Reanimating Greek Tragedy
: How Contemporary Poets Translate for the Stage

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis starts from the premise that modern poets have proved effective translators of Greek tragedy for the stage and is a hermeneutic consideration of why and how they succeeded. The spread of the close analysis is a period from 1981 to the present day. Four poets, Tony Harrison, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes and Tom Paulin, are considered in detail, while other translators, such as Liz Lochhead and Timberlake Wertenbaker, are used as comparators. The four poets’ translations are considered within the context of their whole poetic output, to enhance an understanding of each poet’s intentions. The major influences on these four poets are also scrutinized.
The introduction provides the methodology, including the choice of modern scholarship to be cited in support or to be challenged. It provides a brief historical survey of translating the classics and describes the tools provided by modern academic disciplines which help to analyse the poets’ achievements. The bulk of the thesis consists of three chapters, each focusing on one aspect of poetic choice which contributes to the appeal of a work. In each chapter, a close comparison is made between the same source text but different translators. Thus, Harrison and Hughes both provide a version of the Oresteia, considered in terms of metre, rhyme and general structure, Heaney and Paulin both produced a version of Antigone, examined for the use of Ulster and Irish vernacular and Harrison and Paulin created very free adaptations of Prometheus, which are considered as part of a broad review of cultural overlay, modernising and democratising in producing Greek tragedy on the contemporary stage.
The conclusion synthesises the strands, signposting possible further research. It celebrates the poets’ achievement - and contemporary British theatre for embracing Greek tragedy, as it currently does. It ends with a brief manifesto for the future.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorEdith Hall (Supervisor) & Ismene Lada-Richards (Supervisor)

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