Medea by Euripides — Reviews, Discussion, …

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The volume approaches productions of from three perspectives; I shall address each group in turn. Diana Purkiss, Edith Hall, and Fiona Macintosh deal with performances and reception of in Britain from the Renaissance through the nineteenth century. Marianne McDonald, Margaret Reynolds, and Ian Christie address in opera and film. Platon Mavromoustakos, Eva Stehli/kova/, Mae Smethurst, and Olga Taxidou address a range of largely twentieth-century performances in Greece, the Czech Republic, Japan, and Georgia (Medea's original homeland). Fiona Macintosh's introduction frames a broad discussion of Medea in her varied incarnations as witch, infanticide, goddess, abandoned wife, proto-feminist, and outsider. Her discussion fills in many gaps in the performance history of , especially in the area of important French and German adaptations by, for example, Corneille, Grillparzer, Jahnn, Legouve/, Anouilh, and Mu+ller, but also touches on ancient performance, dance versions, and recent American or African adaptations. Since plans for publication emerged only after the conference at which these papers were presented, the volume does not aim at systematic coverage or a comprehensive examination of methodological issues. The vast number of performances and adaptations of this play would preclude anything encyclopedic in any case. Although all the articles make useful contributions to the performance history of , the essays by Hall, Macintosh, and Smethurst offer the most sophisticated and elegantly argued treatments of their topics. The book can be usefully read alongside James Clauss' and Sarah Johnston's recently published edited volume, (Princeton 1997), which also contains some material on issues relating to reception.

Historical studies of (especially pre-twentieth-century) theater performances face a fundamental problem. At their worst, they can stay at the level of the often highly limited material available to the scholar, which largely consists of playbills, programs, reviews, drawings, and translations or scripts. Bringing these performances alive theatrically and intellectually requires both extensive knowledge of the original play(s) to which the new translation and performance or adaptation are responding and of the cultural context out of which the later performances emerged. From this perspective, the essays by Hall and Macintosh are exemplary. Hall argues on the basis of Charles Gildon's (1698), Charles Johnston's (1730), and Richard Glover's that these adaptations of Euripides' original must be understood in relation to the late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century vogue for "heroine-dominated emotional dramas." At the same time, Euripides' heroines were generally unsuited in critical ways to contemporary notions of femininity found in such "She-Tragedies," which explored the ideology of gender through virtuous women in love, ideally maternal but tormented mothers, and victimized virgins. In particular, none of these new versions could tolerate Medea's deliberate and "unnatural" infanticide, to say nothing of her indelicate frankness and her confrontational approach to sexual politics. Gildon's version, for example, has the children killed by local people, Johnson's deletes the infanticide altogether, and Glover's Medea kills under the influence of madness.

Both McDonald and Reynolds interpret the frequency and popularity of operatic versions of Medea, such as Francesco Cavalli's (1649), Marc-Antione Charpentier's (1693), Luigi Cherubini's (1797), or Giovanni Pacini's (1843), as a response to critical historical shifts in the view of women and human rights such as those represented in the French Revolution. Operatic representations of the always transgressive and problematic Medea flourish from the early seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries and then disappear until the mid-twentieth century. McDonald argues that twentieth-century opera versions also represent Medea as a symbol of national identity (Mikis Theodorakis' [1991]) or preserve the heroine's full Euripidean complexity, whereas earlier eras can mute, disempower, glorify, or punish her. For Reynolds, the operatic Medea fascinates because of her flagrant and self-conscious invention and performance of herself in collaboration with her audience. This resistant, boundary-breaking collaboration liberates an uncontrolled, transgressive response in the audience, whether Medea is played by a castrato or by a female who moves into unfeminine registers. In my view, Reynolds' interesting argument would have profited from a closer examination of the complex nature of that outrageously performed self. Even in Greco-Roman versions the climatic claim of Seneca's highly influential Medea to have revealed her self (, 910, or , 166) differs fundamentally from the far more elusive self-performance of Euripides' heroine. Both essays offer valuable discussions of plots and aspects of the music of a large range of operatic versions but could have benefited from developing the links between the historical and literary context and the fictional versions with more compelling depth, specificity, and focus.

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Smethurst brings to her stunning close reading of Yukio Ninagawa's internationally acclaimed performance of Euripides' a scholarly knowledge of both Greek and traditional Japanese drama. Ninagawa's is in my own view the single most important twentieth-century performance of this play. Smethurst's analysis shows how Ninagawa brilliantly combined western and Japanese theatrical techniques drawn from Kabuki and Bunraku to project an empowered representation of the heroine. The all male cast was led by an actor with experience as a Kabuki (a specialist in female parts), Tokusaburo Arashi. To bring out Medea's transgressive, androgynous character, for example, he used at various points linguistic forms and styles appropriate to Kabuki actors, women, men, and even the traditional stage narrator. As Medea's heroic side was revealed, the actor stripped off his robes--suggestive of but not quite a traditional kimono--to reveal a masculine body. As the revenge plan took hold, the heroine and the chorus spit out red ribbons from their mouths; these ribbons are traditionally linked with both blood and a coy feminine expression of a love that the heroine now rejects. Smethurst not only saw the original performance but was able to study a video version. (We can only hope that the various Japanese videos made of the performance become more readily available in the west.) As a result the reader comes far closer in Smethurst's discussion to experiencing the theatrical excitement generated by the performance than s/he can with the less concrete and vivid, if nevertheless valuable, discussions of the other national productions.

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Medea by Euripides - English Works