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

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Dramatic Adventures in Rhetoric

Giles Taylor is an actor who has appeared at the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company and at numerous regional theatres, as well as on television. He is also a Shakespeare Consultant, working on productions across the country and running workshops for both actors and directors
Philip Wilson is a freelance director who has worked at theatres including Birmingham Rep, The Bush, Chichester Minerva, Liverpool Playhouse, Sheffield Crucible and the Traverse. He’s also the former Artistic Director of Salisbury Playhouse, and was the Performance Consultant for the film Shakespeare in Love.

Together they’ve written Oberon Books’ latest must-have handbook, Dramatic Adventures in Rhetoric: a guide for actors, directors and playwrights

Last week, Áine Ryan from Oberon Books had a chat with Giles and Philip for this blog, in which they talked about the process of writing a book together, and why there’s a space on everyone’s bookshelf for it. 

Áine Ryan: So, Giles, Philip – how did the book come about?

Philip Wilson: Well, Giles and I, having known each other for around 15 years, finally got to work together when I directed a double-bill of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and Tom Stoppard’s Travesties at Birmingham Rep. In which Giles played not one but three butlers: Lane and Merriman in Earnest, and Bennett in Travesties.

Giles & Philip see their book for the first time, at the Oberon office

Giles & Philip see their book for the first time, at the Oberon office

Giles Taylor: Philip mentioned, during early table-work rehearsals, that Wilde’s play was packed with rhetorical devices, and my ears pricked up. I have long had a love of rhetoric, from my university days studying Classics, and have used it as a major tool in teaching Shakespeare. Other cast members, though, while interested, weren’t sure what warranted being rhetoric – and even Philip admitted that he could never remember the Greek and Latin names of the devices.

PW: I still often can’t! Anyway, we had a chat in a tea-break, and pondered the idea of how useful it would be to have a book in rehearsals that listed all the terms, but had a focus on drama – and contemporary drama, too, not only Shakespeare – rather than on politics or oratory.

GT: Once the topic was out there in rehearsals, my rhetorical antennae were a-quiver. To help the company, I compiled a list of about 60 rhetorical devices, with examples from both plays. In doing so, I had a eureka moment one day when we were working on Travesties, and realised that part of an apparently rambling speech by the lead character, Carr, was actually an extended paramoiosis. It’s now in the book! We are all aware that Stoppard is an extraordinary wordsmith, but even by his standards this is a superb example.

PW: Giles’s discovery really was helpful in unlocking a difficult moment in the play. And it proved the point that, if one could identify these devices, it could clarify the text and inspire ideas as how best to present and perform it.

AR: So clearly there is a need for this book; a space on the shelf for something on this topic.

‘We don’t always know why we say what we say, or write what we write – but invariably, the Greeks have a word for it. Packed with memorable and quotable examples from sources ancient and modern, this witty and well-organised handbook offers a lexicon for our efforts, terms for our art. For any teacher, actor or writer, a useful and fascinating guide.’ Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies

‘We don’t always know why we say what we say, or write what we write – but invariably, the Greeks have a word for it. Packed with memorable and quotable examples from sources ancient and modern, this witty and well-organised handbook offers a lexicon for our efforts, terms for our art. For any teacher, actor or writer, a useful and fascinating guide.’ Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies

GT: Exactly. No-one, as far as we are aware, has ever written about rhetoric in drama in general before: there’s lots on Shakespeare, of course, but barely anything on other playwrights. Initially we were too busy putting on the two plays to take the idea further. But after the run finished we met and talked about approaching publishers with the idea.

PW: We were both aware of Oberon, obviously, and the website had a very clear (if slightly daunting) set of guidelines, which made us really think about who the book was for, and how it should be structured.

GT: It was very early on that we decided that we didn’t want to produce a simple dictionary of terms, with devices listed alphabetically. Those already exist and frankly are a bit impenetrable. We felt that, as theatre people, we needed to group the devices thematically.

PW: We approached Oberon with this approach: they – that is, you – responded quickly, called us in for a meeting: and suddenly we found that we had been commissioned!

AR: Were there new things you learned yourselves as the project got into full swing, in terms of rhetoric?

PW: How many devices there are! And how it doesn’t matter, ultimately, if a playwright didn’t have that form in mind, when she or he was writing their play. It may simply have sounded… right, suited the character, or the moment, or the mood. But it is there, and seeing that it is there may enable an actor and director to do something more precise or different with those words. Which surely is what rehearsal is about: exploring the text.

GT: I really wanted to talk to living playwrights about their use of rhetoric, but there simply wasn’t time. I did have a brief chat with Laura Wade, though, about her play Posh. She admitted that she was unaware how rhetorically her writing of those characters had turned out, but supposed that in reaching for the words, phrases and ways of talking that such highly-educated, self-obsessed people use, she had fortuitously found the rhetoric of that class. Fascinating. Maybe for a further edition I’ll pin down a few others! Continue reading

Taking the Greeks out of the Attic

Rupert Goold is the Artistic Director of the Almeida Theatre in Islington, and is currently at the helm of the ambitious Almeida Greeks season. Robert Icke’s adaptation of Aeschylus’ Oresteia, which runs until 18th July, has already received 4* and 5* reviews in the press, and brand new versions of Bakkhai and Medea are soon to follow. In this short introduction, Goold explains his attraction to Greek drama and invites us to enjoy the season.

“At the Almeida, we strive to create theatre that asks questions of its audiences, of who they are and the world they live in. We believe that the work we present must be alive and resonant, as far away as possible from being dusty cultural heritage.

So when we came to the writers of Ancient Greece, the founding fathers of theatre as we know it, we wanted to be true to their plays – staging them in full complexity, presenting their formal iconoclasm, their humour, musicality, politics, violence and unswerving drama.

These writers took society’s old myths and made them new: changed them, exploded them, set them loose as contemporary stories that spoke to their city. At the same time, they posed big, provocative, sometimes uncomfortable questions; ones which, two thousand years later, we still struggle to answer.

We want to follow their example. We are taking the Greeks out of the Attic.

Oresteia is the first of three major new productions of Greek tragedy roaring into our theatre from May to October 2015. Alongside these, inspired in form and spirit by the Greek Dionysia, we will also present a festival of other work in the theatre and off-site, including responses, talks, readings and panels. We hope you can join us.”

Rupert Goold,by Johan Persson, 2014,

Rupert Goold,by Johan Persson, 2014

Find out more about the Almeida Greeks season HERE
Browse more Greek drama HERE

Why Greeks Matter

This evening (Monday 8 June) Rupert Goold, Ivo Van Hove and Deborah Warner are in conversation to mark the launch of their Almeida Greeks season. As three of the world’s leading directors of classical work, Rupert, Ivo and Deborah will explore why these texts remain central to the ongoing practice of theatre makers, audiences and the wider theatrical ecology. In other words, Why Greeks Matter.

Oberon Books will publish all three of the Almeida Greek season plays: OresteiaMedea, and Bakkhai. These add to our growing collection of classic and new interpretations and translations of Greek plays, including the recent acclaimed Barbican production of Antigone, and the radical new Iphigenia in Splott.

Medea

Medea

Medea’s marriage is breaking up. And so is everything else. Testing the limits of revenge and liberty, Euripides’ seminal play cuts to the heart of gender politics and asks what it means to be a woman and a wife.
One of world drama’s most infamous characters is brought to controversial new life by award-winning feminist writer Rachel Cusk and Almeida Artistic Director Rupert Goold.

Bakkhai

Bakkhai

Pentheus has banned the wild, ritualistic worship of the god Dionysos. A stranger arrives to persuade him to change his mind. Euripides’ electrifying tragedy is a struggle to the death between freedom and restraint, the rational and the irrational, man and god. Using three actors and a chorus, James Macdonald returns to the Almeida to stage Euripides’ hedonistic tragedy in a visceral new version by Anne Carson. Ben Whishaw makes his Almeida debut as Dionysos.

Oresteia

Oresteia

Orestes’ parents are at war. A family drama spanning several decades, a huge, moving, bloody saga, Aeschylus’ greatest and final play asks whether justice can ever be done – and continues to resonate more than two millennia after it was written.
Following Mr Burns and 1984, Almeida Associate Director Robert Icke radically reimagines Oresteia for the modern stage, in its first major London production in more than a decade. Lia Williams returns to the Almeida as Klytemnestra.

Learn more about the Almeida Greeks season – HERE
Learn more about Oberon’s Greek publications – HERE
Book tickets for tonight’s discussions – HERE

Yaël Farber: three plays in a new collection

Ingrid Rowland is a Professor at the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture, a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and the author of The Culture of the High Renaissance: Ancients and Moderns in Sixteenth-Century Rome and The Scarith of Scornello: A Tale of Renaissance Forgery. In her introduction to Yaël Farber Plays One which includes Molora, RAM: The Abduction of Sita into Darkness and Mies Julie Rowland describes how Farber has taken on classical drama texts, made them her own, and even arguably improved them in some ways for modern audiences. Rowland believes that “rooting these plays in such specific times and such specific settings actually enhances Farber’s power, as playwright and director, to draw out their universal qualities”

9781783191512Yaël Farber has described her involvement with theatre as a mission. At the heart of her productions, therefore, no matter how dark, there is always a luminous vision to guide characters, actors, and audience forward from the magical rite of performance into a transformed awareness of normal life. Paradoxically, as in these three plays, she draws power from traditional stories and traditional rituals to address contemporary problems head on. Unlike the ancient Greeks, who hid away the most graphic events of tragedy – murder, suicide, rape – Farber shows it all. As a director, she drives the human body to extremes, asking incredible agility of her dancing, leaping, whirling, wrestling actors, pressing their willingness to bare body and soul to the very limits of endurance. She makes comparable demands of her public: we are present to bear witness, to be engaged rather than simply entertained. Each of these plays begins with a warning that production on a proscenium stage will ruin its effect; players and public must meet face to face, on the same level, to recognize their common humanity – and, sadly, inhumanity.

Furthermore, each of these three dramas is based on a classic of dramatic or epic literature transported to a new place and time. Molora (2008) sets the ancient Greek saga of the Oresteia in contemporary South Africa, with the Commission on Truth and Reconciliation taking the role of the ancient Athenian Court of the Areopagus. Ram: the Abduction of Sita into Darkness (2011) recounts a grim episode from the Hindu epic Ramayana in connection with a strike by modern Indian sanitation workers. Mies Julie (2012) moves August Strindberg’s Fröken Julie from the midnight sun of a Swedish Midsummer to Freedom Day on an arid South African farmstead. And with each of these transpositions, something remarkable takes place. Rooting these plays in such specific times and such specific settings actually enhances Farber’s power, as playwright and director, to draw out their universal qualities. For these great tales, times and continents hardly matter; our similarities as human beings prove stronger than our differences, especially when we gather in a circle to hear a story unfold.

Ingrid Rowland

Ingrid Rowland

At its origin, the Oresteia was a tale of the dying Mediterranean Bronze Age. Agamemnon, the general who led a thousand Greek ships to conquer distant Troy, belonged to the last generation to rule from a series of massive palaces decorated with elaborate frescoes and brimming with gold. Shortly after the Trojan War, between about 1200 and 1100 B.C.E., this palace civilization was destroyed; political systems broke down, writing was lost, Greeks descended into extreme poverty. Memories of that breakdown persist in the story of Agamemnon’s homecoming from Troy: his queen, Clytemnestra, has taken a lover during his ten-year absence, and when he finally returns, she kills her husband and abandons their children. Electra, the daughter, descends into bitterness. Their son, Orestes, is bound by tradition to avenge his father’s death by slaying the murderer, but that murderer is his own mother. His conflicting obligations potentially make Orestes a monster no matter what he does; significantly, his name means ‘mountain man’ – he is, by fate and by definition, a kind of savage. All three of the great Greek tragedians, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, wrestled with Orestes’ dilemma, using it as a way to call for new, more profound forms of justice, aware that their ancestors had created a new civilization, their own, from the ruins of the Bronze Age. In their retellings, Orestes slays his mother, but is tormented by the Furies, his mother’s avenging spirits. In his great tragic trilogy. Aeschylus finally turns Orestes over to a court of law, which reaches a split decision. In a spectacular finish, Athena decides to acquit him, but she also gives the Furies a new home and a new cult in Athens.

Yaël Farber

Yaël Farber

In Molora, the dying Bronze Age becomes the dying system of South African apartheid. Farber replaces the ancient Greek chorus with a chorus of Xhosa women singers. Those ancient Athenians sang melodies and danced, vigorously, in patterns we can only guess at now. But the hypnotic two-tone throat singing of this contemporary chorus creates an ecstatic atmosphere sufficient in itself, one in perfect harmony with the play and with its new South African venue. Aeschylus ended his famous Orestes trilogy of 458 B.C. with a torchlight procession as dusk fell over Athens, knitting up all the unanswered questions of his story with the irrational, energetic rush of pure celebration. The final chorus of Molora may be sung in a different language to different instruments than those known to Aeschylus, but the language of bodies in motion knows no borders, and the effect of this South African dance must be no less exhilarating than the memory of that long-ago torchlight parade. Likewise, the sword dance that Orestes performs in Molora as he circles around a smoldering altar hews with absolute truth to the spirit of Greek tragedy, not only because tragedy is the stylized product of an ancient circle dance around a burnt sacrifice, but because, in human terms, Orestes needs to work himself into a frenzy before he can contemplate doing what he must do with that sword – namely drive it into his mother. But Farber’s most brilliant transformation of the Orestes legend is to have the chorus, as the embodiment of Truth and Reconciliation, stop the murder before it has happened, to hold Orestes to their superior, forgiving justice before he awakens the Furies.

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