Drama Classics

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.

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'.

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.

Children of the Sun (Trans. Mulrine)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Maxim Gorky's play Children of the Sun is a Chekhovian family drama, written while its author was briefly imprisoned in Saint Petersburg's Peter and Paul Fortress during the abortive Russian Revolution of 1905. It was initially banned, but the imperial authorities allowed it to premiere on 24 October 1905 at the Moscow Art Theatre.

This translation by Stephen Mulrine was published by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series in 2000.

The play's title refers to Russia's privileged intelligentsia, epitomised by Protasov, who is high-minded and idealistic but out of touch with the reality of life, especially for the working classes. The play is set during one of the cholera epidemics of the previous century, but was universally understood to relate to contemporary events, and has come to be seen as a prophetic echo of the coming revolution.

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.

Cuckold Ubu

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Alfred Jarry’s Cuckold Ubu (Ubu Cocu) is the second in his cycle of Ubu plays about Pa Ubu, the grotesquely comical character first encountered in King Ubu (Ubu Roi).

This version is translated by Kenneth McLeish, who in his introduction to the published text calls the play 'the darkest and most surreal of the [Ubu] plays.' It is relatively short compared to its predecessor King Ubu, and is incomplete: Jarry never produced a definitive version of the play. He is believed to have begun its composition in 1897, a year after the premiere of King Ubu, and it was performed in various versions during his lifetime. It is written in the same style as King Ubu, with a characteristic combination of surrealism, ribaldry and biting satire.

The action of the play is summarised by McLeish as follows: 'Pa Ubu takes up residence in the home of Peardrop, a breeder of polyhedra, and he and his Barmpots tyrannise the neighbourhood, despite the efforts of Pa Ubu’s Conscience and Peardrop to stop them. There is war, led on Peardrop’s side by Memnon (the singing Egyptian statue with whom Ma Ubu is cuckolding Pa Ubu) and by the banker Swankipants, and eventually a crocodile appears in true Punch-and-Judy style to chase off all the others. (We don’t know whether it does or not: the play as it survives is incomplete.)'

The Devil is an Ass

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Ben Jonson's play The Devil is an Ass is a Jacobean comedy first performed in 1616 by the King's Men and first published in 1631.

The play opens in Hell, with a junior demon called Pug persuading his master Satan to let him spend a day in London doing the Devil's work of tempting men to evil. Satan thinks Pug isn't up to the job; the world has grown so sophisticated in its vices, especially in the moral cesspool of London, that a simple devil like Pug will be severely out of his depth. Pug pleads his case, however, and Satan sends him into the world, specifically to plague an eccentric and foolish gentleman named Fabian Fitzdottrel. Taking over the body of a recently hanged thief, Pug persuades Fitzdottrel to take him on as a servant. The squire doesn't believe that Pug is a devil, despite Pug's insistence that he is, but is happy that he asks no wages. Meanwhile, Fitzdottrel is the target of various conmen, who befriend him hoping to take advantage of his eccentric foolishness and to seduce his beautiful young wife. Pug, in looking for opportunities for villainy, is beaten, manipulated, and generally abused, and ends up in Newgate Prison, from where he is rescued by Satan, triumphant in his prediction that London was more than Pug could handle. Fitzdottrel, discovering that Pug was a devil after all, abandons his new friends, exposing them as the conmen they really are.

This edition of the text, edited by Peter Happé and introduced by Simon Trussler, was published in 1995 by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series.

Don Juan

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Molière’s classic play retells the myth of Don Juan, the infamous womaniser with few morals and a scorn for religion.

Casanova Don Juan exasperates his sensible servant, Sganarelle, with his compromising behaviour. His recent escapade involves the beautiful Elvire, who he has abducted from a convent under the false pretence that they will be married. However, a new woman quickly turns his head and he sets sail in order to woo her with Sganarelle in tow. When their ship capsizes, a peasant rescues them and Don Juan quickly grabs the opportunity to seduce two peasant girls. It is here that Don Juan learns that Elvire’s brothers plans to kill him over his treatment of their sister. So he and Sganarelle decide to disguise themselves as they head back into the city. On the way our anti-hero unwittingly saves the life of one of Elvire’s brothers, Don Carlos, from a crew of bandits. When he and his servant come across the tomb of a Governor that Don Juan previously killed, a statue comes to life. Sganarelle believes that this is Heaven’s way of signalling its wrath with Don Juan, but he remains unconcerned and even feigns spirituality. But this is one step too far for Heaven, who promptly swallows Don Juan up into the pit of Hell leaving Sganarelle alone and penniless.

Riding high from the success of Tartuffe a year before, Molière wrote Don Juan in a matter of weeks in order to fill a gap in his schedule. The play premiered at the Palais-Royal in Paris in 1665 with Molière playing the part of Sganarelle.

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 Flea in Her Ear

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Georges Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear (La puce à l’oreille) is a classic French farce, first performed at the Théâtre des Nouveautés in Paris on 2 March 1907.

Stephen Mulrine, in his introduction to this translation by Kenneth McLeish, describes A Flea in Her Ear as 'perhaps Feydeau’s best-known play, certainly to English audiences, and its intricate choreography draws together two classic farce plots – that of the suspicious wife who sets a trap to expose her faithless partner, and the venerable comic device of mistaken identity. And the latter complicates the former to such a degree that by the end of Act II, the spectator is almost as exhausted, mentally, as Feydeau’s characters are, physically, by their manic pursuit of each other across the stage, in a flurry of whirling doors and spinning beds.'

Mulrine also observes that 'Feydeau’s plays are a form of perpetual motion, and almost impossible to summarise, but taken by itself, the mistaken identity plot is comparatively straightforward: the supposed unfaithful husband, Chandebise, bears an uncanny resemblance to a drunken porter, Poche (both parts are played by the same actor), and when circumstances bring the two into proximity, in the seedy Hotel Casablanca, all hell breaks loose. Those circumstances arise through the workings of the main plot, set in motion with the entry of the principal characters, midway through Act I, when Chandebise’s wife Raymonde confesses to her friend Lucienne that she suspects her husband of infidelity, while Chandebise himself, a little later, complains to Dr Finache about a worrying, and inexplicable, loss of sexual vigour.'

Fuente Ovejuna

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Lope de Vega's play Fuente Ovejuna is a recognised masterpiece by a major writer of the Spanish Golden Age, depicting one of the most memorable acts of resistance in world drama. First published in Madrid in 1619, the play is believed to have been written between 1612 and 1614. It is based upon an actual historical incident that took place in the village of Fuente Ovejuna (now called Fuente Obejuna) in Castile in 1476.

This translation by Laurence Boswell was published by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series in 2009.

The play's action follows the historical incident closely. A military Commander, Fernán Gómez de Guzmán, under the command of the Order of Calatrava, mistreats the villagers of Fuente Ovejuna, who revolt against their tyrannical overlord and murder him. When a magistrate sent by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella arrives at the village to investigate, the villagers, even under the pain of torture, respond only by saying 'Fuente Ovejuna did it'. In the face of this claim to collective responsibility, the village is pardoned and placed under the direct jurisdiction of the Crown.

The Game of Love and Chance

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Pierre Marivaux's play The Game of Love and Chance (Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard) is an 18th-century French comedy of manners in the Commedia dell'arte tradition, based on the simplest of plot devices, the exchanging places of master and valet, mistress and maidservant. It was first performed on 23 January 1730 by the Comédie Italienne.

This translation by Stephen Mulrine was published by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series in 2007.

In the play, a young woman, Silvia, is visited by her betrothed, Dorante, whom she does not know. To get a better idea of the type of person he is, she trades places with her servant, Lisette, and disguises herself. However, unbeknownst to her, her fiancé has the same idea and trades places with his valet, Arlequin. The 'game' pits the two false servants against the two false masters, and in the end, the couples fall in love with their appropriate counterpart.

The Government Inspector

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector is a classic Russian satire of provincial bureaucracy, a comedy of errors that satirises small-town political corruption and human greed. It is arguably Gogol’s best known and most popular work. It was first performed at the Aleksandrinsky Imperial Theatre in St Petersburg on 19 April 1836 at the personal request of Tsar Nicholas I (who afterwards expressed his delight). It subsequently opened at the Maly Theatre, Moscow, on 25 May.

Stephen Mulrine, the author of this translation, describes what happens in the play in his introduction to the published edition: 'In all essentials, Gogol’s "case of mistaken identity" is a comic warhorse of some pedigree, reaching back to classical times and forward to our own day in seemingly inexhaustible variation. A penniless stranger arrives in a small provincial town, is mistaken for a VIP, treated like royalty by all and sundry, and eventually exposed – making his hosts look extremely foolish. [...] Detail is all-important in Gogol’s work, and The Government Inspector is no exception. Almost the whole of Act One, for example, is devoted to painting a picture of his nameless provincial mudhole, and its corrupt and self-serving administrators, long before the play’s eponymous "hero" makes his entrance, in the squalid inn which is the setting for Act Two.

'Khlestakov, the bogus inspector, is in fact a low-grade civil servant, travelling from St Petersburg to his family home – a young man living beyond his means, a follower of fashion, and inveterate card-player, temporarily holed up at the local inn, and unable to pay his bill. However, while Khlestakov and his manservant Osip debate where their next meal is to come from, the town mayor is at that moment reading out the contents of a letter to an urgently convened assembly of local officials and dignitaries.

'The letter warns of an impending visit by a government inspector, travelling incognito, and the anxious officials attempt to plan a strategy for keeping their various swindles under wraps, at least for the duration of the visit. The mayor himself might be described as bribe-taker in chief, preying on the local traders; the judge, obsessed with riding to hounds, treats his court as an extension of his tack-room; the postmaster diligently unseals the mail, and retails its contents as gossip; the charities warden, and a compliant workhouse physician maintain their charges on a régime of strict discipline and no expensive medicaments. Embezzlement is routine, the town is run for private profit, and the officials are further panicked when two local landowners, Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky, burst in to announce that the government inspector, in the person of Khlestakov, is in their very midst!

'The mayor promptly leads a delegation to Khlestakov’s inn, settles the latter’s unpaid account, and arranges for his removal to more comfortable quarters, i.e., his own mansion, where Khlestakov, the sophisticated St Petersburg dandy, instantly becomes a focus for the amorous yearnings not only of the mayor’s daughter, but also of his wife. While Khlestakov is enjoying life at the mayor’s house, he receives a series of visits from the guilt-ridden officials, each more eager than the last to purchase his favour, with extravagant "loans".

'Word of the inspector’s presence has filtered down to the longsuffering citizenry, however, and a deputation of traders and artisans also arrives with a catalogue of grievances for Khlestakov, accusing the mayor. Siberian exile, at the very least, appears to beckon, but in a neat twist, Khlestakov is inveigled into proposing marriage to the mayor’s daughter. Overcome with relief, now that his position is secure, the mayor envisages a glittering career in St Petersburg. Khlestakov, meanwhile, has yielded to the urgings of his manservant Osip to quit while ahead, and is already miles away by the time the postmaster unseals his letter to a St Petersburg journalist crony, revealing all.

'Finally, just as it seems the nadir has been reached, with the townsfolk’s realisation that they have been willing dupes, a policeman enters with the news that a genuine government inspector has arrived, and is waiting for them at the inn. The mayor and his officials, his wife and daughter, their various guests, all freeze in a dumb show precisely described by Gogol, a literal monument to human greed and folly.'

The Hypochondriac

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

The Hypochondriac is a comédie-ballet, a genre of French drama mixing spoken scenes with interludes of music and dance. It would turn out to be Molière’s last play. Ironically, he collapsed onstage during his fourth performance in the lead role. He insisted on completing the play and died later that evening at home from tuberculosis.

Argan is an ‘imaginary invalid.’ A man so obsessed with his health that he fails to notice what is happening around him in his own family. After the loss of his first wife, he has been left to bring up two daughters. The elder, Angélique has fallen in love with Cléante but Argan has promised her hand to Thomas Diaforious, the son of a noted doctor. Meanwhile, Argan’s second wife Béline is scheming against her husband’s daughters for the lion’s share of his inheritance. In order to reveal to him the way things truly stand, Argan’s brother Beralde persuades him to feign death with the aid of the maid Toinette who breaks the news to Béline. Only now does he see Béline’s true colours and abandons her. He finally agrees to the union between his daughter and Cléante. The rousing finale features a ceremonial song-and-dance number that confers the status of doctor upon Argan.

The Hypochondriac was first performed at the Palais-Royal in Paris in 1673.

An Italian Straw Hat

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Eugène Labiche's accomplished farce An Italian Straw Hat (Un Chapeau de paille d'Italie) was first produced at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in Paris on 14 April 1851. It was written in collaboration with Marc Antoine Amédée Michel (1812-68), an old college friend of Labiche's, who, as 'Marc-Michel', worked on more than 100 farces, 50 of them with Labiche.

This version is a translation by Kenneth McLeish.

The action of the play takes place in Paris, in the mid-19th century. Fadinard, a wealthy Parisian bachelor, is about to marry Hélène, daughter of a suburban market-gardener. It is the morning of the wedding, and Hélène, her blustering father Nonancourt and eight cabfuls of guests are expected at any moment. Fadinard has galloped ahead to make final arrangements. On the way he has stopped to rest his horse, and the animal has eaten a straw hat hung on a bush while its owner dallies in the undergrowth with a soldier. The hat-woman and the soldier have followed Fadinard home, and he is horrified to find that the woman is a former girlfriend (with the most jealous husband in Paris). Her soldier lover demands a replacement hat, Fadinard rushes out to find one – and the newly-arrived wedding-party, thinking that he is on his way to the ceremony, jump into their cabs and follow him. The rest of the play is a delirious chase, faster and faster as Fadinard hunts for a replacement hat and the guests hunt Fadinard. It ends only when one of the wedding-guests, Fadinard’s deaf old uncle Vézinet, produces his present, an Italian straw hat identical to the one eaten by the horse: Fadinard’s wedding is saved and the play ends in a whirl of celebration.

In his introduction to the play, Kenneth McLeish writes: 'An Italian Straw Hat takes elements from two of the most popular forms of 19th-century French theatre, vaudeville and the ‘well-made’ play, and marries them. Vaudeville was satirical farce, lampooning the bourgeoisie and using slapstick, dance, song and such stock characters as dodderer, philanderer, pretty girl, jealous husband and peppery soldier. The ‘well-made’ play depended on a tightly-organised plot in which the entire action was motivated by some secret involving the main character, a secret revealed only gradually as the play proceeded, until by the final curtain full knowledge had completely changed everyone’s lives – for the worse in a ‘well-made’ melodrama, for the better in a ‘well-made’ farce.'

An Italian Straw Hat, unusually for a farce, won almost immediate acclaim not only from the public, but from critics and academics alike, one even going so far as to call it ‘Labiche’s Hamlet ’. It was more frequently revived than any other of Labiche’s plays, and when he published his ‘Complete Works’ in 1878, he placed it first in the first volume. In the 80 years after its creation, it received more than 100 productions in France alone, and in 1938 it was taken into the repertoire of the Comédie-Française, where it has remained ever since.

King Ubu

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Alfred Jarry's King Ubu (Ubu Roi) is an absurd farce that riffs on several of Shakespeare’s plays and warns of the dangers of tyranny. It is the first in Jarry's cycle of Ubu plays, all featuring the grotesquely comical character of Pa Ubu. Since its first, riotously-received performance at the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre, Paris, in 1896, it has been recognised as a forerunner to the Surrealist and Modernist movements, and has been hugely influential in world drama.

This translation by Kenneth McLeish was commissioned by Hilary Norrish for the BBC World Service, and was first performed in her production by a cast including Alan Armstrong, Alan Corduner, Pip Donaghy, Richard Pearce, Alison Peebles and Emily Richard.

The first stage production, at the Gate Theatre, London, in April 1997, was directed by John Wright, designed by David Roger and performed by Allison Cologna, Frazer Corbyn, Mark Stuart Currie, Stephen Finegold, Jonathan Ferguson, Joanna Holden, Jonny Hoskins, Richard Katz and Asta Sighvats.

In his introduction to the published text, Kenneth McLeish outlines what happens in the play: 'In King Ubu, Pa Ubu is a cowardly toady, one of the hangers-on of Good King Wenceslas of Baloney. Nagged by his fearsome wife Ma Ubu, he gathers a band of Barmpots, led by the obnoxious Dogpile, assassinates Wenceslas and seizes the throne. He and the Barmpots fight Wenceslas’s army, led by Princes Willy, Silly and Billikins, and defeat them. Billikins escapes to the hills, where the ghosts of his ancestors give him a great big sword and order him to organise resistance.

'Ubu starts his reign by crawling to the people, but soon turns into a tyrant, debraining anyone who disagrees with him, murdering all the aristocrats and middle classes and extorting triple taxes from the peasants. The peasants revolt and go over to Billikins – and Dogpile, whom Ubu has rashly insulted, defects to Tsar Alexis of All the Russkies and leads him and his army to attack Baloney and restore Billikins to the throne. Ma Ubu steals the Balonian state treasure and a handsome Balonian soldier, and flees into exile.

'Defeated in battle, Pa Ubu holes up in a cave with his cronies Wallop and McClub, and barely survives when a bear attacks them. Ma Ubu eventually reaches the same cave. She and Pa Ubu make up their differences, give up all claims to the Balonian throne and set off with Wallop and McClub on a voyage of exile to Engelland.'

The Learned Ladies

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

The Learned Ladies is one of Molière’s most popular comedies. Written in five acts the play is a satire on academic pretention and female education.

Henriette and Clitandre are in love and planning to marry. Henriette’s beloved father, Chrysale, and his brother, Ariste are in favour of the marriage but it’s her female relatives that are proving harder to convince. Her bossy mother, Philaminte would prefer her to marry the scholar Trissotin, a lofty yet mediocre poet with pretentions to literary greatness. Philaminte, along with Henriette’s sister, Armanda and Chrysale’s sister, Bélise, are in thrall to Trissotin. They are the ‘learned ladies’ of the title and display a rampant snobbery towards anyone they deem uneducated. Flattered by the sycophantic Trissotin they fawn over him, but Ariste has a plan to show the whole family his true colours.

Written in rhyming couplets, The Learned Ladies was Molière’s penultimate play premiering at the Palais-Royal in Paris in 1672.

Lysistrata (trans. Dickinson)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Aristophanes' Lysistrata is a classic Greek comedy about an extraordinary attempt by an Athenian woman, Lysistrata, to bring an end to the war that is afflicting Greece by persuading the women to withhold sexual privileges from their menfolk in order to force them to negotiate peace. It was originally performed in Athens in 411 BC during the Peloponnesian War, which by then had been raging for an entire generation.

The play's action takes place in the besieged city of Athens, some twenty years into the Peloponnesian War (a civil war fought between Athens and her former ally Sparta). Lysistrata ('disbander of armies') forms a plan to end the fighting. She calls together all the women in Greece, and tells them her plan: since the war is getting nowhere under men's control, and Greece is being torn to pieces, the only solution is for women to take over public affairs and manage them as successfully as they run their homes. Not only will they seize the Acropolis (so gaining control of the Athenian armoury and war-treasury), they will also withhold sex and thus persuade their men to make peace. As the men on both sides of the conflict become increasingly desperate for sex, they finally turn to Lysistrata and sue for peace.

This translation by Patric Dickinson was first published in 1957. Following Dickinson's death, it was lightly revised by Kenneth McLeish before being republished in 1996 by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series. The dialogue is vividly colloquial without being constrained to a particular time-period. Lysistrata speaks with an earthy immediacy ('I told them all to be here; I said it was most important, / And they've none of them come'), while, according to an author's note, the Spartans speak with a Lancashire accent.

In his introduction to the Nick Hern Books edition, McLeish writes: 'At one level, Lysistrata is a farce about frustration. But its underlying ideas – that the impotence of war can be symbolised by sexual frustration, that resolution is possible and that women may be better able than men to bring this about – must have resonated with the original spectators in a way which brilliantly challenged their (and, later, our) ideas of what 'farce' ought to be.'

The Misanthrope (trans. Mulrine)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Arguably one of Molière’s best-known and most loved plays, The Misanthrope is a classic comedy that satirises the hypocrisies of French aristocratic society.

Alceste, the misanthrope, hates all mankind and despairs of its falseness. He believes that the world could be perfected if only people were more honest with one another. But his candidness soon starts to make him enemies and he becomes the target of malicious rumours. He alienates his love, Célimène, by reproaching her coquettish behaviour and is summoned before the court of marshals to defend his negative opinion on some poetry composed by a powerful noble. Alceste begins to realise that the only way to be left alone is to disengage from society itself – but he struggles to persuade Célimène to go with him and is ultimately left alone.

Molière is responsible for elevating comedy to the status of the great tragedies written by his contemporaries Racine and Corneille. Though The Misanthrope is widely considered to be his comedic masterpiece, it was actually a commercial failure when it first appeared in 1666 at the Palais-Royal in Paris. Perhaps its uneasy mix of comedy and tragedy caused consternation among those original Parisian theatregoers since it represented a significant break from Molière’s usual farcical fare. However, its stature has only increased since then and the play is now an established part of the theatrical canon.

The Miser

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

The Miser is a five-act comedy written in prose, which makes it a fairly unusual addition to Molière’s oeuvre. The play premiered at the Palais-Royal in Paris in 1668 and was not an instant success, perhaps in part due to the decision not to write in verse. However, records show that its fortunes improved and by 1900 and the founding of the Comédie Française, The Miser had become the most performed 17th century play with over 1500 performances.

Harpagon is an unashamed miser. Yet he lives in relative wealth that he takes great pains to protect. Now a widow and over seventy years of age, he plans on marrying Mariane – a wholly inappropriate choice given her young age and her existing romantic attachment to his son, Cléante. As part of an impoverished family, Cléante helps secure Mariane a loan much to his father’s ire. Meanwhile, Harpagon’s daughter Élise is in love with Valère but her father plans to sell her off to a much higher bidder, preferably the wealthy Anselme. When Harpagon’s hoard is stolen, he begins pointing the finger at anyone and everyone, even the theatregoers themselves. Things are rapidly resolved in the fifth act in a finale full of comedic coincidences: Anselme is revealed to be the father of both Valère and Mariane and agrees to pay for both marriages whilst Harpagon is reunited with his beloved hoard.

The Miser has been translated into many different languages and performed all over the world. Its story has formed the basis of a Bollywood musical, a Russian opera and numerous film and TV adaptations.

Phedra

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Jean Racine's Phedra (originally Phèdre et Hippolyte) is a five-act tragedy written in alexandrine verse, first performed on 1 January 1677 at the Hôtel de Bourgogne, home of the royal troupe of actors in Paris.

This translation by Julie Rose was published in 2001 by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series.

Racine derived the subject of his play – the story of Phedra's illicit love for her stepson Hippolytus, the son of Theseus – from Greek mythology, principally from Euripides' tragedy Hippolytus and Seneca's Phaedra.

Consumed by an uncontrollable passion for her young stepson and believing Theseus, her absent husband, to be dead, Phedra confesses her darkest desires and enters the world of nightmare. When Theseus returns, alive and well, Phedra, fearing exposure, accuses her stepson of rape. Heartbroken and overcome, Theseus banishes Hippolytus and asks the god Neptune to avenge him by his son's death. When Hippolytus is reported dead, Phedra poisons herself; before dying, she confesses the truth to Theseus.

Scapino

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Molière’s three-act farce was first staged at the Palais-Royal in Paris in 1671. Scapino, or the Trickster, is an archetypal figure used in commedia dell’arte, a theatre practice originating in Italy whose name can be roughly translated as ‘the comedy of craft.’

Friends Octave and Léandre have each found the love of their life. Octave has secretly wed Hyacinthe and Léandre has fallen in love with Zerbinetta. Unfortunately, their fathers have other ideas. When Octave’s father, Argante, returns home with marriage plans for his son, the men desperately turn to Scapino for help. However, Argante’s obstinacy drives Scapino to ever more ludicrous schemes to ensure that love wins the day.

The plot of Scapino is more uncomplicated than previous works by Molière. It seems to lack the social criticism evident in such plays as The School for Wives or The Misanthrope. Nevertheless, the stock formula at play in Scapino has far-reaching roots in the comedies of such Ancient Roman playwrights as Plautus and Terence. While it initially only ran for eighteen performances, the play grew to be very popular after Molière’s death becoming one of his best-known works and is a master class in comic construction.

The Servant of Two Masters

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters (Il servitore di due padroni) is a classic Italian comedy in the Commedia dell'Arte tradition, focussing on the attempts of the resourceful and ever-hungry Truffaldino to serve two different masters without either of them finding out.

It was written in 1745 at the request of actor Antonio Sacco, one of the great Truffaldinos in history, and first performed in Milan as a 'scenario' in which only the lovers’ dialogues were fully scripted. Later it moved into the Teatro San Samuele, Venice, for the season 1745-46. A full version was eventually published in 1753.

This translation by Stephen Mulrine was published by Nick Hern Books in 2012.

The play begins in the Venetian house of Pantalone, where a party is underway to celebrate the engagement of Clarice, daughter of Pantalone, to Silvio, son of Doctor Lombardi. As the wedding agreement is being signed, the hilarious and confused Truffaldino enters to announce the arrival of his master, Federigo Rasponi of Turin.

This news comes as an amazing surprise to all, since Federigo is believed to have been killed in a duel with Florindo, his sister Beatrice’s lover. The problem arises from the fact that Federigo had originally been promised Clarice’s hand in marriage. The truth, however, is the supposed Federigo is actually Beatrice in disguise, come from Turin to claim the dowry owed by Pantalone to her brother, if he were alive.

To Clarice’s horror, her father feels obliged to honour his commitment to the supposed Federigo. Clarice refuses to comply, while Silvio, spurred on by his pontificating father, strives to maintain his claim to Clarice’s hand. The wedding, however, is cancelled. Brighella, the innkeeper, recognises Beatrice, despite her disguise, but promises to keep her identity a secret and becomes her accomplice in her mission. Here Truffaldino meets the housemaid, Smeraldina, and falls in love with her.

Later, on the street, the servant Truffaldino is approached by Florindo who, having recently escaped from Turin after killing Federigo, is seeking a servant himself. Truffaldino accepts Florindo’s offer, determining that if he is clever he can serve two masters and easily double his income. From the hotel Florindo sends Truffaldino to check for his mail. Beatrice (disguised as Federigo), who is also at the hotel, sends him to check her mail as well. As fate would have it, Truffaldino mixes up the letters and gives Beatrice’s letters to Florindo, who as a result learns that his lover is in Venice and sets out in search of her.

Back at Pantalone’s house, Beatrice, still in disguise as Federigo, reveals her secret to the distraught Clarice. Pantalone sees the two shake hands and takes it to mean that they have agreed to wed and sets out to tell Doctor Lombardi.

Eventually, through a series of comic mishaps and mix-ups, Beatrice and Florindo come to believe that the other is dead. Beatrice, grief-stricken, abandons her disguise and flees the house. Having discovered Beatrice’s true identity, Pantalone tells Lombardi that the marriage between Silvio and Clarice is still possible since Federigo is actually a woman! Fate again intervenes and brings the suicidal Beatrice and Florindo together in a chance encounter. Overjoyed, they plan to return together to Turin and buy Florindo’s freedom.

In the end, all of the couples are set to be happily married. Florindo asks Pantalone for permission for his servant, Truffaldino, to marry Clarice’s maid, Smeraldino. Clarice says that this is impossible, because Smeraldino is promised to Beatrice’s servant. Truffaldino, in order to marry Smeraldino, confesses that he is, indeed, a servant to two masters.

Slave Ubu

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Alfred Jarry’s Slave Ubu (Ubu Enchaîné, ‘Ubu in chains’) is the third in his influential cycle of plays about Pa Ubu, the grotesquely comical character first encountered in King Ubu (Ubu Roi) and then in Cuckold Ubu (Ubu Cocu). Written in 1899, the play was first published in 1900.

This version of the play is translated by Kenneth McLeish, who in his introduction to the published text summarises the action as follows: 'Pa Ubu decides that he has had enough of tyranny, and that the only way to be free is to become a slave. He attaches himself and Ma Ubu to the dear old man Peebock and his daughter Eleutheria, and rules their household. The Three Free Men and their Sergeant Pisseasy (Eleutheria’s fiancé) come to the rescue, and Ma and Pa Ubu are transferred to jail, preparatory to being sold as galley-slaves to Sultan Suleiman of Turkishland. The jail is so comfortable that the Three Free Men and the Populace break in to become convicts themselves. Two convoys of convicts set out to Turkishland, one consisting of the Ubs and the convicts (who have generously exchanged clothes and manacles with their guards) and the other led by Pisseasy. Sultan Suleiman makes them all galley slaves, and they row into the sunset and live happily ever after.'

The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

DH Lawrence's second play The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, written in 1910 but unpublished until 1914, is an intense and powerful drama in the naturalist tradition, set in a Nottinghamshire mining town. It was staged for the first time in 1916, by the Players Producing Company at the Little Theatre in Los Angeles, USA. In 1920 it was staged in Britain, in an amateur production at the Garrick Theatre in Altrincham.

The play's action is set in the kitchen of a miner’s cottage. Elizabeth Holroyd is an educated woman with refined sensibilities, struggling to make a good home for her two children in the grime and poverty of a Nottinghamshire mining town. Poverty is not the only problem she faces, for her husband, a miner, is a brutish man, prone to fighting, drinking and spending his evenings in the pub. Blackmore, a mine electrician, recognises Mrs Holroyd as a kindred spirit, and asks her to leave her husband for him, promising to make a new life for her and her children in faraway Spain. Matters come to a head when Mr Holroyd arrives home from the pub one evening in the company of two strange women, ‘hussies’ who are his drinking and dancing partners. It soon becomes apparent that his relationship with one of the women, Clara, is more than casual, and that they have probably been having an affair. But Clara is her own woman, and her own history includes an unhappy marriage, which causes her to empathise with Mrs Holroyd’s situation. Recognising the hurt caused by her visit, Clara leaves, and the angry Mrs Holroyd then throws her husband out – only to have him return a few hours later for an angry confrontation with Blackmore. The action concludes when Mr Holroyd once again fails to return home after work. Believing that he has gone to the pub as usual, Mrs Holroyd begins to take Blackmore’s proposal more seriously. However, she then learns that there has been an accident at the mine, and that her husband was trapped. Finally she is told that he has been killed. The play ends with his wife and mother preparing his body for burial.

In the years following Lawrence’s death in 1930, his plays were performed only rarely. An Independent Television adaptation of The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd was broadcast in 1958, but theatre producers proved less interested in his drama. In 1965, however, director Peter Gill staged Lawrence’s play A Collier’s Friday Night for one night at the Royal Court Theatre in London. The production was a critical success and two years later Gill staged Lawrence’s The Daughter-in-Law at the same theatre, following this in 1968 with a season of Lawrence’s work, comprising A Collier’s Friday Night, The Daughter-in-Law and The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd. Since Gill’s productions The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd has received several notable productions.

This edition of the play is edited by Colin Counsell.

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.

Woyzeck (Buchner)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Georg Buchner's play Woyzeck is one of the most performed and influential plays in German theatre. Based on a real-life murder trial that took place in Germany in the 1820s, the play was written in 1837, but left incomplete at the author's death from typhus in February that year. It was not staged until 1913, when it was premiered in Munich. There is ongoing debate regarding the extent to which the surviving text is complete, and the intended order of the scenes.

This English translation by Gregory Motton was published by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series in 1996. It follows the ‘definitive’ order of scenes established by Werner R. Lehman in 1967. Also included, in an appendix at the end, are several fragments, too short or too puzzling to have found secure places in the main text.

The play comprises a series of short, self-contained scenes. Franz Woyzeck, a lowly soldier stationed in a provincial German town, is bullied by his superiors and starved by the regiment's doctor in the name of scientific experiment. His only pleasures in life are his lover Marie and their innocent young son. But when Woyzeck learns that Marie has been unfaithful with the regiment's handsome Drum Major, he murders his lover in a fit of rage and hopelessness.

In his introduction to the published text, theatre scholar Kenneth McLeish writes that the play 'is like a jigsaw, gradually built up before our eyes. Each of its twenty-four scenes is self-contained. None flows out of or into any of the others. Our picture of each character, and of the developing situation, does not grow organically, like a plant (as happens in earlier drama). Rather, it is a kind of collage, in which each new piece changes the total picture, by juxtaposition rather than development. This method became standard in the arts of the twentieth century – examples are film montage, ‘block construction’ in classical music, ‘epic theatre’ in drama, cubism in painting – but in 1836 it was unprecedented.'

Yerma

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Federico García Lorca's Yerma is a poetic drama about a childless woman living in rural Spain, and her desperate longing to conceive a child. It was first performed in the Teatro Español, Madrid, on 29 December 1934.

This translation is by Jo Clifford.

Yerma (the name derives from the Spanish word for 'barren') has been married to Juan for two years, but remains childless. Furthermore, her desire for a child is at odds with Juan's desire for money. Tortured by her incessant longing to conceive a child, and by Juan's insistence that she be content with what she has, Yerma murders her husband, and with him her only chance of having a child.

In an introduction to the play, Jo Clifford writes: 'The play was a huge commercial success and ran for more than 130 performances. The right-wing press, however, loathed it, and it became the focus of vicious attacks. It cemented Lorca’s reputation among the right as a left-wing homosexual degenerate and in that sense contributed to the hatred that led to his assassination.'

Nick Hern Books is one of the UK’s leading specialist performing arts publishers, with a vast collection of plays, screenplays and theatre books in their catalogue. They also license most of their plays for amateur performance.