Plays

Acharnians

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

It is the fifth century BC and Dikaiopolis, a peasant who is forced by war to live in the city, has secured an unlikely peace for Athens in their war against the Spartans. However, not all his fellow citizens agree with the new détente between themselves and their hated enemies. It is up to Dikaiopolis, in increasingly farcical circumstances, to defend his anti-war stance and save his precious peace.

In their introduction to the play, translator Kenneth McLeish and editor J. Michael Walton write 'If Sophocles' Oidipous Tyrannos is the very model of an 'Aristotelian' tragedy, a kind of template for the form, then Acharnians could serve the same function for the comedy. The agon, parabasis, alazones scenes, and komos are fine examples of how each should be written . . . In particular the formal dialogues between Dikaiopolis and Lamachos demonstrate the maxim that adherence to rules can liberate the imagination - demonstrate it as triumphantly as Bach's Art of Fugue.'

A timely and timeless comedy, Acharnians was first produced in 452BC during one of the sporadic and unreliable ceasefires in the Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta.

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.

Alkestis

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

When Apollo was exiled for nine years from his Olympian home, he found shelter and hospitality at the palace of King Admetus. To pay him back, Apollo offers Admetus the chance to live beyond the day that fate has decided he will die. There is only one catch: when death comes to get him, Admetus must find a willing substitute.

Having been rebuffed by his aging (but not ailing) father, Admetus finds a willing proxy in his wife, the eponymous Alkestis, who is brought to Death's door, indeed is led through it, only to be rescued by Admetus's old friend Herakles, who wrestles with Death, and wins.

In his introduction, the translator J. Michael Walton writes: 'as a play that is ahead of its time Alkestis has no parallel in the classical world. It looks forward not only to the more domestic tragedy of later Euripides, but also to the social comedy of Menander and to the romances of the Hellenistic, and later, the Roman, world... Euripides may have changed the face of tragedy. He also reinterpreted and gave a new face to the expectations of comedy.'

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.

Birds

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Tired of the unending wittering of Athenian lawmen, Euelpides and Peithetairos flee the city with their trusty feathered companions. However, their hoped for exile begins with getting lost, and the play opens with them crowing and pecking at one another with all the fury of the most terminally bird-brained democrat.

Which is when they meet 'his Hoopoeness', the once king Tereus, whom they convince to take them up to a new city, high above the base and grounded demos, burying the age-old animosity between birds and men and, ultimately, challenging the mighty Zeus for the top spot in the sky.

Full of the most bawdy of Aristophanes' jokes, and rife with the exasperated cynicism typical of the early satirist of the earliest democracy, Birds is translated in all its irreverent glory by Kenneth McLeish.

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.

Cyclops

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Silenus, father of the Satyrs, has been trapped on Sicily, held prisoner by the Cyclops son of Poseidon, Polyphemus. Silenus is despondent: his captive fate was found when seeking to rescue another god, Dionysus. Instead, it is Silenus and his sons who are prisoners, of a much lesser, more ravenous god.

The potential for rescue comes when Odysseus, the hero strategist of the Trojan War, washes up on the Sicilian shore. His men too get captured, but rather than bemoan his fate, Odysseus connives to destroy the Cyclops once and for all, using wit, wisdom and plenty of wine.

A celebration of the liberating effects of alcohol, Cyclops is a Euripidean take on the Homeric myth, full of jokes, tricks and stagey comedy.

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.

The Eunuch

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Phaedria has been thrown out of his lover Thais's house. And, to add insult to injury, he had paid for his right to be there. He doesn't know what he should do – he fears losing his place in the pecking order to his rival Thraso – and has only his trusted companion, and slave, Parmeno, for advice. Parmeno, who knows what freedoms can be bought with gold, suggests a gift: a slave girl, and a Eunuch.

But when Phaedria's brother Chaerea falls in love with another girl (a gift from Thraso hoping to woo Thais), he conspires to have himself substituted for the Eunuch, and placed inside Thais's house, causing untold complications for Thais, Phaedria and, not least, himself.

In his introduction, J. Michael Walton writes that 'the comedy in Terence is allowed to revolve around the discomfiture of those who lose their dignity from jealousy, greed, lust, envy, any or all, in fact, of the seven deadly sins. The initial transgressions are not condoned but where would comedy be without human frailty?'

Frogs

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Losing all faith in humanity, and their basest incarnation, the tragedians, Dionysos, god of the theatre, vows to go to the underworld to revive the greatest tragedian of all, the barely cold Euripides, who had died the year before.

Enlisting his servant Xanthias, and asking his half brother Herakles for directions, Dionysos sets off to Hades' Halls, only to find Euripides engaged in a contest with Aeschylus, as to who was the greatest of them all. Dionysos sets himself the task of judging their weighty words, but more often than not these tragedians make him the butt of their jokes.

Described in his introduction by translator Kenneth McLeish as 'one of [Aristophanes'] most brilliant comedies', Frogs is a wonderful mix of the living and the dead, of the tragic and the comic.

Hecuba

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

The first great war between the east and west is over. Hecuba, once queen of Troy, is widowed and enslaved by the conquering Greeks. When her captors demand that her daughter be sacrificed in honour of the great warrior Achilles, and she finds her only surviving son murdered, her mourning turns to a hunger for retribution.

A vital examination of the psychology of the powerful and the powerless in time of conflict, Euripides’ Hecuba, in this translation by Tony Harrison, premiered at the Albery Theatre in March 2005 as part of the RSC’s London season.

© Tony Harrison, 2005

Helen

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Seven years have passed since the end of the Trojan War and Menelaus, King of Sparta and husband to Helen, is making his slow and painful way home. When his ship is wrecked on the coast of Egypt he stumbles upon what seems to be his wife lingering outside the royal palace. But if this is the real Helen, who was the beautiful woman stolen by Paris, for whom all Greece took up arms? Did Troy fall for nothing? Has it all been some god's idea of a joke?

Frank McGuinness's version of Euripides' Helen premiered at Shakespeare's Globe, London, in August, 2009.

Herakles

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

While the great Greek hero Herakles was in the underworld completing his divinely ordained labours, above ground, a rival king, Lykos, was busy plotting to murder Herakles' living mortal family. Instead, Herakles' returns just in time to kill Lykos.

This is a short-lived redemption, however; after the murder of Lykos, Herakles' descends into madness and murders his own offspring, a madness initiated by an angry Hera, the goddess protector of Lykos.

Only the appeal of the legendary king of Athens, Theseus, can bring Herakles back to sanity again, a sanity he reaches only to be realise his actions and be faced with a lifetime of heartbreak and an empty future ahead of him.

In his introduction, editor J. Michael Walton writers that 'Herakles is the most underrated of all Greek tragedies. Translator Kenneth McLeish adds: 'As so often, Euripides offered his audience an experience on two entirely different levels: a fast-moving, continuously intriguing theatrical entertainment, and an examination of knotty philosophical and theological questions, teased out in irony and paradox, and (characteristically) left at the end of the play unresolved.’

Herakles' Children

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Herakles' Children is described in the introduction by translator Kenneth McLeish as dramatising 'a section of the Herakles myth which seems to explain how initial enmity between Athens and the Pelopennesian state of Argos was, at some remote period of mythological time, replaced by alliance. After Herakles' ascension from earth to Olympos, his mortal rival King Eurystheus of Argos (who had devised his Labours) was afraid that Herakles' sons might grow up to contest the throne. He harried them from town to town across Greece, demanding that they be returned to Argos on pain of invasion. The play takes place after the children, led by Herakles' aged mother Alkmene and his equally decrepit nephew and former companion Iolaos, take refuge in Marathon, a town in Attika not far from Athens.'

The Argives then declare war on Marathon and the Athenians, a war whose victory is underwritten for the Athenians by the decision of Herakles' daughter Makaria, to allow herself to be sacrificed to the gods.

The subsequent defeat of the Argives, and the punishment of Eurystheus, defines the second half of the play, which was first produced some time between 430 and 427 BC, contemporaneously with Euripides' other great plays Hippolytos and Medea.

Hippolytos (trans. McLeish)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Euripides' play tells the story of Phaidra's love for her step-son Hippolytos, Theseus's illegitimate son, a man so devoted to his chastity and the cult of Artemis that he spurns the goddess of love Aphrodite. To return the insult, she condemns him via his stepmother's passion, causing the subsequent fall of the royal house.

In his introduction, editor J. Michael Walton writes: 'However priggish or puritanical Hippolytos may seem, Aphrodite's wholesale destruction of the household is pre-planned and calculated to affect everyone within range. Nor is this some sudden whim. It is two years since she contrived for Phaidra first to see and fall in love with Hippolytos. At the far end of the play, Theseus receives news from the Messenger of his son's accident and asks for the dying Hippolytos to be brought in for him to gloat over. Before his attendants can fetch the litter Artemis appears to accuse Theseus of murdering his son. Despite her affection for Hippolytos, she confesses to declining to become involved because "We have an agreement in Heaven: Never interfere with other gods' decisions" (ll. 1328–9). The mortally injured Hippolytos is then carried in and a reconciliation engineered with Theseus. Artemis consoles Hippolytos in a desultory sort of way before leaving so as not to be defiled by having someone die in her presence. As a Parthian shot to confirm a general disdain for human affairs it is telling and chilling.'A play that at once cautions people not to disregard the strength of the divine, but also illustrates the futility of trying to second-guess its intention, Hippolytos is an astonishing and disturbing tragedy.

Iphigeneia in Tauris

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Iphigeneia, sister of the troubled Orestes, was the daughter of Agamemnon. No ideal father, Agamemnon had aimed to sacrifice Iphigeneia before the Trojan War in the hopes of guaranteeing victory, a sacrifice that was only undone by the intervention of Artemis.

Now Iphigeneia lives in forced religious servitude, in a haze of dreams and blood sacrifice at a temple to Artemis on the Crimean coast. As a result of one of these dreams, she comes to believe that Orestes is dead; the play opens with her lamentations.

Instead, Orestes is on his way to the very temple at which she serves, in the hopes of stealing an icon, a task demanded of him by the god Apollo. When Orestes is caught, Iphigeneia, not recognising her brother, must offer his life to Artemis as one of the regular Hellenic sacrifices. It is only after Orestes reveals his identity that Iphigeneia will plot against the gods to help her brother, and herself, escape from the temple with their lives.

In his introduction, J. Michael Walton writes: 'The play is comic in tone . . . [and] comes as something of a relief after Elektra and Orestes . . . This is Euripides in one of his least bilious moods, rehabilitating the murderous and demented siblings of Elektra and Orestes and awarding them the kind of operetta status of Offenbach's La Belle Hélène or his own Helen.'

Knights

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

When Nikias and Demosthenes discover that their fellow slave, the loud-mouthed Paphlagon, is destined to rule the city of Athens, they immediately set out to find the one man prophesised to defeat him — the local sausage-seller. Paphlagon and the sausage-seller face off in an uproarious battle to win over the hearts and minds of the citizens, using whatever means necessary.

With its simple staging and small cast, Knights is imminently accessible and modern in this translation by Kenneth McLeish. Aristophanes employs bawdy caricature and hard-hitting humour to satirize the most controversial political issues of his day, showing that ultimately, the one thing needed to succeed in politics is the ability to sell sausages.

Lysistrata - the sex strike (adapt. Greer, Wilmott)

Aurora Metro Books
Type: Text

The world's leading feminist raconteur, polemicist and wit plunders the archetypal story of female resistance . . . Lysistrata, the play's heroine persuades the women to barricade themselves inside a building, refusing to give their husbands sex until they negotiate an end to the Peloponnesian War and secure peace. She also persuades the women of Sparta, the enemy, to join her cause and refuse sex to their husbands until they agree to stop the war. The men eventually give in, peace is agreed and the women go home to their husbands.

Lysistrata (trans. McLeish)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

What’s a woman to do when the men refuse to stop fighting a war? Withhold the only thing the men want more than war: sex. Seizing the advantage of their domestic power, Lysistrata leads her fellow Greek women in a country-wide sex-strike. The women stand strong against the strike-breaking activities of their husbands, but not all the strikers are quite so willing to give up the pleasures of the flesh . . .

One of Aristophanes’ most frequently adapted plays, Lystistrata retains its resonance and hilarity to this day. It continues to reflect the struggles of women in war, and has been evoked and made newly relevant by real-life sex-strikes in modern war zones. Bawdy, cutting, and inspiring, it is among the finest works of classical comedy.

Medea (trans. Power)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Medea is a wife and a mother. For the sake of her husband, Jason, she's left her home and borne two sons in exile. But when he abandons his family for a new life, Medea faces banishment and separation from her children. Cornered, she begs for one day's grace. It's time enough. She exacts an appalling revenge and destroys everything she holds dear.

Medea is a wife and a mother. For the sake of her husband, Jason, she's left her home and borne two sons in exile. But when he abandons his family for a new life, Medea faces banishment and separation from her children. Cornered, she begs for one day's grace. It's time enough. She exacts an appalling revenge and destroys everything she holds dear.

Ben Power's version of Euripides' tragedy Medea premiered at the National Theatre, London, in July 2014.

audio Oedipus the King

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

One of the first and greatest of all Greek tragedies, Harry Lennix stars as Oedipus, the king who unwittingly kills his father and marries his mother.

Includes a Q & A session with translator and director Nicholas Rudall. An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Spencer Garrett as Shepard and Chorus Francis Guinan as Messenger and Chorus Gregory Itzin as Creon and Chorus Charles Kimbrough as Priest Of Zeus and Chorus Harry J. Lennix as Oedipus Rod Mclachlan as Second Messenger and Chorus Carolyn Seymour as Jocasta W. Morgan Sheppard as Tiresias Translated and directed by Nicholas Rudall. Recorded before a live audience at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

Featuring: Francis Guinan, Charles Kimbrough, Harry J. Lennix, Spencer Garrett, Rod McLachlan, Carolyn Seymour, W. Morgan Sheppard

Orestes

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

'Orestes is a vicious play, filled with vicious characters, interested almost exclusively in themselves. Helen is shallow, Menelaos a backslider, Pylades, who does no more than haunt the fringes of most versions of the story, took a full part in the murder of Klytemnestra and is prime mover in the plan to kill Helen. Elektra sets up the taking of Hermione as a hostage. The only redeeming character is Tyndareus arguing that, if Orestes and Elektra had a grievance against Aigisthos and Klytemnestra, they should have invoked a perfectly good legal system. The decision of Apollo ex machina that he will sort everything out is the clearest evidence that Euripides' use of the device is ironic'.

Thus does editor J. Michael Walton describe Orestes, one of Euripides' later plays. In a story of murder, passion and vengeance, Orestes, having murdered his mother, the unfaithful Klytemnestra, now vows a plot of revenge against his uncle Menelaos, who has refused to offer moral support for the vengeful matricide carried out by Orestes and his sister Elektra. With blood already on their hands, they plot to murder Helen, Menelaos' wife, and Hermione, his daughter, in a near-unstoppable cycle of vengeance and bloodshed.

The Orphan of Zhao  

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

In the aftermath of the massacre of a clan, an epic story of self-sacrifice and revenge unfolds as a young orphan discovers the shattering truth behind his childhood. Sometimes referred to as the Chinese Hamlet and tracing its origins to the fourth century BC, The Orphan of Zhao was the first Chinese play to be translated in the West.

James Fenton’s adaptation of The Orphan of Zhao premiered with the RSC at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon in November 2012.

Our Ajax  

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Torn between army politics and the love of his soldiers on the front line, a legendary leader spirals out of control.

Inspired by Sophocles’ classical play, Our Ajax draws on interviews with contemporary servicemen and women to create a modern epic of heroism, love and homeland.

Our Ajax premiered at the Southwark Playhouse, London, in November 2014.

Peace

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Seeking peace after endless years of war, Trygaeus, a citizen of Athens, flies his giant dung-beetle to the heavens to argue with the gods. When he arrives, he discovers that the god of War has imprisoned the goddess of Peace, and he calls on his fellow Athenians to help set her free.

Peace includes some of Aristophanes’ most reflective, eloquent writing, while retaining his signature biting wit. Full of slapstick, physical humour, and honest discussion of the frustrations of war, it reflects the politics of the city at an uncertain time, as its citizens adjusted to a fragile peace after years of conflict.

Persians

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Taking the 480 BC destruction of the invading Persian forces as its starting point, Aeschylus's Persians shows the lamenting Persian Queen, mother of Xerxes, far away from the battlefield as she learns of the evisceration of the men of her kingdom. Bit by bit news reaches her of her son's defeat, how the Greeks won out against the Persians superior numbers, and how none of the survivors have hope of returning to their homeland; all but Xerxes, whose final fate is to witness the collapse of a kingdom his failure has destroyed.

In the introduction, translators Kenneth McLeish and Frederic Raphael write that, although Aeschylus's play celebrates a Greek triumph, "it does so in an unprecedented way: the innovation lies in the negative space defined by the lamentations which fill the stage". The empathy so majestically felt and displayed by the Greek playwright for the losses of his 'enemies' is matched here by McLeish's superlative translation, capturing at once the extravagance of feeling of a defeated nation, and the spare verse in which these lamentations are cried.

Prometheus Bound

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Prometheus the Titan, cousin of Zeus, has given mankind fire. Further, he has thwarted Zeus's plan to obliterate the human race, and, in saving them, has taught them many arts, from writing to agriculture, architecture to medicine. His generosity to mankind, to whom he was sometimes known as creator, knows no bounds. But it is precisely this generosity which sees him punished.

In Aeschylus's play we see the characters of 'Might' and 'Force' chaining Prometheus to the Caucasus Mountains, using chains forged by the Olympian god Hephaestus. Despite the sympathy of Hephaestus (whose fire it was Prometheus stole for the humans), and the pain of bondage, Prometheus proudly holds on to his anger at Zeus.

Prometheus Bound sees many suppliants plead with Prometheus to cast aside this pride and beg forgiveness of his powerful cousin. Instead, Prometheus rages on, the searing fire of his words and chains burning as bright as the flames he stole.

Rhesos

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the dark of night, intrigues and treachery flourish beneath the walls of the besieged Troy. A chorus of sentries stands guard while spies and heroes scheme to turn the tides of war in their favour. In Rhesos, Euripides portrays the reality of war, in which there is no place for honour.

Out of around a hundred plays by Euripides, Rhesos is one of nineteen that survive. Its place in the Euripides canon has been debated, with some scholars ascribing it to an unknown fourth-century dramatist.

Nonetheless, as editor J. Michael Walton writes, 'there is an inventiveness and a capacity for surprise in Rhesos that seems wholly in keeping with Euripides' dramatic and theatrical technique elsewhere. The establishing of the play as taking place at night is a conceit which was taken ip in the Chinese theatre and exploited comically by Peter Shaffer in his immaculate one-act play, Black Comedy. In Rhesos, all the confusion of sentry duty, the intrigue of spies and intruders, disguises and deceptions, are crammed into a single night when the fortunes of war turn against the Trojans by a mixture of devious behaviour and sheer bad luck. Events happen as they do because so many of the characters are figuratively, as well as literally, in the dark. It is a brilliant dramatic device and brilliantly exploited.'

Seven Against Thebes

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the wake of Oedipus's exile, the cursed sons of his incestuous marriage, Eteocles and Polynices vow to avoid further bloodshed by ruling Thebes in alternate years. However, when the Eteocles refuses to step down after the first year of the arrangement, Polynices raises an army led by seven Argive champions to retake Thebes by force.

Fearing the invaders, and feeling the fear of his people, Eteocles vows to fight Polynices man to man for the future of the city. Instead, they kill one another in battle beneath the seventh gate of the city, leading directly to the dilemma of their sister, Antigone, and her ultimate demise.

Seven Against Thebes, which forms part of Aeschylus's tragic Theban cycle, is brilliantly translated by Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish.

Translator's copyright © by Volatic Limited and Kenneth McLeish 1991

Sodom

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Funny, powerful and transgressive, Sodom refigures the classic biblical tale of Lot, using it to examine the dangers of being different in a rigid world. Claire Dowie reveals that, in fact, everyone in Sodom, apart from Lot and his wife, is gay.

Dowie then translates the morality of the biblical story to examine the persecution of a distrusted commune in the modern day.

Sodom shows that society’s fear of the Other translates across the millennia.

Suppliants (Aeschylus)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Suppliants tells the story of the Danaids, the fifty daughters of Danaus, who seemed destined for a dynastic marriage to their cousins, the fifty sons of Danaus's brother Aegyptus. However, when warned by the gods that his brother plans to murder him and his daughters, Danaus flees with the Danaids to Argos, where he is taken in by the King of Argos.

Aegyptus challenges the people of Argos to give up their refugees, but the King and his people refuse, allowing the Danaids sanctuary.

Possibly part of a tetralogy based on the myth of the Danaids, Suppliants is translated and introduced by Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish.

Suppliants (Euripides)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The haunting spectre of unburied corpses begins the action of Euripides' Suppliants. Aithra, mother of the king of Athens, Theseus, pleads with her son to exhort Thebes to release the bodies of the sons of Athens killed in Thebes, hired by Polyneikes to fight in the post-Oedipal era of Theban civil war. Theseus agrees to the request, but only after ascertaining that it is the democratic will of the people of Athens that he should make this plea to the Thebans.

The Thebans, for their part, refuse, mocking Athenian democratic principles along the way. A battle between the two cities erupts; this time, however, Theseus fights only to gain that which his mandate had sought: the return of the bodies for their holy rites.

In the play, as J. Michael Walton writes, 'the level of the debate quickly rises to a dual consideration of the anture of war and the relative values of differing poltical systems. This is not Theseus' squabble, as he is quick to point out. He is soon persuaded that it is his buisiness. The rights and wrongs of interferences into the behaviour of other countries on moral grounds is a debate which has proved open-ended. All the deliberations of the United Nations Security Council have resulted only in guidelines to which every example seems to offer special pleading.'

Suppliants forms the last episode in the saga of the house of Oedipus.

The Suppliant Women  

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Fifty women board a boat in North Africa. They flee across the Mediterranean, leaving everything behind. They are escaping forced marriage in their home and seeking asylum in Greece.

Written 2,500 years ago, The Suppliant Women is one of the world’s oldest plays. It’s about the plight of refugees, about moral and human rights, civil war, democracy and ultimately the triumph of love. It tells a story that echoes down the ages to find striking and poignant resonance today.

Featuring in performance a chorus of local women, this is part play, part ritual, part theatrical archaeology. It explores fundamental questions of humanity: who are we, where do we belong and, if all goes wrong, who will take us in?

Aeschylus’ The Suppliant Women, in a version by David Greig, premiered at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, in October 2016, in a production by ATC.

video Theban Plays: Antigone (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

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.

Credits:

Director: Don Taylor; Producer: Louis Marks; Playwright: Sophocles; Translator: Don Taylor; Composer: Derek Bourgeois; Conductor: Derek Bourgeois; Advisor: Geoffrey Lewis (on classical matters).

Cast: Patrick Barr: Theban Elder (Chorus), Rosalie: Crutchley Euridice: Paul Daneman: Theban Elder (Chorus), Donald Eccles: Theban Elder (Chorus), Robert Eddison: Theban Elder (Chorus) John Gielgud: Teiresias, Patrick Godfrey: Theban Elder (Chorus) Mike Gwilym: Haemon, Bernard Hill: Messenger, Ewan Hooper: Theban Elder (Chorus), Peter Jeffrey: Theban Elder (Chorus) Noel Johnson: Theban Elder (Chorus). Robert Lang: Theban Elder (Chorus), John Ringham: Theban Elder (Chorus), Paul Russell: Boy, Tony Selby: Soldier, John Shrapnel: Creon, Juliet Stevenson: Antigone, Gwen Taylor: Ismene, Frederick Treves: Theban Elder (Chorus).

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video Theban Plays: Oedipus At Colonus (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Sophocles' Theban plays – Oedipus Tyrannos, Oedipus at Colonos and Antigone – stand at the fountainhead of world drama; they tell the story of Oedipus, Jocasta and Antigone, and the ancient Greek theme of power, both mortal and godlike is brought to the fore with stunning vitality. Oedipus at Colonos is the middle play in the trilogy. In the aftermath of the events in Thebes, the blinded Oedipus is led to Colonos by his daughter Antigone and his tragic fate is completed.

Credits:

Director: Don Taylor; Producer: Louis Marks. Starring: Michael Pennington, John Gielgud, Cyril Cusack, Claire Bloom, Anthony Quayle.

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video Theban Plays: Oedipus The King (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

This Greek tragedy tells the story of Oedipus, King of Thebes and husband of Jocasta. When the discovery is made that he is the son of the same Jocasta and of the previous king Laius (whom he has unwittingly murdered), Oedipus blinds himself and Jocasta commits suicide.

Credits:

Director: Don Taylor; Producer: Louis Marks; Playwright: Sophocles; Translator: Don Taylor, Composer: Derek Bourgeois; Conductor: Derek Bourgeois; Advisor: Geoffrey Lewis.

Cast: Claire Bloom: Jocasta, Michael Byrne: Theban Senator, Ernest Clark: Theban Senator, David Collings, Theban Senator, Cyril Cusack: Priest, Donald Eccles: Theban Senator, Robert Eddison: Theban Senator, John Gielgud: Teiresias, Edward Hardwicke: Theban Senator, Denys Hawthorne: Theban Senator, Kelly Huntley: Ismene, Noel Johnson: Theban Senator, Gerard Murphy: Messenger, Michael Pennington: Oedipus, Norman Rodway: Corinthian Messenger, Clifford Rose: Theban Senator, Alan Rowe: Theban Senator, Lincoln Saunders: Teiresias’ Boy, Cassie Shilling: Antigone, John Shrapnel: Creon, Nigel Stock: Theban Senator, David Waller: Shepherd, John Woodnutt: Theban Senator

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

Women in Power

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Women in Power tells the story of a group of women, tired (just like their author) of the incompetent politicians in the demos. Convinced they could do a much better job than their male counterparts, they inveigle themselves into the council and, with their leader Praxagora at the helm, succeed in signing over working powers from the men to the women, powers they use to institute a proto-socialist state.

A suitable companion piece to the slightly lest chaste Lysistrata, Women in Power is as cynical about the status quo as it is romantic about the possibility for change. This translation is by the eminently talented Kenneth McLeish.

Greek Drama: The theatre of ancient Greece, the fountainhead of the entire Western dramatic tradition. The earliest Greek drama is thought to have developed during the 6th century BC from imitative religious magic associated with the worship of Dionysus. The golden age of Athenian Drama (the 5th and 4th centuries BC) saw the emergence of the genres of Tragedy and Comedy and the production of the great works of Aeschylus (c. 525–456 BC), Sophocles (c. 496–406 BC), and Euripides (c. 484–406 BC). Aristophanes (c. 448–385 BC) was the greatest comic playwright. The most important development of the later 4th century was the emergence of the New Comedy of Menander. Although the Athenian tradition was in serious decline by about 300 BC, its influence had already spread to other parts of the Mediterranean world.

The first Greek plays were performed in a circular dancing area known as an orchestra. Later a raised stage was added behind this area while a tent (Skene) behind the stage functioned as both a stage set and a dressing room. Scenery became more elaborate and such devices as the ekkyklema and the mechane for the Deus Ex Machina were added during the 5th century.

The influence of Greek theatre persists in the manifold translations, adaptations, and updatings that have appeared since the Renaissance. It also appears in numerous major and minor conventions of the Western stage; the issuing of a ticket (metal token) for each seat, and the habit of applauding to denote approval, and whistling to express disapproval were all originally Greek customs.

Roman Drama: The theatre flourished in ancient Rome for about 800 years, during both the Republic and the Empire. It developed from village entertainments such as the Atellana, and from Greek Drama.

The earliest Roman drama probably evolved from jolly carnivals and bawdy fertility rites performed on religious occasions. Its development was influenced greatly by the traditions of Greek colonists living in southern Italy and Sicily. The first documented Roman playwright was Lucius Livius Andronicus (c. 280–204 BC), a freed Greek slave who translated Greek works into Latin. The first recorded production took place in 240 BC at the Roman Games (Ludi Romani). Unlike their Greek predecessors Roman playwrights, such as Ennius, Naevius, and Andronicus wrote and published non-dramatic poetry.

Few Roman tragedies survive; most of the plays seem to have been adaptations of Greek originals, although Lucius Accius is thought to have written some original works. The role of the Chorus diminished, until it functioned as little more than a source of interlude music during scene changes. At the same time rhetoric grew increasingly important, with plays containing long set speeches. It is not even certain that the nine gory tragedies of Seneca were written to be performed on stage.

Roman comedy derived from the Greek New Comedy, with such authors as Plautus and Terence basing many of their works directly on plays by Menander and others. Although the plays were often set in Greece they tended to satirize Roman society and featured stereotypical Roman characters. Bawdy and brutal mime and the performances of the pantomimus eventually superseded literary comedy.

Roman drama was generally performed on festival days, together with gladiatorial contests, circuses, and races; popular actors could be very highly paid, one of the most successful being Roscius. Theatre buildings were originally wooden, and took their design from Greek theatres. The first stone theatre was built in Rome in 55 BC. Roman theatres became considerably more elaborate than the original Greek models; they were built to be freestanding, and had complex arrangements of curtains and scenery. There were even some indoor theatres. The amphitheatres designed as arenas for races were also used for theatrical shows. Performances were sometimes given in private; players could be hired to entertain dinner guests, while members of the literary elite would hold prestigious private readings of their works.

Roman drama disappeared in the 6th century AD when Christian opposition to acting resulted in the emperor Justinian closing down all the theatres.

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