reunion of Agamemnon's children, Electra and Orestes, and their revenge. Orestes kills his mother Clytemnestra to avenge the death of his father.

In the final part, Eumenides, Orestes, Apollo, and the Erinyes go before Athena and eleven other judges chosen by her from the Athenian citizenry to decide whether Orestes' killing of Clytemnestra makes him guilty of the crime of murder.

The Al-Hamlet Summit  

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Al-Hamlet Summit sees the familiar characters of Hamlet reborn as delegates placed in a conference room in an unnamed modern Arab state on the brink of war. 

All For Love

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

All for Love, or The World Well Lost is John Dryden's epic adaptation of the tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra into a neo-classical quintet with supporting voices. The play, which the 1678 quarto titlepage claims is ‘Written in Imitation of Shakespeare’s Stile’, draws heavily on Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra; it does away, however, with the salaciousness of Shakespeare’s text, and reduces his temporal and geographical range to that of one time and place as per Aristotelian dramatic unities. The play was arguably intended to be seen in direct relation to the contemporary Antony and Cleopatra: A Tragedy (1677), written by politician and playwright Charles Sedley. Dryden’s application of neo-classical conventions and contemporary dramatic practice gives the classic love story a structural beauty and an austere power.

After Cleopatra’s desertion of Antony at the battle of Actium, not only his wife Octavia but also his general Ventidius and his friend Dolabella strive to win him over to their side. Antony, torn between the claims of duty, friendship, dignity and love, despairs when he hears the rumour of Cleopatra's death, which is not, as in Shakespeare’s version, spread by the queen herself but by her deceitful eunuch.

The first recorded performance was at the Theatre Royal, London by the King’s Company in 1677. The play’s political implications have perhaps been lost over time: absolute monarchy and the illicit love of a ruler were highly topical concerns in a post-Restoration Britain, when King Charles II’s extra-marital amours, most famously with the celebrated actress Nell Gwyn, were the subject of much anxiety.

audio Antigone (Anouilh)

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

"The body of Polynices, Antigone's brother, has been ordered to remain unburied by Creon, the new king of Thebes. Antigone's faithfulness to her dead brother and his proper burial, and her defiance of the dictator Creon, seals her fate. Originally produced in Paris during the Nazi occupation, Anouilh's Antigone was seen by the French as theatre of the resistance and by the Germans as an affirmation of authority.

Includes an interview with translator Christopher Nixon and director Brendon Fox. Also includes an interview with Ned Chaillet, a playwright, radio producer and director for the BBC. Chaillet is the former Deputy Drama Critic for the Times of London and the London theatre critic for the Wall Street Journal-Europe. He spoke with us about Antigone in the context of World War Two, the differences bewtween the original myth of Sophocles and the Anouilh version, and Anouilh’s influence on later playwrights. An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Jordan Bridges as Haemon and Guard Dominic Fumusa as Guard Francis Guinan as Creon John Hansen as Guard and Messenger Alan Mandell as Chorus Elizabeth Marvel as Antigone Alley Mills as Nanny Mandy Siegfried as Ismene Directed by Brendon Fox. Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles."

Featuring: Jordan Bridges, Dominic Fumusa, Francis Guinan, Alan Mandell, Elizabeth Marvel, Alley Mills, Mandy Siegfried, John Hansen

Antigone (trans. McCafferty)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Owen McCafferty's version of Sophocles’ Antigone is a muscular take on the ancient Greek tragedy that offers a reflection on the nature of power, democracy and human rights. It was first performed by Prime Cut Productions at the Waterfront Studio Hall, Belfast, in October 2008 as part of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival.

The play takes place in a huge hall within the palace of Creon, the new ruler of Thebes. The palace is in ruins after battle and, although the war has ended, with peace comes conflict. Antigone’s brother Polyneices lies on the battlefield where he fell, his burial outlawed by Creon. Antigone is determined to overrule him and attempts to persuade her sister, Ismene, to join her in rebellion against the king, but to no avail. When Creon discovers that Antigone has disobeyed him and buried her brother, she is captured, a decision that triggers a catastrophic chain reaction resulting in the double suicide of his son Haemon and wife Eurydice.

Sophocles’ tragedy has a powerful resonance in post-conflict Northern Ireland and this version is set entirely within the walls of a palace destroyed by war. Written in his distinctive style, McCafferty highlights the human frailties of these mythic characters by drawing attention to the family saga element of the story.

The Prime Cut Productions premiere was directed by Owen McCafferty and designed by Lorna Ritchie. It was performed by Walter McMonagle, Katy Ducker (as Antigone), Rosie McClelland, Ian McElhinney, Conor MacNeill, Paul Mallon, Harry Towb, Eoin McCafferty, Tom Loane, Chris Corrigan, Julia Dearden, Cat Barter, Barry Etherson and Matt Faris.

Antigone (trans. Taylor)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In his Guide to Greek Theatre and Drama, Kenneth McLeish writes: “Antigone is a textbook example of how to develop one short episode from a myth-story to make a full-scale tragedy articulating universal themes and meanings… The fact that her story has had such an effect on world consciousness – she is one of the best loved characters in all Greek myth – is entirely due to the issues which Sophocles draws from the myth, and to his portrayal of Antigone herself, pulled between heroic certainty and all too human frailty.”

The story of one sister’s loyalty to both her brothers, regardless of their acts or opposing political beliefs, Antigone is one of the most consistently popular plays in the history of drama. This translation, by Don Taylor, was commissioned by the BBC, and was first broadcast in autumn, 1986.

Antony and Cleopatra (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Antony and Cleopatra rival Romeo and Juliet for the title of most famous lovers in Western drama. Shakespeare’s play, probably written around 1606-7 (though not appearing in print until the First Folio of 1623), reflects the popularity of the story in the early modern imagination. Shakespeare’s play is heavily indebted to Plutarch’s Parallel Lives of the Greeks and Romans, written in the first century AD, and translated into English by Sir Thomas North in 1579.

Marc Antony is one of three triumvirs ruling Rome following the assassination of Julius Caesar. Neglecting his political duties, he lingers in Egypt with Cleopatra, a queen who sees herself as a demigod, an embodied Isis. When unrest threatens Rome, Antony must leave Cleopatra in order to solidify his power against threats from Pompey and fellow triumvir Octavius Caesar. Despite marrying Octavia, the passive sister of Caesar, for the sake of peace, he soon longs for his ‘wrangling queen’ and returns to Egypt. The ensuing war between the lovers and Octavius Caesar engulfs the Roman world. The eponymous lovers are unable to reconcile their martial defeat and its consequent shame with their hyperbolic self-images, and commit two of the most memorable suicides in the Shakespearean canon.

From its earliest audiences, Antony and Cleopatra has received criticism. Post-Restoration critics knocked the play for the way it disregarded the classical unities of drama, which stated that a play should cover one idea, in one place, at one time. With its action historically spanning a decade, and its scenes ranging from Europe to Africa and back again, the play affronted those who desired a neater retelling of the famous love story. John Dryden took it upon himself to rewrite the tragedy in his play All for Love, first performed in 1677: covering only the last day of the lives of Antony and Cleopatra, the play reaches for a grander love affair, removed from the lust, jealousy and self-inflation of Shakespeare’s play. Scholarly criticism has dwelt upon the play’s use of opposites, the imagery of instability, and the performance of gender on the early modern stage (to which Cleopatra metatheatrically refers, when she fears boy actors will portray her ‘squeaking [. . .] i’th’posture of a whore’ [5.2.219-20].

The staging of the play has long been of special interest to critics and theatre-makers alike: the play calls for a sea-battle, and a colossal monument to Cleopatra up to which the dying Antony must be hoisted. Notable Antonys have included John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and Patrick Stewart; notable Cleopatras Peggy Ashcroft, Vanessa Redgrave and Mark Rylance, in the 1999 all-male production at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London.

video Antony and Cleopatra (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

Virtue and vice, transcendent love and realpolitik combine in Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare’s greatest exploration of the conflicting claims of sex and power, all expressed in a tragic poetry of breathtaking beauty and magnificence.

Featuring: Ignatius Anthony, Peter Bankole, Eve Best, Jonathan Bonnici, Philip Correia, Jolyon Coy, Phil Daniels, Kammy Darweish, Paul Hamilton, James Hayes, Rosie Hilal, Sean Jackson, Daniel Rabin, Sirine Saba, Obioma Ugoala, Clive Wood.

video Antony and Cleopatra (RSC)

The Royal Shakespeare Company
Type: Video

Following Caesar’s assassination, Mark Antony has reached the heights of power. Now he has neglected his empire for a life of decadent seduction with his mistress, Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Torn between love and duty, Antony’s military brilliance deserts him, and his passion leads the lovers to their tragic end.

For teacher resources, visit this page.

Bacchae

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Bacchae is one of the nineteen surviving plays by Euripides, a tragedy written during his final years in exile in Macedonia. It was first performed in 405 BC, a few months after his death.

The play's action is based on the Greek myth of King Pentheus of Thebes and his mother Agave, and their punishment by the god Dionysus. At the beginning of the play, Dionysus appears before the royal palace of Thebes and proclaims that he has come to avenge his rejection by the people of the city. He intends to make all Thebes accept him, beginning with the women, whom he has filled with ecstasy and driven into the mountains. He disappears to join them there, on Mount Kithairon, where (as the Chorus recounts) his ecstatic worshippers, the Bacchae ('bacchants') or Maenads ('ecstatic ones'), dance in his honour. When Pentheus tries to have Dionysos arrested, the prophet Teiresias counsels him to accept the god, but Pentheus sends his guards nonetheless. Dionysos willingly accepts his arrest, only to instigate his horrific revenge, ending with the murder of Pentheus at the hands of the Bacchae.

This version of Bacchae is a translation by Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish. In their introduction to the play, they write: 'the play’s continuing relevance, 2500 years after it was written, not to mention its extraordinary ability simultaneously to exhilarate and discomfort anyone who takes it even remotely seriously, reflects not merely Euripides’ mastery but also the bitter continuity in human life of political and religious tyrannies and absurdities of every kind'.

The Bacchae

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

One of the greatest of all Greek tragedies – savage, comic and intensely lyrical – The Bacchae powerfully dramatises the conflict between the emotional and rational sides of the human psyche. The magnetic young Dionysus – icon, hedonist, god – returns home with his cult of female followers to exact his revenge, unleashing the full force of female sexuality on the city.

David Greig's version of The Bacchae premiered at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh, in August 2007 in a co-production between the Edinburgh International Festival and the National Theatre of Scotland.

audio Black Water: An American Opera

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Based on National Book Award-winner Joyce Carol Oates’ novella about the Chappaquiddick scandal, this tragic and beautiful new opera enthralls as a handsome Senator uses power to enchant, seduce and carelessly destroy.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring David Lee Brewer, Reid Bruton, Stephanie Buckley, Karen Burlingame, Kimberly Graham, Linda Kerns, Erin Langston, Patrick Mason, John Savarese and Rob Shacklett.

Composed by John Duffy, libretto by Joyce Carol Oates.

Featuring: David Lee Brewer, Reid Bruton, Stephanie Buckley, Karen Burlingame, Kimberly Graham, Linda Kerns, Erin Langston, Patrick Mason, John Savarese, Rob Shacklett

Bluebird

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Bluebird is a sensitive and melancholy play, composed of brief conversations and lifelong sorrow.

Taxi driver Jimmy hears about other people’s lives, just for a few moments. In the time it takes to drive them where they want to go, Jimmy hears about walking the streets, lost daughters and changing the lightbulbs by the tube tracks. He is asked whether he believes in ghosts, in love, in the human spirit. And as he drives through the night, the play gets closer to the core of his silences, to the tragedy of his own life, and to where he goes when there’s no one in the back seat of his cab.

Bluebird was first performed in 1998 at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London.

Born

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Born is a tragic epic for the twenty-first century. In it Edward Bond examines violence and terror in a dehumanised world in the terse and broken language of extreme deprivation.

Peter and Donna and a baby have moved in to a new house. The removal men have broken a mug. Twenty years later, the street is being evacuated, people piled into trucks – Peter and Donna are ejected from the room, one suitcase each. They are afraid for their son Luke, but he puts on a uniform and joins the fighting, asking questions of an ailing and silent world.

Born was first staged at the Avignon Festival in 2006. It is the third play in Bond’s The Paris Pentad (originally called The Colline Tetralogy), preceded by The Crime of the Twenty-First Century and Coffee, and followed by People and Innocence.

Celestina

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Fernando de Rojas's Celestina, originally known as the Tragicomedy of Calisto and Melibea (Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea), is a work that is neither truly a play nor a novel, but something of both. First published in 1499, it comprises a series of dialogues that tell the story of a noble bachelor, Calisto, who uses the services of Celestina, the madam of a local brothel, to help him seduce Melibea, a beautiful young woman being kept in seclusion by her parents. Using all her wiles, and with the help of two greedy servants, Celestina goes about weaving her spells, with tragic results.

The original work is generally considered too lengthy to work satisfactorily on the stage: it would run to something like nine hours. But it has been performed in abbreviated versions written for the stage, and has come to be known after its famous central character, the procuress Celestina (in Spain, La Celestina).

This translation by John Clifford was published by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series in 2004, and was first performed at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh, on 16 August 2004, as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. The production was directed by Calixto Bieito, with Kathryn Hunter in the role of Celestina.

Choephori (Play Two from The Oresteia)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Aeschylus’ The Oresteia is a trilogy of Greek tragedies concerning the murder of King Agamemnon of Argos, together with its aftermath. The name derives from the character Orestes, the son of Agamemnon, who sets out to avenge his father's murder. The three plays – Agamemnon, Choephori (Libation-Bearers) and Eumenides (The Furies) – were originally accompanied in performance by a satyr play, Proteus, now lost. The Oresteia, which won first prize at the Dionysia festival in 458 BC, is the only surviving example of an ancient Greek theatre trilogy.

This translation by Marianne McDonald and J. Michael Walton is based on the Oxford text (to which the line numbers refer). It follows a distinction in the original text between the lines spoken by the characters (which are mostly composed in iambics), and those spoken by the Chorus (which adopt a much freer lyric verse); here, the lyric passages belonging to the Chorus are identified by the use of initial capital letters for each new line. In addition, various expressions such as io, pheu, oimoi and others have been left transliterated from the original Greek, being (in the words of the translators) 'indications of grief rather than actual words'.

The first play of the trilogy, Agamemnon, details the homecoming of Agamemnon, King of Argos, from the Trojan War. Waiting at home for him is his wife, Clytemnestra, who has been planning his murder, partly as revenge for the sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia, and partly because in the ten years of Agamemnon's absence Clytemnestra has entered into an adulterous relationship with Aegisthus, Agamemnon's cousin and the sole survivor of a dispossessed branch of the family (Agamemnon's father, Atreus, killed and fed Aegisthus's brothers to Aegisthus's father, Thyestes, when he took power from him), who is determined to regain the throne he believes should rightfully belong to him.

The second play, Choephori, deals with the reunion of Agamemnon's children, Electra and Orestes, and their revenge. Orestes kills his mother Clytemnestra to avenge the death of his father.

In the final part, Eumenides, Orestes, Apollo, and the Erinyes go before Athena and eleven other judges chosen by her from the Athenian citizenry to decide whether Orestes' killing of Clytemnestra makes him guilty of the crime of murder.

Coffee: A Tragedy

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Coffee centres around the death of a child and asks disturbing questions about the history of the twentieth century, through an examination of what constitutes acceptable behaviour towards children in our time.

The play opens on a young man alone in a room, laying the table. A stranger enters as he leaves, and after a strange ballet, they journey to a dark forest together. There they meet the Woman and the Girl, accusatory and half crazed with hunger. When the men return to the daylight world, they don uniform and take up a position on a cliff-top with machine-guns, a Primus stove and a coffee pot. They are involved in an incident – to them it is hardly more than a gesture, but its alarming triviality captures the history of our century and presents the deepest of questions about ourselves.

Coffee was first staged in 2000 at Le Théâtre National de la Colline in Paris. It is the first play in Bond’s The Paris Pentad (originally called The Colline Tetralogy), followed by The Crime of the Twenty-First Century, Born, People and Innocence.

Coriolanus (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Coriolanus was first published in the First Folio of 1623; we have no recording of a first performance contemporary with Shakespeare. As a result, dating the play has proven to be a difficult task, with most modern critics placing the writing of the play in the second half of the 1610s.

Affording Coriolanus a genre is similarly tricky: it is ‘The Tragedy of Coriolanus’ in the First Folio, but it is deeply indebted to the sub-genre of ‘Roman plays’ that form a significant part of the Shakespearean oeuvre. As with Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare draws on Thomas North’s 1579 translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans for both historical detail and literary tropes.

The exploration of the public voice and the body politic in Coriolanus is immediately displayed in the play’s opening, where Roman citizens are rising up against the mounting price of grain. (It has been argued that this is a contemporary reference to the Midland Revolt of 1607, where peasants in the Midlands of Britain rioted against the enclosure of common land.) Menenius, a wise old Roman generally respected by the people, recites a parable narrating the breakdown of the body when its individual parts are not in accord. For the body politic to function, the head (here, the General; in Shakespeare’s England, King James I) and the belly (the people) must support each other.

One of the play’s central explorations, that of the battle between public and private identity, and political and personal duty, is encapsulated in the figure of Coriolanus, much as it is in other Roman figures (e.g. Brutus in Julius Caesar and Mark Antony in Antony and Cleopatra). His identity is unfixed, and manipulated by the patricians and his ambitious mother, Volumnia.

Unlike other Shakespearean tragic heroes, Coriolanus only has one lengthy soliloquy, in which he laments the ‘dissension’ and ‘bitterest enmity’ to which ‘friends now fast sworn’ have turned. As his affinity shifts from Romans to Volscians, his own identity gets lost, until he cries at the end of Act IV that ‘only that name remains’ – the irony being that ‘Coriolanus’ is not the name he started off with at the beginning of the play (he was ‘Caius Martius’ until he was granted the toponym Coriolanus, after his defeat of the town of Corioles). He is murdered at the end of the play in a bloody attack perpetrated by conspirators, mirroring Caesar’s death in his eponymous Roman tragedy. The opacity of the play’s central figure has rendered theatrical and cinematic interpretations of Coriolanus manifold in the past century especially: Laurence Olivier (twice), Anthony Hopkins, Richard Burton, Ian McKellan and Ralph Fiennes have all portrayed the general.

video Coriolanus (Donmar Warehouse / NT)

National Theatre
Type: Video

Age recommendation: 12+

This Donmar Warehouse production was recorded through National Theatre Live on 30th January, 2014

When an old adversary threatens Rome, the city calls once more on her hero and defender: Coriolanus. But he has enemies at home too. Famine threatens the city, the citizens’ hunger swells to an appetite for change, and on returning from the field Coriolanus must confront the march of realpolitik and the voice of an angry people.

Shakespeare’s searing tragedy of political manipulation and revenge, Coriolanus features an Evening Standard Award-winning performance from Tom Hiddleston in the title role, directed by the Donmar's former Artistic Director Josie Rourke.

CAST
First Citizen: Rochenda Sandall
Second Citizen: Mark Stanley
Third Citizen: Dwane Walcott
Menenius: Mark Gatiss
Caius Martius Coriolanus: Tom Hiddleston
Cominius: Peter de Jersey
Titus Lartius: Alfred Enoch
Brutus: Elliot Levey
Sicinia: Helen Schlesinger
Aufidius: Hadley Fraser
Volumnia: Deborah Findlay
Virgilia: Birgitte Hjort Sørensen
Valeria, Fourth Citizen: Jacqueline Boatswain
Young Martius: Joe Willis

CREATIVES
Director: Josie Rourke
Designer: Lucy Osborne
Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson
Sound Designer: Emma Laxton
Video Designer: Andrzej Goulding
Composer: Michael Bruce
Movement: Jonathan Watkins
Fight Director: Richard Ryan

video Coriolanus (RSC)

The Royal Shakespeare Company
Type: Video

Caius Martius Coriolanus is a fearless soldier but a reluctant leader. His ambitious mother attempts to carve him a path to political power, but he struggles to change his nature and do what is required to achieve greatness. In this new city state struggling to find its feet, where the gap between rich and poor is widening every day, Coriolanus must decide who he really is and where his allegiances lie.

For teacher resources, visit this page.

video Cymbeline (RSC)

The Royal Shakespeare Company
Type: Video

Britain is in crisis. Alienated, insular and on the brink of disaster. Can it be saved? An ineffectual Queen Cymbeline rules over a divided dystopian Britain. Consumed with grief at the death of two of her children, Cymbeline’s judgement is clouded. When Innogen, the only living heir, marries her sweetheart Posthumus in secret, an enraged Cymbeline banishes him. Behind the throne, a power-hungry figure plots to seize power by murdering them both. In exile, Innogen’s husband is tricked into believing she has been unfaithful to him and, in an act of impulsive jealousy, begins a scheme to have her murdered. Warned of the danger, Innogen runs away from court in disguise and begins a journey fraught with danger that will eventually reunite Cymbeline with a longlost heir and reconcile the young lovers.

For teacher resources, visit this page.

Danton's Death

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Danton’s Death is a thundering dramatization of the most extraordinary scenes of the French Revolution, of eloquence and execution.

In 1794, the Revolution was reaching its climax. After a series of bloody purges the life-loving, volatile Danton is tormented by his part in the killing. His political rival, the driven and ascetic Robespierre, decides Danton's fate. A titanic struggle begins. Once friends who wanted to change the world together, now these two men stand against each other, one for compromise and the other for ideological purity, as the guillotine awaits.

A revolutionary himself, George Büchner was 21 when he wrote the play in 1835, while hiding from the police. With a hair-raising on-rush of scenes and vivid dramatisation of complex, visionary characters, Danton’s Death has a claim to be one of the greatest political tragedies ever written.

In this translation, Howard Brenton captures Büchner's exhilarating energy as Danton struggles to avoid his inexorable fall. This version of Danton’s Death premiered at the National Theatre in 2010.

Delirium

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

A radical re-interpretation of Dostoyevsky’s seminal novel The Brothers Karamazov, Delirium is the result of a collaboration between Enda Walsh and acclaimed theatre company, theatre O. It was first performed on 9 April 2008 on tour prior to playing at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, and the Barbican, London.

The play loosely follows the plot of Dostoyevsky's novel: at its heart is a bitter rivalry between the tyrannical Fyodor and his eldest son Mitya over money and the affections of a young woman, Grushenka. This is complicated by another love triangle, in which Mitya’s fiancée Katerina is loved by his resentful, intellectual brother Ivan. Observing these tensions, and attempting to introduce benign Christian virtues, is the youngest brother Alyosha. Meanwhile the sinister manservant Smerdyakov looks on from the sidelines, filming the action.

In their Prologue to the published text (Nick Hern Books, 2008), Joseph Alford and Carolina Valdés, Co-Artistic Directors of theatre O, write that 'Delirium explores a world without morals, depicting the human condition in a harsh and uncompromising way. The determined brothers of the title, and their despicable father, are each driven by an individual mix of passion, intellect, faith and frustration. Feuds over women and money ensue and bad blood runs deep, as beliefs and spitefulness ignite a frenzy of emotion so strong it is impossible to contain.'

The theatre O production was directed by Joseph Alford and designed by James Humphrey. It was performed by Joseph Alford, Denis Quilligan, Julie Bower, Dominic Burdess, Carolina Valdés, Nick Lee and Lucien MacDougall.

De Monfort: a Tragedy

Aurora Metro Books
Type: Text

How far can jealousy take you? A rarely revived Othello-inspired tale of love, loss and obsessive passion. After fleeing in shame from a lost duel, De Monfort comes face to face with the man who spared his life. Overwhelmed by the lifelong grudge he holds, he tries in vain to follow the advice of his friends and beloved sister. Is his rival truly working against him or is he lashing out at shadows? As vengeance and envy take hold, friendship cracks and schemes push towards uncertainty and bloodshed. Much admired by Lord Byron, Joanna Baillie explores passions and their ability to take hold of the mind.

Doctor Faustus

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Doctor Faustus is a play about desire: for the best in life, for knowledge, power, material comfort, and influence. Faustus sells his soul to the devil hoping to learn the secrets of the universe, but is fobbed off with explanations which he knows to be inadequate. He is obsessed with fame, but his achievement as a devil-assisted celebrity magician is less substantial than it was previously as a scholar.

Marlowe's most famous play is a tragedy, but also extremely funny. It involves hideous representations of the Seven Deadly Sins, and of Helen of Troy, the world's most beautiful woman. With its fireworks and special effects, it was one of the most spectacular and popular on the Elizabethan stage. Yet, ever since Marlowe's death, it has been regularly rewritten. Its mix of fantastical story, slapstick, and raw human emotion still arouses conflicting interpretations, and presents us with endlessly fascinating problems.

This student edition is based on the earlier so-called A-text of the play, with the B-text scenes included in an appendix. It contains a lengthy Introduction with interpretation of the play in its historical and cultural context, stage history, discussion of the complex textual problems, and background on the author, date and sources.

video Doctor Faustus (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

Doctor Faustus is Christopher Marlowe's most renowned and controversial work. Famous for being the first dramatised version of the Faustus tale, the play depicts the sinister aftermath of Faustus's decision to sell his soul to the Devil's henchman in exchange for power and knowledge. Stage director: Matthew Dunster. Screen director: Ian Russell. Featuring: Charlotte Broom, Michael Camp, Nigel Cooke, Jonathan Cullen, Arthur Darvill, Robert Goodale, Paul Hilton, Sarita Piotrowski, Will Mannering, Pearce Quigley, Iris Roberts, Felix Scott, Chinna Wodu, Richard Clews, Jade Williams, Beatriz Romily.

video Doctor Faustus (Stage on Screen)

Stage on Screen
Type: Video

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, to give it its full title, by Christopher Marlowe, was first published in 1604, at least twelve years after its first performance, although the basic story of the play is much older.
Having decided he has accumulated all he can of conventional knowledge, Doctor Faustus turns to magic in a quest for greater truths. Before long, he ends up selling his soul to the devil – the famous 'Faustian pact' that has entered everyday language. Dr Faustus gradually realises his terrible mistake. He apparently repents, but finally dies, the devil coming to collect his soul, and his friends the dismembered body.
A classic that never dates
Is Doctor Faustus a tragic hero or a terrible example? It's not clear. But with its themes of sin, Satanism, death, damnation and magic, the play naturally holds great appeal for modern students, as well as theatre lovers across the ages.
In addition, Dr Faustus is a good choice for anyone studying Shakespeare, as he and Marlowe were contemporaries. Both wrote for the same acting company and influenced each other's work. Certainly, as an Elizabethan tragedian, Marlowe is considered second only to the great man himself. Notoriously, there are even those who believe that Marlowe actually wrote Shakespeare's plays, his early death notwithstanding.
Director: Elizabeth Freestone.
Featuring: Joanna Christie, Amy Rockson, Harvey Virdi, Jonathan Battersby, Guy Burgess, Samuel Collings, Mark Extance, Gareth Kennerley, Adam Redmore, Tim Treloar, Conrad Westmaas

A Doll's House (trans. Stephens)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The slamming of the front door at the end of Ibsen’s delicate and electrifying play shatters the romantic masquerade of the Nora and Torvald’s marriage. In their stultifying and infantilised relationship, they have deceived themselves and each other into thinking they are happy. But Nora’s concealment of a loan she had to take out for her husband’s sake forces their frivolous conversation to an irrevocable crisis, until Nora claims her right to individual freedom.

Ibsen’s 1879 play shocked its first audiences with its radical insights into the social roles of husband and wife. His portrayal of his flawed heroine, Nora, remains one of the most striking dramatic depictions of late-nineteenth century woman.

This version is translated by Olivier Award-winning playwright Simon Stephens, and was first performed at the Young Vic, London on 29 June 2012

The Duchess of Malfi (adapt. Brecht and Hays)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written in collaboration with H. R. Hays and intended for performance by Elisabeth Bergner, (described by the editors of the Collected Works as ‘the most famous of all the exiled German actresses’), Brecht and Hays’s adaptation of John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi was born of a tortuous set of drafts, redrafts and recriminations, which led to several versions of the script, including a Broadway staging of a version by W. H. Auden. H. R. Hays sets the scene:

‘Early in 1943 Brecht came to New York and broached the idea of The Duchess of Malfi to me as a vehicle for Elisabeth Bergner, who was currently playing on Broadway in a whodunit. Brecht and I were both fond of the Webster piece and both felt that it sprawled too much for a successful production. The idea was to eliminate the anticlimactic series of deaths at the end, tighten up the script and emphasize the implicit incest motivation of the duke . . . We began working in April 1943 . . . We had a meeting in my agent’s office, at which Mr Czinner [producer] announced that what the project needed was “a British poet”. I hit the roof and told them to take my name off the script. Needless to say, the poet was Auden, whose name they hoped would be success insurance. Brecht did not at first withdraw, but later, when he saw what was happening, he too removed his name . . .’

This version of the script, written directly in English by Hays, with Brecht advising on story and structure, reproduces a copy that was in the possession of Hays. It is complemented here by notes and letters by Brecht himself on how the play ought to be performed.

The Duchess of Malfi (ed. Gibbons)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

One of the most haunting tragedies written in the Jacobean period, The Duchess of Malfi is a violent and macabre story of lust, madness, cruelty and revenge. First performed c. 1613-4 by the King’s Men, probably at the indoor Blackfriars theatre and later at the outdoor Globe playhouse, this text is based on the only authoritative extant edition, the first quarto of 1623.

Webster adapts the true story of a noble Italian widow, the eponymous Duchess, who secretly marries her steward, Antonio, and bears his children. Her two corrupt brothers, Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria, and the Cardinal, enraged by this act of female self-determination across class boundaries, begin to spy on the family in a conspiracy against her happiness that ends in psychological torture, mutilation and murder.

While following many of the conventions of revenge tragedy (like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it employs a courtly setting, surveillance, a malcontent), The Duchess of Malfi affords its protagonists a psychological depth that has prompted discussions, amongst others, of incest and lycanthropy. Nevertheless, it also contains some of the most memorable props of the early modern stage, including the waxwork ‘bodies’ of the Duchess’ family, and a poisoned Bible.

Unlike his sources, Webster does not condemn the Duchess for lasciviousness – she remains one of the most fascinating and complex female characters of the early modern stage. She exercises power politically and domestically, and is sexually autonomous: she takes the active role in her wooing of Antonio, refusing to bow down to her brothers’ prescriptive demands of her heart and body. She has been regarded as an archetypal Protestant martyr against the tyranny of Catholic Europe, such as was celebrated in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563).

The Duchess of Malfi is one of the major tragedies of the period and continues to prompt both new adaptations and critical interpretations. It has had a long and successful stage history, and was played by candlelight as the inaugural production at the Sam Wanamaker playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London (2014), an indoor playing space designed to replicate the early seventeenth-century Blackfriars theatre, a little way across the river from where the Globe now stands.

video The Duchess of Malfi (Stage on Screen)

Stage on Screen
Type: Video

The Duchess of Malfi is a popular choice as a set text, despite (or perhaps because of) the violence and horror of its later scenes. Generally considered to be the masterpiece of Jacobean playwright John Webster, it was first produced in around 1613. It’s a macabre tragedy, based on actual events, and tends to be either loved or hated by critics – while consistently captivating audiences across the centuries.
Set in Italy in the early fifteenth century, it starts out as a love story, with the Duchess marrying beneath her class. However, her two brothers, one cool and corrupt, the other secretly violent and warped, have other ideas. With incredible plot twists along the way, the play ends as an utter tragedy, as the brothers take revenge on her, destroying themselves in the process.
Dark, complex…and feminist?
The main themes of The Duchess of Malfi include revenge and corruption. It also looks at the status of women in society - Webster’s use of a strong, virtuous woman as the central character was rare for the time.
The play was originally written for and performed by The King’s Men, the same company which Shakespeare belonged to. Indeed, this Jacobean classic makes an interesting text to study in comparison to many of Shakespeare’s works.
The language is poetic, and subtle at times, but infinitely rewarding. Its complex characters are also rewarding to watch, as the play develops towards the highly dramatic climax.
Director: Elizabeth Freestone.
Featuring: Peter Bankolé, Edmund Kingsley, Tim Treloar, Mark Hadfield, Tim Steed, Richard Bremmer, Conrad Westmaas, James Wallace, Aislín McGuckin, Harvey Virdi, Brigid Zengeni, Maxwell Hutcheon.

The Duchess of Padua

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Duchess of Padua is a tragic melodrama that centres around a young man named Guido Ferranti who has come to Padua to learn the secret of his birth. There he is told that his father's life was ruined by the current duke of Padua; Guido is convinced that he should revenge his father's life by murdering the duke. He agrees at first to undertake this mission, but later balks at the task, only for it to be carried out by his lover, Beatrice, the wife of the murdered Duke. The play ends in further bloodshed, with the double suicide of the lovers.

The Duchess of Padua, written in 1883, is Oscar Wilde's second play. Written for, but ultimately rejected by, the American actress Mary Anderson, it finally premiered anonymously at the Broadway Theatre in New York.

Edward II

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

When the courageous and impressive Edward I dies, his son, Edward II, is a disappointing successor. He prefers domestic tasks to waging wars, and he prefers men to women. However, Edward I’s death is good news for Piers Gaveston, who has been exiled and is now allowed to return to England under the young Edward’s wishes. The new King bestows extravagant favours upon Gaveston, including the protection of his life, while his sovereign duties are neglected. Not everyone is as smitten with Gaveston as the King, however, and the King’s nobles pressure Edward to banish the favourite to Ireland. It is Edward’s Queen, Isabella of France, who will only be satisfied with Gaveston’s murder.

Based on Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587) and set in early fourteenth century England, Marlowe’s play is a portrait of a flawed monarch, driven by his animal passions and by an overwhelming romantic obsession.

Copyright © 1997 A & C Black Publishers Limited

Electra (Sophocles)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Electra is a story of revenge, of children on their mother, and the grief and fury of a woman when her filial duties are split down the middle.

When the victorious King Agamemnon returns from Troy, carting his new mistress Cassandra in tow, his wife Clytemnestra murders him. This initial act of revenge sparks off a long held grudge, kindled in the exiled and presumed dead Orestes, twin brother of Electra.

In his introduction, J. Michael Walton writes that 'Electra has fed on her hate, absorbing humiliation almost with relish. As the play progresses, so her passion is revealed as having dimensions.' It is these dimensions, rather than the moral conundrum of matricide, which Sophocles brings to life so starkly in his version of the well-known Greek myth.

Elektra (Euripides)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Elektra is a story of revenge, of children on their mother, and the grief and fury of a woman when her filial duties are split down the middle.

When the victorious King Agamemnon returns from Troy, carting his new mistress Cassandra in tow, his wife Clytemnestra murders him. This initial act of revenge sparks off a long held grudge, kindled in the exiled and presumed dead Orestes, twin brother of Elektra.

Just like Sophocles, Euripides was inspired by Aeschylus's great tragic cycle, the Oresteia. Unlike Sophocles (whose focus was a battered and vilified victim of circumstance, fully justified in seeking revenge), Euripides paints a character with a more confused mindset, one who cannot be fully trusted, not even by her returning twin and brother-in-arms. Euripides allows no easy judgement, forcing his audience to pick over the bones of a moral dilemma, as bloody as it is tragic.

Eumenides (Play Three from The Oresteia)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Aeschylus’ The Oresteia is a trilogy of Greek tragedies concerning the murder of King Agamemnon of Argos, together with its aftermath. The name derives from the character Orestes, the son of Agamemnon, who sets out to avenge his father's murder. The three plays – Agamemnon, Choephori (Libation-Bearers) and Eumenides (The Furies) – were originally accompanied in performance by a satyr play, Proteus, now lost. The Oresteia, which won first prize at the Dionysia festival in 458 BC, is the only surviving example of an ancient Greek theatre trilogy.

This translation by Marianne McDonald and J. Michael Walton is based on the Oxford text (to which the line numbers refer). It follows a distinction in the original text between the lines spoken by the characters (which are mostly composed in iambics), and those spoken by the Chorus (which adopt a much freer lyric verse); here, the lyric passages belonging to the Chorus are identified by the use of initial capital letters for each new line. In addition, various expressions such as io, pheu, oimoi and others have been left transliterated from the original Greek, being (in the words of the translators) 'indications of grief rather than actual words'.

The first play of the trilogy, Agamemnon, details the homecoming of Agamemnon, King of Argos, from the Trojan War. Waiting at home for him is his wife, Clytemnestra, who has been planning his murder, partly as revenge for the sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia, and partly because in the ten years of Agamemnon's absence Clytemnestra has entered into an adulterous relationship with Aegisthus, Agamemnon's cousin and the sole survivor of a dispossessed branch of the family (Agamemnon's father, Atreus, killed and fed Aegisthus's brothers to Aegisthus's father, Thyestes, when he took power from him), who is determined to regain the throne he believes should rightfully belong to him.

The second play, Choephori, deals with the reunion of Agamemnon's children, Electra and Orestes, and their revenge. Orestes kills his mother Clytemnestra to avenge the death of his father.

In the final part, Eumenides, Orestes, Apollo, and the Erinyes go before Athena and eleven other judges chosen by her from the Athenian citizenry to decide whether Orestes' killing of Clytemnestra makes him guilty of the crime of murder.

Faust: Part One

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Goethe's Faust is a two-part retelling of the story of Faust, the learned doctor who makes a pact with the Devil to obtain magical powers, but is finally carried off to hell when the Devil comes to claim his soul.

The work occupied Goethe during the whole of his creative life: he began work on it in about 1772-5; published a first fragment of it in 1790, then the whole of Part One in 1808; saw the first performance of Part One in Brunswick in 1829; and was still making minor revisions to Part Two shortly before his death in March 1832.

The two parts of the original are full of meandering plotlines and inconsistencies. Although Faust is written in dialogue form, it appears that Goethe did not intend it to be a play at all. John Clifford, the translator of this version, describes it in his introduction to the Nick Hern Books edition (published 2006) as 'a poetic autobiography and epic-dramatic confession'.

Clifford's task as translator, he writes, was to 'shorten the text, reducing it to a manageable length without compromising the richness and complexity of the journey; make abstractions vivid and fill them with life; discover a form of verse that would be faithful to Goethe's poetic spirit without reproducing his very literary and non-dramatic forms; reduce the worst of the meanderings and dead ends and discover a theatrical through-line that holds the whole journey together.'

The resulting version aims to be true to the spirit of Goethe's work, while also reflecting Clifford's own creative and personal life, including his identity as a transgendered person (he subsequently changed his name to Jo Clifford), and the traumatic loss to cancer of his lifelong partner, Sue Innes, in the course of working on this translation. 'While I hope the result is true to the spirit of Goethe's work,' he writes in his introduction, 'it is also most intimately autobiographical'.

This version was first performed at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, on 28 February 2006 (Part One) and on 1 March 2006 (Part Two). The production was directed by Mark Thomson and designed by Francis O'Connor.

Faust: Part Two

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Goethe's Faust is a two-part retelling of the story of Faust, the learned doctor who makes a pact with the Devil to obtain magical powers, but is finally carried off to hell when the Devil comes to claim his soul.

The work occupied Goethe during the whole of his creative life: he began work on it in about 1772-5; published a first fragment of it in 1790, then the whole of Part One in 1808; saw the first performance of Part One in Brunswick in 1829; and was still making minor revisions to Part Two shortly before his death in March 1832.

The two parts of the original are full of meandering plotlines and inconsistencies. Although Faust is written in dialogue form, it appears that Goethe did not intend it to be a play at all. John Clifford, the translator of this version, describes it in his introduction to the Nick Hern Books edition (published 2006) as 'a poetic autobiography and epic-dramatic confession'.

Clifford's task as translator, he writes, was to 'shorten the text, reducing it to a manageable length without compromising the richness and complexity of the journey; make abstractions vivid and fill them with life; discover a form of verse that would be faithful to Goethe's poetic spirit without reproducing his very literary and non-dramatic forms; reduce the worst of the meanderings and dead ends and discover a theatrical through-line that holds the whole journey together.'

The resulting version aims to be true to the spirit of Goethe's work, while also reflecting Clifford's own creative and personal life, including his identity as a transgendered person (he subsequently changed his name to Jo Clifford), and the traumatic loss to cancer of his lifelong partner, Sue Innes, in the course of working on this translation. 'While I hope the result is true to the spirit of Goethe's work,' he writes in his introduction, 'it is also most intimately autobiographical'.

This version was first performed at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, on 28 February 2006 (Part One) and on 1 March 2006 (Part Two). The production was directed by Mark Thomson and designed by Francis O'Connor.

A Florentine Tragedy

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A Florentine Tragedy is a tragedy in blank-verse set in the sixteenth century. It tells the story of the illicit love between a burgher's wife, Bianca, and the young heir to the throne of Florence, Guido. Guido has come to the house of the burgher Simone to claim Bianca for his own. Encouraged by her, Guido promises a fortune to Simone in exchange for her hand. Simone, though greedy for the money, is not to be swayed so easily, and a fight to the death ensues.

Written in 1894, A Florentine Tragedy exists only as a fragment, often accompanied for the purposes of presentation by an opening scene commissioned from the Irish poet Thomas Sturge Moore by Robert Ross, Wilde's literary executor. Only Oscar Wilde's work is presented here.

Fury

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Phoebe Eclair-Powell's play Fury is a modern-day version of the Medea story, exploring issues around motherhood and class and focussing on the predicament of a young single mum in London. It was the winner of the Soho Theatre Young Writer's Award, and was first performed at Soho Theatre, London, on 5 July 2016 in a co-production by Soho Theatre and Damsel Productions.

The play's action is free-flowing, partly narrated and constantly commented on by a three-strong Chorus comprising Woman, Man and Fury (who also play additional roles in the action). Sam is struggling as a single parent in south-east London with her two young sons since Rob left her. Tom, a master's student who plays his music too loudly, rents the flat above, the one Sam cleans. If they can come to 'an arrangement', he won't report her to Social Services.

In a 'Note on the Play' in the published script, Eclair-Powell states that 'The Chorus act like every Greek chorus should – they ask us to bear witness. But this Chorus also manipulates our understanding of the story unravelling before us. They shape our idea of Sam and our sense of judgement. They are a three-headed hydra – with slight differences in allegiance. Fury is more on Sam’s side, Man is on the fence – sometimes playful, sometimes vengeful – and Woman is the least sympathetic – perhaps she has seen this all before and she’s tired of it. When the Chorus speak they take over – they infiltrate the stage and enhance the theatrical journey. They should be supported by music and underscore – they take us out of naturalism and into something far more heightened.'

The Soho Theatre production was directed by Hannah Hauer-King and designed by Anna Reid, with Sarah Ridgeway as Sam, Alex Austin as Tom, Naana Agyei-Ampadu as Woman, Daniel Kendrick as Man and Anita-Joy Uwajeh as Fury.

Good

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A story about a liberal-minded university professor who drifts well-meaningly into a position in the upper reaches of the Nazi administration, Good is a profound and alarming examination of passivity and the rationalisation of evil.

John Halder, a professor of literature, seems to be a good man; he diligently visits his blind and senile mother and looks after his vacant wife and three children. He is unremarkable, other than an unusual neurotic tic: the imaginary sound of band music plays in the background of his life, particularly at moments of high emotion. But by writing a book – the result of his own experience – discussing euthanasia for senile elderly people and by lecturing on the delicacy of German literary culture, John has unintentionally made himself a very desirable acquisition for the Nazi party.

By rationalised and intellectually reasoned steps he is absorbed into the direction of the death camps, a transformation all the more chilling because it does not seem dramatic, until the last horrible resounding note of the play.

Good is a structured stream of consciousness, punctured by the musical medley that plays inside Halder’s head. The first production was staged at the London Warehouse in 1982.

audio Hamlet

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Shakespeare’s timeless story of revenge, corruption, and murder is considered one of the greatest works in the English language. Prince Hamlet sets out to avenge his beloved father's death at the hand of his uncle Claudius — but Hamlet's spiral into grief and madness will have permanent and immutable consequences for the Kingdom of Denmark. Composed over 400 years ago, Hamlet remains one of the theater’s most studied and performed works, and is presented here in a stunning, sound-rich full-cast recording.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Josh Stamberg as Hamlet Stephen Collins as King Claudius JoBeth Williams as Queen Gertrude Stacy Keach as Ghost Alan Mandell as Polonius Emily Swallow as Ophelia JD Cullum as Laertes Matthew Wolf as Horatio Mark Capri as Ambassador and others Josh Clark as Gravedigger, Voltemand and others Henri Lubatti as Rosencrantz and others Jon Matthews as Guildenstern and others Darren Richardson as Player Queen and others André Sogliuzzo as Reynaldo and others Directed by Martin Jarvis. Recorded at the Invisible Studios, West Hollywood in August, 2011.

Featuring: Mark Capri, Josh Clark, Stephen Collins, JD Cullum, Stacy Keach, Henri Lubatti, Alan Mandell, Jon Matthews, Darren Richardson, Andre Sogliuzzo, Josh Stamberg, Emily Swallow, JoBeth Williams, Matthew Wolf

video Hamlet (Globe on Screen 2)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

Encompassing political intrigue and sexual obsession, philosophical reflection and violent action, tragic depth and wild humour, Hamlet is a colossus in the story of the English language and the fullest expression of Shakespeare's genius.

Learning of his father's death, Prince Hamlet comes home to find his uncle married to his mother and installed on the Danish throne. At night, the ghost of the old king demands that Hamlet avenge his 'foul and most unnatural murder'.

video Hamlet (Maxine Peake as Hamlet)

Genesius Pictures
Type: Video

Shakespeare’s most iconic work, HAMLET explodes with big ideas and is the ultimate story of loyalty, love, betrayal, murder and madness. Hamlet’s father is dead and Denmark has crowned Hamlet’s uncle the new king. Consumed by grief, Hamlet struggles to exact revenge, with devastating consequences.
From its sell-out run at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre comes the film version of their unique and critically acclaimed production, with BAFTA-nominee Maxine Peake in the title role. This ground breaking stage production, directed by Sarah Frankcom, was the Royal Exchange Theatre’s fastest-selling show in a decade.
HAMLET is brought to cinemas and DVD by film director Margaret Williams whose Written on Skin (Royal Opera House/BBC) won many awards including the Dispason d’Or. The film version of HAMLET is produced by Anne Beresford and Debbie Gray, the team behind the highly praised Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh beach, which Margaret also directed. Hamlet MAXINE PEAKE; Claudius/Ghost JOHN SHRAPNEL; Gertrude BARBARA MARTEN; Polonia GILLIAN BEVAN; Horatio THOMAS ARNOLD; Laertes ASHLEY ZHANGAZHA; Ophelia KATIE WEST; Marcella/Player King CLAIRE BENEDICT; Guildenstern PETER SINGH; Rosencrantz/2nd Gravedigger JODIE McNEE; Margaret/1st Grave Digger MICHELLE BUTTERLY; Bernardo/Osric/Player Queen BEN STOTT; Francisco/Reynaldo/Priest TACHIA NEWALL; Lucianus DEAN GREGORY; young company LEYLA PERCIVAL, NATASHA HYLTON, MATT BOYLAN; children LILY-BLOSSOM TAIT, LARA PROCTER, JAMES PRENTICE, JACOB RICHARDS. Directed for the stage by Sarah Frankcom and for the screen by Margaret Williams.

video Hamlet (NT)

National Theatre
Type: Video

Age recommendation: 12+

This production was recorded through National Theatre Live on 9th December, 2010.

Director Nicholas Hytner offers a detailed political, social and psychological context to Hamlet's dilemma: whether or not to avenge the death of his father.

Rory Kinnear plays Hamlet in this dynamic production of Shakespeare’s complex and profound play about the human condition. His performance earned him an Evening Standard Award.

CAST
Hamlet: Rory Kinnear
Barnado: Michael Peavoy
Francisco: Matthew Barker
Horatio: Giles Terera
Marcellus: Marcus Cunningham
Ghost of the Late King: James Laurenson
Claudius: Patrick Malahide
Voltemand: James Pearse
Priest: Leo Staar
Laertes: Alex Lanipekun
Polonius: David Calder
Gertrude: Clare Higgins
Cornelia: Ellie Turner
Reynaldo: Victor Power
Rosencrantz: Ferdinand Kingsley
Guildenstern: Prasanna Puwanarajah
Player Queen: Saskia Portway
Lucianus: Michael Sheldon
Fortinbras: Jake Fairbrother
Osric: Nick Sampson
Messenger: Zara Tempest-Walters
Ophelia: Ruth Nega
Gravedigger: David Calder
English Ambassador: Michael Sheldon
Captain in Fortinbras' army: Matthew Barker
Player King: James Laurenson

CREATIVES
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Designer: Vicki Mortimer
Lighting Designer: Jon Clark
Composer: Alex Baranowski
Sound Designer: Paul Groothuis
Fight Director: Kate Waters

video Hamlet (RSC)

The Royal Shakespeare Company
Type: Video

Hamlet has the world at his feet. Young, wealthy and living a hedonistic life studying abroad. Then word reaches him that his father is dead. Returning home he finds his world is utterly changed, his certainties smashed and his home a foreign land. Struggling to understand his place in a new world order he faces a stark choice. Submit, or rage against the injustice of his new reality. Simon Godwin (The Two Gentlemen of Verona 2014) directs Paapa Essiedu as Hamlet in Shakespeare's searing tragedy. As relevant today as when it was written, Hamlet confronts each of us with the mirror of our own mortality in an imperfect world.

For teacher resources, visit this page.

Hamlet (The First Folio, 1623, Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the 400 years following its composition, Hamlet has become enshrined amongst the classic plays of Western literature. Written about by luminaries from Samuel Johnson to Sigmund Freud, from Voltaire to T.S. Eliot, the study of Hamlet has engrossed great minds since its inception.

Simultaneously, the role of Hamlet is considered both the pinnacle and the challenge of an actor’s career, as he strives to take his place amongst classic Hamlets of the past such as Richard Burbage, David Garrick, and Laurence Olivier. Hamlet continues to fascinate readers and audiences to this day, as each new generation discovers that, in the words of critic William Hazlitt, ‘it is we who are Hamlet’.

In the wake of his father’s death and his uncle’s ascension to the throne, Prince Hamlet has struggled with his grief, as well as his sense of outrage over his mother Gertrude’s quick remarriage to Hamlet’s uncle, the new king. When Hamlet’s father appears to him as a ghost to reveal that he was, in fact, murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, the prince sets himself on an ultimately tragic path towards vengeance.

William Shakespeare’s play emerged from the classical tradition of revenge tragedy, which enjoyed a particular popularity around the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the play was first written and performed. Its first performances were probably staged by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company at the time. Although it shares certain plot similarities with other revenge tragedies – a secret murder, a ghostly apparition, a bloody resolution – the ambiguities of Hamlet allow it to defy strict classification, enabling every actor, reader, or theatregoer to consider the play anew upon each new reading or viewing. The straightforward story of a son determined to avenge his father’s murder is complicated and enhanced by the many questions that arise throughout the play regarding unanswered plot points as well as philosophical conundrums.

Due to the survival of three early, distinct versions of the text of Hamlet, the process of editing Hamlet has required its editors to consider which of the texts – known as Quarto 1 (Q1), Quarto 2 (Q2), or Folio (F) – is truly ‘authoritative’. For the Arden Third Series edition of Hamlet, editors Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor chose to reject the traditions of elevating one text above the others or creating a composite text from all three versions. Instead, Arden offers clear, modernised versions of all three texts.

The text presented here is taken from the 1623 First Folio, a collection of thirty-six Shakespeare plays collated by John Heminges and Henry Condell (two actors from Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men), where it appears as The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke. It is the longest play in the Folio, and, although 4% shorter than Q2, it contains 1,914 words not found in Q2. It has been argued that this version is from a copy prepared for performance, possibly by Shakespeare and fellow company members, as the play contains fuller and more systematic stage directions than Q1 and Q2. It has been posited that F is based partly on a copy of Q2 annotated in the playhouse or after performance, and thus is authoritative given its derivation from the authorial ‘foul papers’ theorised to be the basis of Q2. Character names and the placing of key soliloquies are on the whole consistent between Q2 and F, although F lacks Hamlet’s final soliloquy in Q2, ‘How all occasions do inform against me...’, in which he decides once and for all to ‘be bloody’.

Hamlet (The First Quarto, 1603, Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the 400 years following its composition, Hamlet has become enshrined amongst the classic plays of Western literature. Written about by luminaries from Samuel Johnson to Sigmund Freud, from Voltaire to T.S. Eliot, the study of Hamlet has engrossed great minds since its inception.

Simultaneously, the role of Hamlet is considered both the pinnacle and the challenge of an actor’s career, as he strives to take his place amongst classic Hamlets of the past such as Richard Burbage, David Garrick, and Laurence Olivier. Hamlet continues to fascinate readers and audiences to this day, as each new generation discovers that, in the words of critic William Hazlitt, ‘it is we who are Hamlet’.

In the wake of his father’s death and his uncle’s ascension to the throne, Prince Hamlet has struggled with his grief, as well as his sense of outrage over his mother Gertrude’s quick remarriage to Hamlet’s uncle, the new king. When Hamlet’s father appears to him as a ghost to reveal that he was, in fact, murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, the prince sets himself on an ultimately tragic path towards vengeance.

William Shakespeare’s play emerged from the classical tradition of revenge tragedy, which enjoyed a particular popularity around the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the play was first written and performed. Its first performances were probably staged by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company at the time. Although it shares certain plot similarities with other revenge tragedies – a secret murder, a ghostly apparition, a bloody resolution – the ambiguities of Hamlet allow it to defy strict classification, enabling every actor, reader, or theatregoer to consider the play anew upon each new reading or viewing. The straightforward story of a son determined to avenge his father’s murder is complicated and enhanced by the many questions that arise throughout the play regarding unanswered plot points as well as philosophical conundrums.

Due to the survival of three early, distinct versions of the text of Hamlet, the process of editing Hamlet has required its editors to consider which of the texts – known as Quarto 1 (Q1), Quarto 2 (Q2), or Folio (F) – is truly ‘authoritative’. For the Arden Third Series edition of Hamlet, editors Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor chose to reject the traditions of elevating one text above the others or creating a composite text from all three versions. Instead, Arden offers clear, modernised versions of all three texts.

‘The Tragicall Historie of HAMLET Prince of Denmarke, printed in quarto version (Q1) in 1603, is often known as the ‘bad’ quarto due to its significant differences from both the Q2 and F texts, rendering it ‘artistically inferior’ in the eyes of some readers. The plot, though essentially the same as in the older versions, is much abridged – Q2 is 79% longer than Q1. Several characters names are reworked: ‘Gertred’, ‘Leartes’, ‘Ofelia’, ‘Rossencraft’, ‘Gilderstone’, ‘Voltemar’, ‘Cornelia’ and ‘Fortenbrasse’ are all recognisable alternate spellings of characters familiar from Q2, whilst Polonius and his man Reynaldo undergo a sea-change to become ‘Corambis’ and ‘Montano’ respectively. In addition, many iconic monologues, particularly ‘To be or not to be’, will seem odd, both in position and wording, to readers familiar with Q2 and F. Q1 also includes an important scene between Gertred and Horatio, absolving the queen from knowledge of her new husband’s guilt, that does not appear in either of the other versions of the texts. Since its discovery in 1823, many theories have been posited regarding Q1, with some readers suggesting that it is a ‘first draft’ of the play, others that it is a ‘memorial reconstruction’ compiled from players’ memories, and still others that it is a theatrical abridgement, Q2 and F both being too long to have comfortably appeared on the early Jacobean stage as ‘two hours’ traffic’ (though in recent years the duration of early modern performances has been disputed as anywhere between two hours and up to three and a quarter hours long). Q1’s unique stage directions have, since the quarto’s discovery, become standardised: despite only appearing in Q1, stage business such as Ophelia’s mad lute-playing and Hamlet and Laertes jumping into the grave have become iconic moments in the play.

Hamlet (The Second Quarto, 1604-05, Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the 400 years following its composition, Hamlet has become enshrined amongst the classic plays of Western literature. Written about by luminaries from Samuel Johnson to Sigmund Freud, from Voltaire to T.S. Eliot, the study of Hamlet has engrossed great minds since its inception.

Simultaneously, the role of Hamlet is considered both the pinnacle and the challenge of an actor’s career, as he strives to take his place amongst classic Hamlets of the past such as Richard Burbage, David Garrick, and Laurence Olivier. Hamlet continues to fascinate readers and audiences to this day, as each new generation discovers that, in the words of critic William Hazlitt, ‘it is we who are Hamlet’.

In the wake of his father’s death and his uncle’s ascension to the throne, Prince Hamlet has struggled with his grief, as well as his sense of outrage over his mother Gertrude’s quick remarriage to Hamlet’s uncle, the new king. When Hamlet’s father appears to him as a ghost to reveal that he was, in fact, murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, the prince sets himself on an ultimately tragic path towards vengeance.

William Shakespeare’s play emerged from the classical tradition of revenge tragedy, which enjoyed a particular popularity around the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the play was first written and performed. Its first performances were probably staged by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company at the time. Although it shares certain plot similarities with other revenge tragedies – a secret murder, a ghostly apparition, a bloody resolution – the ambiguities of Hamlet allow it to defy strict classification, enabling every actor, reader, or theatregoer to consider the play anew upon each new reading or viewing. The straightforward story of a son determined to avenge his father’s murder is complicated and enhanced by the many questions that arise throughout the play regarding unanswered plot points as well as philosophical conundrums.

Due to the survival of three early, distinct versions of the text of Hamlet, the process of editing Hamlet has required its editors to consider which of the texts – known as Quarto 1 (Q1), Quarto 2 (Q2), or Folio (F) – is truly ‘authoritative’. For the Arden Third Series edition of Hamlet, editors Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor chose to reject the traditions of elevating one text above the others or creating a composite text from all three versions. Instead, Arden offers clear, modernised versions of all three texts.

The second quarto (Q2), the text presented here, was printed in 1604 as The Tragicall Historie of HAMLET, Prince of Denmarke. Despite being nicknamed the ‘second’ quarto, scholars have argued that it is probable that Q2 actually pre-dates Q1, as it is conjectured to be based on Shakespeare’s manuscript copy, his ‘foul papers’. The supposed proximity of Q2 to the authorial hand has therefore led this text frequently to be chosen as the authoritative version of Hamlet. As its titlepage makes no mention of performance (unlike Q1), it has been argued that this Hamlet was a version crafted by Shakespeare’s hand before the cuts required by performance were put into place: a play ‘for the closet, not for the stage’. At 28,628 words, ‘Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect Coppie’, it is the longest extant play in the canon. Although it resembles the Folio text, both contain a number of unique lines. Even so, this is the version of Hamlet most familiar to readers in terms of language and scene structure, particularly in relation to iconic monologues such as ‘To be or not to be’.

Harry's Christmas

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

It is a few days until Christmas and Harry is waiting for someone to be in touch, for an old lover to have a drink with him, for a friend to show up. But as the big day comes, he falls into lonely and isolated despair.

A dark and searing portrait of one man’s solitude and its repercussions, Harry’s Christmas examines society’s hypocrisy at the time of year when emotional pressure is at its highest.

Harry’s Christmas premiered at the Donmar Warehouse, London, in December 1985.

A tragedy is a serious play with an unhappy ending. The word is often said to mean ‘goatsong’ (Greek: tragos, goat; ode, song), although modern etymologists have disputed this. It was Aristotle who provided the classic definition of tragedy, stating (in his Poetics) that tragedy should move one “by pity and terror” at the fall of a great person: the plot ought to be so constructed that, even without the aid of the eye, he who hears the tale told will thrill with horror and melt to pity at what takes place.

The genre developed in ancient Greece, where tragedies were expected to follow a fairly strict form. Tragic protagonists were drawn only from deities, royalty, and the upper classes, and their inevitable suffering and downfall was brought about by a combination of fate and their own hubris. The three great authors of classical tragedy were Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, all of whom wrote in the 5th century BC. The rules of classical tragedy were rediscovered at the Renaissance, as were many of the Greek and Roman texts. The gory tragedies of the Roman Seneca proved particularly influential on the playwrights of the time.

Typically, the tragedies of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras combined violent and sensational action with acute psychological insight and intense poetry. The great tragedies of Shakespeare are usually considered the pinnacle of world drama. In the 17th century the Frenchmen Corneille and Racine led a return to the stricter Greek forms of tragedy. Thereafter the tradition of serious tragic writing declined, being largely displaced by sentiment and melodrama.

It did not revive until the late 19th century, when such writers as Ibsen, Strindberg, and Chekhov managed to combine the sombre themes and moral seriousness of tragedy with a realistic depiction of contemporary life. Perhaps the only modern writer to attempt the classic tragic form was the US dramatist Eugene O’Neill.

from Jonathan Law ed., The Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre (London, 2011)