Works in Progress: Classical Drama in the Early Modern Period

February 18, 2011

Fiona Macintosh (Director of the Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama) opened a rewarding discussion on 1 February with the latest news of the APGRD. The Archive’s database of worldwide performances from antiquity to the present day, including details of actors, directors, translators etc., has now exceeded 11,000 entries and further work is in progress. The Archive has organized a series of conferences which have led to twelve publications since its foundation in 1996. Perhaps less well known is its role as a physical archive, with a substantial collection of playbills, scores, photographs etc. Programmes on ‘performing epic’ and ‘translation’ are now under way. The Archive has been chosen by the University as a model of research with a major public impact, with examples ranging from Katie Mitchell’s National Theatre production of Ted Hughes’s translation of Aeschylus’ Oresteia to the Northern Broadsides’ performance of Tom Paulin’s version of Euripides’  Medea at the Oxford Playhouse. It was good to welcome Oliver Taplin, one of the founders of the APGRD, to the session.

Other presentations discussed various aspects of classical reception and imitation. Tim Smith-Laing raised some questions about what counted as ‘Senecan’ drama, pointing out the ongoing confusion in the early modern period about the works to be ascribes to the elder and younger Seneca – sometimes, indeed, thought to have been the Seneca brothers –  and the general nature of the elements, such as stichomythia and sententiae, sometimes said to define the Senecan. Turning to an Elizabethan tragedy, Legge’s Ricardus Tertius, he argued that a more crucial Senecan feature was the sense of inwardness given by self-addressed asides. Cressida Ryan discussed the neo-Latin comedy Ignoramus by George Ruggles, focussing on the way in which performing such a play brings out elements that are easily lost in reading, such as the mosaic of different idioms, and in some cases languages, as means to a lively audience involvement. Joshua Billings discussed Walter Benjamin’s Origin of German Tragic Drama as a useful counter to a homogenizing literary history that would impose timeless models of the tragic.

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