Classics, History, Literature, Reviews

Review: Goldhill, How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today

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The Literary Review is currently running a piece on Simon Goldhill’s new book, How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today. As the Review‘s Fiona Macintosh notes, with new productions of Greek drama flooding the world of theater, Goldhill’s book makes a timely effort to address the challenges involved in updating these ancient masterpieces for the modern stage. Macintosh writes:

Since the 1960s there has been an explosion in the number of performances of ancient plays not just in Europe, but increasingly across the globe—in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. In many ways, Goldhill’s new book is a response to this phenomenon. As he explains, directors or actors who are about to work with a Greek play regularly turn to scholars of ancient tragedy for assistance; and one frequent question concerns what they should read. Goldhill says his book grew out of one such query from Vanessa Redgrave, when she was having a difficult time in West End as the eponymous heroine of Euripides’ Hecuba, with a director she couldn’t abide and in a part which had just been played superlatively by Claire Higgins at the Donmar Warehouse…

The review continues:

As one would expect from Goldhill, author of a number of respected discussions of Greek tragedy, the sections on the individual plays are lucid and highly informative. There are also particularly important caveats for the theater practitioner.… However, it is not just the would-be practitioner who could benefit from reading this book: there are equally good nuggets for the seasoned scholar of Greek tragedy. None better, perhaps, than this one concerning the theatrical genre that has drained more ink down the centuries than any other: ‘Tragedy is a genre of conflict, not only between people or between ideas, but also conflict about what words mean.’ With a definition of tragedy as succinct and incisive as this one, some might even be tempted to adopt this definition and cast the notoriously open-ended Aristotelian one to the wind.