Plays by Euripides

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.'

Andromache

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Euripides' Andromache is an Athenian tragedy dramatising Andromache's life as a slave, years after the events of the Trojan War, and her conflict with her master's new wife, Hermione. It was probably written during the early years of the Peloponnesian War, and first performed c.425 BC.

This translation, by Marianne McDonald and J. Michael Walton, was prepared from the Oxford Text edited by James Diggle, and was published in 2001 by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series.

The play's action is set several years after the sacking of Troy. Andromache, once the wife of Trojan hero Hector, now has a child by Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles. She has to live as a slave, a position that is aggravated when Neoptolemus marries Hermione, the daughter of King Menelaus and Helen. Hermione is unable to get pregnant, however, and blames everything on Andromache. Andromache has taken refuge at the shrine of Thetis, the sea-nymph and mother of Achilles, and there ensues a spiralling series of revenge plots before Thetis finally appears, ex machina, to resolve things.

In their introduction to the Nick Hern Books edition, McDonald and Walton write: 'This is a play about passion, jealousy and murder. It shows vividly the problems that arise when one man shares his bed with two women, one of whom happens to be his wife. ... [It] illustrates duplicity and treachery, besides the precariousness of good fortune. If there is a moral message it is that people should try to behave with decency, whatever their circumstances.'

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.

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.

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.

Hecuba (trans. Harrison)

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

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.

Hippolytus (trans. Wertenbaker)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Furious that Prince Hippolytus will not worship her, Aphrodite, goddess of love, seeks revenge. Infecting Hippolytus' stepmother, Phaedra, with an overpowering desire for him, Aphrodite's retribution will sweep both prince and queen to a brutal end.

A secret torment

Storms through her

Tosses her into that black harbour

Death.

Timberlake Wertenbaker's translation of Euripides' tragedy Hippolytus premiered at Riverside Studios, London, in February, 2009 in a production by Temple Theatre.

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.'

video Medea (NT)

National Theatre
Type: Video

Age recommendation: 12+

This production was recorded through National Theatre Live on 4th September, 2014.

Terrible things breed in broken hearts. Medea is a wife and a mother, stricken with grief. 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.

Helen McCrory takes the title role in Euripides’ powerful tragedy, in a new version by Ben Power, directed by Carrie Cracknell, with music written by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp.

CAST
Nurse: Michaela Coel
Medea: Helen McCrory
Aegeus, King of Athens: Dominic Rowan
Jason: Danny Sapani
Kreusa: Clemmie Sveaas
Kreon, King of Corinth: Martin Turner
Jason’s Attendant: Toby Wharton
Medea’s son: T’Jai Adu-Xeboah
Medea’s son: Ricco Godfrey Brown
Medea’s son: Trevor Imani
Medea’s son: Kyron Wilson
Medea’s son: Joel McDermott
Medea’s son: Jude Pearce
Chorus: Lorna Brown
Chorus: Vivien Carter
Chorus: Amy Griffiths
Chorus: Hazel Holder
Chorus: Jane Leaney
Chorus: Caroline Martin
Chorus: Daisy Maywood
Chorus: Yuyu Rau
Chorus: Petra Söör
Chorus: Naomi Tadevossian
Chorus: Cath Whitefield
Chorus: Jane Wymark
Chorus: Clemmie Sveaas
Ensemble: Simon Desborough
Ensemble: Adrian Grove

CREATIVES
Director: Carrie Cracknell
Adaptor/Writer: Ben Power
Designer: Tom Scutt
Lighting Designer: Lucy Carter
Choreographer: Lucy Guerin
Music: Will Gregory
Music: Alison Goldfrapp
Sound Designer: Gregory Clarke
Fight Director: Owain Gwynn

Medea (trans. Lochhead)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Liz Lochhead’s Medea brings a contemporary Scottish flavour to Euripides' story of the abandoned wife who murders her own children in revenge on her husband. It was commissioned and first performed by Theatre Babel at The Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, on 17 March 2000.

Medea has been abandoned by her husband Jason in favour of Glauke, the daughter of Kreon, King of Corinth. Fearing that she plans revenge, Kreon banishes Medea. However, he grants her one more day of freedom, in the course of which Medea poisons Glauke and goes on to murder the two children she has had with Jason.

A stage direction in the published text states that 'The people of this country [ie Corinth] all have Scots accents, their language varies from Scots to Scots-English – from time to time and from character to character – and particular emotional state of character.' In the Theatre Babel production, the actor playing the part of Medea, who has come to Corinth from her native Kolchis, spoke in the heavily accented English of an East European refugee.

The Theatre Babel premiere was directed by Graham McLaren with Maureen Beattie in the title role. The production was revived at the Assembly Rooms for the Edinburgh Festival fringe in August 2000, and then remounted for a national tour later in 2000. It returned to the Assembly Rooms for the Edinburgh Festival fringe in August 2001.

The playtext published by Nick Hern Books was awarded the Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award in 2001.

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.

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.

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.'

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.

Women of Troy

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Euripides' Women of Troy (sometimes known as The Trojan Women) is a tragedy that follows the fates of the women of Troy after their city has been sacked, their husbands killed, and as their remaining families are about to be taken away as slaves. It was first performed in 415 BC, during the Peloponnesian War.

This translation by Kenneth McLeish was published by Nick Hern Books in 2004 in its Drama Classics series, with an introduction by Marianne McDonald and J. Michael Walton.

In the aftermath of the bloody Trojan Wars, the women of the city lament their fate and look fearfully ahead to the future. Covering themes of religious scepticism, the injustices within roles of women and the destructive power of war, the play is once again relevant in an increasingly uncertain world.

Picture of Euripides

Euripides (484-406 BC) was a Greek dramatist. The last major tragic playwright of the classical world, he has also been called 'the first modern'.

Euripides was not highly successful in his lifetime, winning the first of only five victories at the Dionysia at the age of 43. By the end of the 19th century, however, Euripides was the most acclaimed Greek playwright. And, when the Royal Shakespeare Company presented a ten-play cycle The Greeks in 1980, seven of the works were by Euripides.

Only 17 of his 92 plays survive. These include Medea, The Bacchae and Electra. Euripides's innovations included the deus ex machina and the formal prologue. He used simple everyday language, bringing a new realism to the stage. Although contemporaries accused him of killing tragedy, he humanized drama by adding elements of sentiment, romance, and even comedy. He was the first to argue against the social inferiority of women, and the first to show women in love. He was also the first to explore such subjects as madness and repression.

A recluse, he shunned Athenian civil and social affairs, and in later life would sit all day in a cave on Salamis overlooking the sea as he contemplated and wrote 'something great and high'. In 408 BC Euripides was exiled for his unorthodox views to Macedonia, where he died less than two years later. According to tradition, when the Spartans arrived to burn Athens, they desisted after a reminder that this was Euripides's city.