Digging the Greeks: New Versions of Old Classics

  • Ruby Cohn


With hindsight, we can appreciate the harmony between T. S. Eliot’s Greek-based modern plays and his self-declared stance — ‘classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-Catholic in religion’ (my emphasis). But British playwrights who abhor Eliot’s attitude have also turned to ancient Greece. Perhaps these playwrights were inspired by the forays of two renowned English directors — John Barton’s ten-play Greeks in 1980 and Peter Hall’s Oresteia in 1981 (in a version by Tony Harrison). Unlike these directors, however, the playwrights (with the exception of Harrison) restrict their archaeology to a single play. Timberlake Wertenbaker and Howard Barker dramatize Greek myths; Joe Orton, on the one hand, Caryl Churchill and David Lan, on the other, adapt the same Greek tragedy, The Bacchae of Euripides; Steven Berkoff, Edward Bond, and Tony Harrison read different dramas of classical Greece in their own distinctive voices. Dating from 1967 to 1988, these Greek structures are garbed in each playwright’s individual idiom, so there is no point to examining them chronologically. Instead, I propose to move from the sombre to the light, as in the tragic tetralogy of the Dionysian Festival at Athens in the Fifth Century bc.


National Theatre Greek Tragedy Film Treatment Greek Myth Incest Taboo 
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Copyright information

© Theodore Shank 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ruby Cohn
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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