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Irish Appropriation of Greek Tragedy

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Brian Arkins

This book presents an analysis of more than 30 plays written by Irish dramatists and poets that are based on the tragedies of Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus. These plays proceed from the time of Yeats and Synge through MacNeice and the Longfords on to many of today’s leading writers. A special feature of the book is that, in order to cater for these who may know little about Greek tragedy, it begins with a chapter entitled ‘A Brief Reading of Greek Tragedy’, and then, in regard to each Greek play analysed, it presents a mini-essay on that play, before coming to the Irish version(s) of it. Three features of these Irish appropriations stand out. Firstly, there are three methods of using a Greek tragedy: straight translation, which requires us to interrogate the original play; version, which preserves the invariant core of the original, but which can add or subtract material; loose adaptation, which often moves the action into the modern world. Secondly, there is a considerable stress on Sophocles whose emphasis on the theme of recognition resonates in a postcolonial society that must define itself. Thirdly, there is a considerable stress on the experience of women – such as Antigone and Medea – that can relate to the position of women in Irish society after independence.

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