Drama Classics

Plays

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.'

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.