Before 500 BCE

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Plays

Andromache

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Euripides' Andromache is an Athenian tragedy dramatising Andromache's life as a slave, years after the events of the Trojan War, and her conflict with her master's new wife, Hermione. It was probably written during the early years of the Peloponnesian War, and first performed c.425 BC.

This translation, by Marianne McDonald and J. Michael Walton, was prepared from the Oxford Text edited by James Diggle, and was published in 2001 by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series.

The play's action is set several years after the sacking of Troy. Andromache, once the wife of Trojan hero Hector, now has a child by Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles. She has to live as a slave, a position that is aggravated when Neoptolemus marries Hermione, the daughter of King Menelaus and Helen. Hermione is unable to get pregnant, however, and blames everything on Andromache. Andromache has taken refuge at the shrine of Thetis, the sea-nymph and mother of Achilles, and there ensues a spiralling series of revenge plots before Thetis finally appears, ex machina, to resolve things.

In their introduction to the Nick Hern Books edition, McDonald and Walton write: 'This is a play about passion, jealousy and murder. It shows vividly the problems that arise when one man shares his bed with two women, one of whom happens to be his wife. ... [It] illustrates duplicity and treachery, besides the precariousness of good fortune. If there is a moral message it is that people should try to behave with decency, whatever their circumstances.'

Lysistrata (trans. Dickinson)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Aristophanes' Lysistrata is a classic Greek comedy about an extraordinary attempt by an Athenian woman, Lysistrata, to bring an end to the war that is afflicting Greece by persuading the women to withhold sexual privileges from their menfolk in order to force them to negotiate peace. It was originally performed in Athens in 411 BC during the Peloponnesian War, which by then had been raging for an entire generation.

The play's action takes place in the besieged city of Athens, some twenty years into the Peloponnesian War (a civil war fought between Athens and her former ally Sparta). Lysistrata ('disbander of armies') forms a plan to end the fighting. She calls together all the women in Greece, and tells them her plan: since the war is getting nowhere under men's control, and Greece is being torn to pieces, the only solution is for women to take over public affairs and manage them as successfully as they run their homes. Not only will they seize the Acropolis (so gaining control of the Athenian armoury and war-treasury), they will also withhold sex and thus persuade their men to make peace. As the men on both sides of the conflict become increasingly desperate for sex, they finally turn to Lysistrata and sue for peace.

This translation by Patric Dickinson was first published in 1957. Following Dickinson's death, it was lightly revised by Kenneth McLeish before being republished in 1996 by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series. The dialogue is vividly colloquial without being constrained to a particular time-period. Lysistrata speaks with an earthy immediacy ('I told them all to be here; I said it was most important, / And they've none of them come'), while, according to an author's note, the Spartans speak with a Lancashire accent.

In his introduction to the Nick Hern Books edition, McLeish writes: 'At one level, Lysistrata is a farce about frustration. But its underlying ideas – that the impotence of war can be symbolised by sexual frustration, that resolution is possible and that women may be better able than men to bring this about – must have resonated with the original spectators in a way which brilliantly challenged their (and, later, our) ideas of what 'farce' ought to be.'

Orestes: Blood and Light

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Helen Edmundson’s Orestes is a drama about avenging siblings, exploring the tragedy of human relationships set against the backdrop of war. It is based on Euripides’ Electra. Orestes was first performed by Shared Experience at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, on 14 September 2006.

Orestes and his sister, Electra, were banished as children after witnessing the brutal murder of their father, King Agamemnon, at the hands of their mother, Klytemnestra. Years later, they have avenged their father’s death with matricide and now the city must vote to determine their future as they stand trial for her murder. Inflamed by the situation of war, the city stands divided over their sentence. Some say the killing should be met with banishment and that the cycle of revenge must be stopped. But others are baying for their blood.

In her foreword to the published edition of the play, Edmundson writes 'I have played fast and loose with the conventions of Greek theatre and with Euripides’ version of the story. I have abandoned the Chorus (who is not active or influential in the Euripides) in favour of the more subtle witness of the Slave. I have cut the character of Pylades to allow Electra her full role in the story and to allow myself to explore the extremities of her relationship with her brother. I have given Helen an intelligent, probing mind and allowed her and Klytemnestra some defence. I have chosen not to emulate the verse structure and metres of Euripides’ text, but to try to create a rhythmic, heightened language of my own.'

The play's full title in the published edition is Orestes: Blood and Light.

The Shared Experience production was directed by Nancy Meckler and designed by Niki Turner, with Tim Chipping as Menelaos, Jeffery Kissoon as Tyndareos, Mairead McKinley as Electra, Clara Onyemere as Helen, Claire Prempeh as the Slave and Alex Robertson as Orestes. The production subsequently toured to Dublin Theatre Festival, Warwick Arts Centre, The Lowry in Salford, Liverpool Playhouse, Oxford Playhouse and the Tricycle Theatre, London.

Women of Troy

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Euripides' Women of Troy (sometimes known as The Trojan Women) is a tragedy that follows the fates of the women of Troy after their city has been sacked, their husbands killed, and as their remaining families are about to be taken away as slaves. It was first performed in 415 BC, during the Peloponnesian War.

This translation by Kenneth McLeish was published by Nick Hern Books in 2004 in its Drama Classics series, with an introduction by Marianne McDonald and J. Michael Walton.

In the aftermath of the bloody Trojan Wars, the women of the city lament their fate and look fearfully ahead to the future. Covering themes of religious scepticism, the injustices within roles of women and the destructive power of war, the play is once again relevant in an increasingly uncertain world.