Euripides at Gray’s Inn

Gascoigne and Kinwelmersh’s Jocasta
  • Robert S. Miola


In 1566 players at Gray’s Inn staged the first performance of Greek tragedy in English, Euripides’ Phoenissae (“The Phoenician Women”) retitled Jocasta. Advertised on its title page (1573) as “written in Greek by Euripides, translated and digested into act[s] by George Gascoigne and Francis Kinwelmersh,” Jocasta is actually a translation of Lodovico Dolce’s Giocasta (1549).1 Here as elsewhere, Dolce practiced a creative imitatio, taking inventions, sayings, and plot structure from the ancients, togliendo le inventions le sentenze, e la testura da gli antichi, but freely omitting and creating along the way.2 Dolce based his Senecan adaptation not on the Greek original but on a Latin translation, perhaps that of R. Winter published at Basel in 1541. Gascoigne and Kinwelmersh then presented to their audience a “Euripides” three hands and three tongues removed from the original Greek.3


Greek Tragedy Latin Translation Greek Original Loeb Classical Library Tragic Hero 


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  1. 1.
    Jocasta first appeared in George Gascoigne’s A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres (1573); modernizing the spelling, I quote this play and Dolce’s Giocasta from Supposes and Jocasta, ed. John W. Cunliffe (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1906). Citations to Euripides are to Phoenissae, ed. Donald J. Mastronarde (Cambridge UP, 1994). Unless otherwise noted, all translations are mine. For the Greek I have consulted The Loeb Classical Library, Euripides with an English Translation, ed. and trans. Arthur S. Way, vol. 3 (1912, rpt. 1979).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Lodovico Dolce, Tragedie (Venice, 1560), sig. Aiiv. On Dolce as translator see Ronnie H. Terpening, Lodovico Dolce, Renaissance Man of Letters (U of Toronto P, 1997), 92–94.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For the identification of Dolce’s Latin text see Cunliffe, xxix. On Gascoigne and Kinwelmersh’s Jocasta, see C. T. Prouty, George Gascoigne: Elizabethan Courtier, Soldier, and Poet (New York: Columbia UP, 1942), 143–59; Bruce R. Smith, Ancient Scripts & Modern Experience on the English Stage 1500–1700 (Princeton UP, 1988), 81–83, 217–26.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    A. W. Verrall thought the play notorious for its “remarkable looseness of connexion,” Euripides the Rationalist (1895; rpt. New York: Russell & Russell, 1967), 233; H. D. F. Kitto called Phoenissae “a dramatic pageant” and discussed it as melodrama, Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study (Garden City: Doubleday, 1954), 372–83 (373); Helene P. Foley observed that the plot stood “in need of subtle drugs and a sophisticated hermeneutics,” Ritual Irony: Poetry and Sacrifice in Euripides (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985), 132.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    R. R. Bolgar, The Classical Heritage and Its Beneficiaries (Cambridge UP, 1954), Appendix II, 512–15: in English, Phoenissae by Gascoigne and Kin-welmersh (1566); in French, Troades by J. Amyot (1542, not printed), Hecuba by Bochatel (1544), Iphigenia in Aulide by J. Amyot (1547? not printed) and by T. Sebilet (1549), Medea by J. A. de Baif (1570, not printed); in German, Iphigenia in Aulide by H. Bebst (1584); in Italian, Alcestis by G. Parisotti (1525) and by H. Giustiniano (1599), Hecuba by L. Dolce (1543), G Trissino (1560), G. Gelli (1563), G. Balcianelli (1592), Iphigenia in Aulide by L. Dolce (1551), Phoenissae by G. Guidi (1532), L. Dolce (1560), Medea by L. Dolce (1551); in Spanish, Hecuba by P. de Oliva (1533), Medea by P. S. Abril (1599). Recent research has modified these counts but confirmed the general trends; we might add, for example, the work of François Tissard, who translated Medea, Hippolytus, and Alcestis into French (1507); see F. L. Lucas, Euripides and His Influence (New York, Longmans, Green, and Co., 1928), 89–117. In addition, Bolgar (524–25) lists 13 translations of individual Sophoclean plays, nine of them featuring women: four versions of Electra, four of Antigone (not counting Watsons Latin version erroneously categorized as English), one of Trachiniae. For Aeschylus (in Latin) see Paul Oskar Kristeller, Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum, 7 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic UP, 1960-), 2: 5–25, 3: 411–12, 7: 293–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 7.
    Lumley’s translation, without choruses and derived from a Latin intermediary, has been edited by H. H. Child (Malone Society Reprints, 1909) and Gustav Becker, Shakespeare Jahrbuch 44 (1910), 28–59. On this play see Lorraine Helms, Seneca by Candlelight and Other Stories of Renaissance Drama (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1997), 48–75. We know of Peek’s translation from two Latin poems by William Gager; see David H. Home, The Life and Minor Works of George Peele (New Haven: Yale UP, 1952), 42–46. Queen Elizabeth is rumoured to have translated some Euripides (Child, v).Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Lucas, 97–99; P. Sharratt and P. G Walsh, George Buchanan: Tragedies (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1983), 5–7. On the possible influence of Latin Euripides see Emrys Jones, The Origins of Shakespeare (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977), 85–118; Louise Schleiner, “Latinized Greek Drama in Shakespeare’s Writing of Hamlet,” Shakespeare Quarterly 41 (1990): 29–48. Schleiner lists Latin editions of Euripides’ complete works, 31n.11.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Erasmus, Hecuba & Iphigenia in Aulide (Venice, 1507), 2V.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    On the relation between topography, represented and real, and theatrical space in this play, see David Wiles, Tragedy in Athens: Performance Space and Theatrical Meaning (Cambridge UP, 1997), 154–56, 213–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 11.
    See Marilyn B. Arthur, “The Curse of Civilization: The Choral Odes of the Phoenissae,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 81 (1977): 163–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 13.
    The circumstances of the original production may have amplified this witness if Phoenissae played as part of a trilogy that dramatized the curse of fathers through the generations. On this conjecture see D. J. Conacher, Euripidean Drama: Myth, Theme, and Structure (U of Toronto P, 1967), 228–29; Mastronarde is skeptical, 13–14, 31–38.Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    Lodovico Dolce, Giocasta (Venice, 1549), sig. Aiii.Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    Bernard Weinberg, A History of Literary Criticism in the Italian Renaissance, 2 vols. (U of Chicago P, 1961), 739. Derived from Aristotle, Horace, and their commentators, this doctrine circulated widely in the Renaissance; Weinberg cites Robortello (400–401), Trissino (754), and many others.Google Scholar
  14. 17.
    On this speech see Michael Lloyd, The Agon in Euripides (Oxford: Clarendon, 1992), 83–93; Mastronarde, 297–98.Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    See Robert B. Parker, Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Greek Religion (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983).Google Scholar
  16. 19.
    To place Antigone in literary context see George Steiner, Antigones (New York: Oxford UP, 1984).Google Scholar
  17. 20.
    See Sue Blundell, Women in Ancient Greece (London: British Museum Press, 1995), 135–44.Google Scholar
  18. 23.
    Phoenissae portrays a more sympathetic Polynices than any other surviving treatment (Mastronarde, 27–28); the translators go even further. On Dike see Hugh Lloyd-Jones, The Justice of Zeus (Berkeley: U of California P, 1971).Google Scholar

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© Naomi Conn Liebler 2002

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  • Robert S. Miola

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