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Inspiration from Tatters: Reconstructed ancient Greek plays on the modern stage

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis in Classical Performance Reception Studies asks how some fragmentary ancient Athenian dramas—a satyr play (Sophocles’ Trackers), and several tragedies (the lost plays of Aeschylus’ trilogy about the Danaids, Sophocles’ Tereus, and Euripides’ Hypsipyle and Alcmaeon in Corinth) have informed some experimental theatre productions since the late 1980s. Between the introductory and concluding chapters, the four central chapters of the thesis analyse, in chronological order of their production, the following new dramatic works incorporating or otherwise responding to the ancient fragments: Tony Harrison’s The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, which premiered at Delphi in 1988 but was revived in 1990 at the National Theatre; Timberlake Wertenbaker’s The Love of the Nightingale, first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1989 and, Joanna Laurens’ The Three Birds (Gate Theatre, 2000); Silviu Purcărete’s Les Danaïdes (Avignon, 1996) and, Charles Mee’s Big Love (Actor's Theatre of Louisville, 2000); Tasos Roussos’ Hypsipyle (1997) and, David Wiles’ Hy]ψ[ipyle: A Fragment (Royal Holloway University of London 1997); and Colin Teevan’s Alcmaeon in Corinth/Cock o’ the North (Live Theatre, Newcastle, 2004). The context, content and production styles of each new production are discussed in tandem with the remains of the ancient play available to the modern playwright—papyrus fragments, book quotations, ancient hypotheses, scholarly editions and translations into modern languages of these, vase-paintings, the ancient reception of the classical Greek plays in later literature, other ancient literary sources such as ancient comedy, epic poetry and mythographers’ works, and secondary scholarship on and philological reconstructions of the ancient texts. But in addition to this empirical exercise in the analysis of the process of making new theatre practice from ancient theatrical tatters, I ask why fragmentary plays have proved so inspirational outside the academy over the last three and a half decades; the answers lie in the fragments’ susceptibility to being arranged and interpreted in ways that speak to very modern concerns with the shape of the family, patriarchy, anti- and postcolonial theory, migration and immigration, displacement, diaspora, social class, violence and war.
Original languageEnglish
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    Award date2018

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