An author’s note on two versions of Iphigenia in Aulis

Oberon has just published a new volume of Iphigenia in Aulis, containing two versions of Euripides’ masterpiece in a new verse translation by Andy Hinds, with Martine Cuypers. The first of the two versions is a translation of the complete text as it has come down us via the only surviving manuscript; a text which is highly corrupt. The second is offered as one possible, more performable, ‘stage’ version of the play.

Here, Andy Hinds shares a few notes on the much-disputed ending of the story, as well as discussing how he approached the interpolations in the piece, and ideas for performance. This blog is an edited version of the notes included in the book. 

Notes on Iphigenia in Aulis

The ending

It is generally agreed that the last 98 lines of the only surviving manuscript of the play were not written by Euripides, but were inserted later; possibly by Euripides’ the Younger (son or nephew of the Elder), for the first production staged about a year after Euripides’ death in around 405 B.C., or were perhaps added by some other producers or actors for some much later production.

Some believe Euripides intended the play to finish at the point just before these last 98 inserted lines begin, i.e. at the close of the short chorus following Iphigenia going off to be sacrificed (line 1531). Others speculate that the original ending had been considered unsatisfactory and had at some point, therefore, been cut and replaced by the one we have today. Yet others suspect Euripides had perhaps not finished the play before he  died, and so an ending had to be supplied.

I loved so much about the play, but for a long time remained unsure if I could stage it in the confidence an audience would leave the theatre feeling satisfied with where the play’s action had taken them. At some point while pondering this issue, a possible ‘solution’ occurred to me: I could create a new ending by dropping the Second Messenger and enacting onstage the sacrifice which is narrated in his speech.  The idea, however, was not to enact the sacrifice exactly as the Messenger described it (that is, with Iphigenia vanishing and being replaced by a doe), but to enact what the imperative of the tragedy’s action demanded: that is, the sacrifice of the young woman. The idea, of course, contravened the principle that, in Greek tragedies, major action always occurs offstage.  I was convinced, however, it would work.

No sooner did this idea occur, than another followed: as part of the enactment of the onstage sacrifice, I would deploy the words the Messenger tells us were spoken, in the course of the ritual, by Iphigenia, Achilles and the prophet Calchas. Excepting the few Calchas lines referring to the doe and the disappearance of the girl, I would include all the lines, re-allocating some of them to other characters or to the chorus. Now I felt I could mount a production that might convince and satisfy myself, a cast and an audience.

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia, Jan Steen, 1671

Interpolations

Apart from how to negotiate the ending, one of the challenges every director and company has to face when staging this play is to make a decision as to which sections of the existing text to include or to excise. It is clear that at various points throughout the text, lines or whole large sections have been inserted by someone other than Euripides (some perhaps by Euripides the Younger, some definitely later by others). There inevitably is some disagreement as to whether certain lines do, or do not, represent genuine Euripides; but regarding many substantial sections there is a broad consensus.  While knowing which sections these were, I decided to bring into rehearsals a translation of all the lines; I was interested to discover which sections would stand up, or would not, to the scrutiny that actors and directors bring to any text as they rehearse it. It wasn’t long before most of the sections generally agreed to be interpolations started to feel as if they were getting in the way; they felt repetitious perhaps, or contradictory, or inappropriate to a character or his or her main intentions etc. So, one by one, we began excluding these, once or twice having to insert a few words to cover the joins. With each excision, the text began to come across with increased coherence and pace.

Some lines usually considered suspect, I have retained when they proved to aid impact, clarity, or flow.

Andy Hinds

Productions  

Both the full and the performance versions of the play are available for performance. If using the full text as a starting point for preparing a text for production, substantial investigation, thought, and decision making will be required; and many will be excited at the prospect of such.

The shorter, performance text is offered as one proven, production-ready version where the bulk of this investigation and other work has already been done. This may better suit the circumstances of others.

 

You can find out more about this book, and its companion volume, The Oresteia, on our website

World Shakespeare Day Celebration

Today is ‘World Shakespeare Day’ and, while the Oberon team can’t seem to agree on whether it marks his birth or his death, we’re celebrating his life all the same! For this very special blog post, we’ve created a round-up of some of our favourite Shakespeare-themed books – all of which you can now have a snoop inside by clicking on the images below. Plays, memoirs and acting handbooks, all inspired by the man himself.
Not only that, but we’re offering 1/3 off on all of our Shakespeare-related titles with the discount code ONBIRTHDAY at the checkout on our website. I suppose that means it’s his birthday then, does it?  

‘Andy Hinds offers a rich and detailed 9781783190089path towards a precise contact with the challenge of speaking and inhabiting Shakespeare’s language. This book is an immensely useful resource for anyone teaching, speaking and acting Shakespeare.’ Ralph Fiennes

‘It is to this book’s enormous credit that it focuses in depth on the nuts and bolts of getting lips and heads around the intricacies of verse-speaking without either shirking the difficulties or becoming stilted and dull… I wish I’d had this book when I was acting – I’m delighted to have encountered it as a teacher.’ Teaching Drama


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‘Acting students and young professionals will flock to learn from him….passionate, entertaining… Indisputably wise and true… Wonderfully illuminating’  Telegraph

‘This is the most fabulously hybrid book – part actor’s handbook, part memoir – what is most inspiring is Hall’s conviction that form can be as exciting as feeling/ Acting in this way is more than just listening to Shakespeare – it is responding to Shakespeare’s linear needs’ Observer

‘As fascinating to readers as it is to actors.’  Independent


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A mixture of theatrical history, opinionated views and personal reminiscences. Sharp insights, anecdotes and vibrant character sketches pour from [Weston’s] pen, as do dismissive put-downs… His book should be compulsory reading for any aspiring actor still labouring under the delusion that the profession is in any way glamourous… Weston may never have played Hamlet during his long career, but he has achieved something possibly more valuable. He has become, in Hamlet’s phrase, one of the abstract and brief chroniclers of the time.’ Mail on Sunday

 


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‘A blend of travelogue, actor’s memoir and historical meditation… Asbury observes how the rival colours, the red rose for Lancaster and the white rose of York, define an insuturable cut that persists in Britain today… the bonds of history assert themselves in the midst of precincts and skateboarders.’ Times Literary Supplement

‘An enjoyable and sincere grand tour… fortified with pork pies and pinot grigio, accompanied on occasion by fellow Royal Shakespeare Company actors, and alternating between a campervan named Bongo and an open-topped MG, Asbury combines theatrical reminiscence and historical narrative.’ The Times


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‘This is a remarkable, challenging and bravely original work.’ Guardian

‘Toni Morrison’s language is superbly poetic – she’s admirable in her reckless unconcern that she will be compared to the Bard and come off the loser.… There are tremendous passages of writing, of music and some sterling performances… thought-provoking, with many magical moments.’ The Arts Desk

‘A rare and delicate show that shines a new light on Shakespeare’s tragedy.’ La Croix

 


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‘A witty and fiercely anti-colonialist revision of Shakespeare’s island fling… the play, in Philip Crispin’s admirable translation, lends Shakespeare’s myth all kinds of extra resonances.’ Michael Billington, Guardian

‘Toni Morrison’s language is superbly poetic – she’s admirable in her reckless unconcern that she will be compared to the Bard and come off the loser.’ Arts Desk

‘Not simply a new reading of Shakespeare but an original play of astonishing power… Philip Crispin’s admirable translation of the play provides the whole production with a secure textual basis… a remarkable theatrical event.’ Malcolm Bowie, TLS


Visit Oberonbooks.com for these and all our other titles.
Or search through all of our Shakespeare titles. Don’t forget the code ONBIRTHDAY.

Andy Hinds on ‘opinion productions’ of Shakespeare

Derry-born Andy Hinds has been a theatre director, playwright and acting teacher for thirty years. For many years he taught ‘Acting Shakespeare’ at RADA, Shakespeare’s Globe, Trinity College, The Gaiety School of Acting, University College, Dublin, and in his own acting studio. In this blog, adapted from his new book, Acting Shakespeare’s Language, Andy elaborates on one particular issue to consider when directing, performing or producing a Shakespeare play that didn’t quite make it into the main body of the book – so no spoilers here! 

Most of what I speak about in Acting Shakespeare’s Language, I learnt through my work with students and actors over the years. In the course of the slow, difficult, but ultimately rewarding, process of then organising this knowledge into the subsequent chap­ters and sub-sections etc., I have, however, learnt a great deal more. I have become more fully convinced about certain ideas, have refined or rejected others, and have come to realise that there are areas about which I remain undecided, and which I need to look into more deeply.

‘This book is an immensely useful resource for anyone teaching, speaking and acting Shakespeare.’ Ralph Fiennes

‘This book is an immensely useful resource for anyone teaching, speaking and acting Shakespeare.’ – Ralph Fiennes

I would like to say a few words about one other matter which did not find a natural place in Acting Shakespeare’s Language.  This is a particular circumstance which often results in the language of a classic play (Shakespearean, Greek, Jacobean etc.) being less than well-served.

As well as encountering the many ‘opinion plays’, one regularly comes across stagings of classic plays which I would regard as ‘opinion productions’. These are ‘interpretations’ which can neuter the truth of a play by subjugating it to some opinion, or ideology, of the director; where a play is used as a wall on which to scratch slogans. In such cases, the staging often represents no more than a labour-intensive, often expensive, form of foot-stamping about some contemporary (and, in the great scheme of things, usually temporary) ‘issue’. Staging the play becomes an act of attempted control (‘I want to make you think this about that’); as opposed to its being an act of service; an act where one’s intention is to honour the text in such a way as to deepen the felt contact between the audience and their own souls; between the audience and their universe. ‘Issue’ productions direct the spectators to disapprove of, or even hate, something which the director disapproves of, or hates; this is divisive and less than wholly human. In the face of such enterprises, it can feel as if one is being told, ‘No need to attend to the specifics of the play’s language; more important is that you notice all the ways I, the director, have found to use the play, in order to impose judgement on certain sections of humanity. Please leave the theatre feeling righteous and condemning these people.’ Not a good thing.

I believe the challenge of artists and interpreters is to delve deep into our own consciousness, deep enough to reach a level beneath our individual ‘beliefs and convictions’; ‘beliefs and convictions’ we may cling to so dearly as to imagine they define ‘who we are’; ‘beliefs and convictions’ which, on the surface, may convince as being ‘only right and just’, but which ultimately serve to separate us from an awareness of what unites us as humans. Our endeavour must be to tap down into the clear waters of the more universal truths which run somewhere deep in all of us, which flow somewhere below the personal ranklings and dysfunctions which we all have, and which can so blind us to the greater realities of existence; realities which while being physically invisible, can be viscerally felt, and which are so much more meaningful, unifying, and nourishing to our souls than our ‘beliefs and convictions’.

Andy Hinds

Andy Hinds

Shakespeare was an artist who, with apparent effortlessness, tapped deeply into these rich waters; over and over again. He does not use his writing to wag the finger from a position of superiority to his characters or his audience. Nor need we use his words to do this. To make manifest to an audience the humanising truths on which Shakespeare’s plays draw, the task of the actor is to identify and serve, selflessly, and moment to moment, the structures and purposes of his language.

My final wish is that what I have striven to share within the pages of my book may, in some way, assist you towards that end.

Acting Shakespeare’s Language is available to buy alongside other titles by Andy Hinds from the Oberon Books website.