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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: September ::
Greek Drama
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1598  Saturday, 24 September 2005

[1] 	From: 	D Bloom <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 22 Sep 2005 13:46:53 -0500
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 16.1578 Greek Drama

[2] 	From: 	Jack Heller <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 22 Sep 2005 14:49:20 -0500 (EST)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1578 Greek Drama

[3] 	From: 	Matthew Steggle <
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	Date: 	Friday, 23 Sep 2005 09:44:42 +0100
	Subj: 	Greek Drama Available in Elizabethan/Jacobean England

[4] 	From: 	Chris Coffman <
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	Date: 	Saturday, 24 Sep 2005 09:28:16 +1000
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 16.1578 Greek Drama


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		D Bloom <
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Date: 		Thursday, 22 Sep 2005 13:46:53 -0500
Subject: 16.1578 Greek Drama
Comment: 	RE: SHK 16.1578 Greek Drama

M Yawney writes:

 >"Greek drama was not very well-known or well-regarded in the
 >Renaissance. Seneca and the Roman comic dramatists were the models,
 >often referred to in writings about drama from the English Renaissance.
 >I cannot think of any reference to any Greek playwright from that
 >period."

Well, there's BJ's comment:

  31  And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek,
  32  From thence to honour thee, I would not seek
  33  For names; but call forth thund'ring  Aeschylus,
  34  Euripides and Sophocles to us;
  35  Pacuvius, Accius, him of Cordova dead,
  36  To life again, to hear thy buskin tread,
  37  And shake a stage; or, when thy socks were on,
  38  Leave thee alone for the comparison
  39  Of all that insolent Greece or haughty Rome
  40  Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.


The Greeks seem to get top billing there. A little later in the poem 
Aristophanes is linked to Plautus and Terence as at least an equal.

I don't say Yawney is necessarily wrong-I am no expert. But Jonson's 
remarks do suggest that the important Greeks were well-regarded at least 
by him.

Cheers,
don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Jack Heller <
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Date: 		Thursday, 22 Sep 2005 14:49:20 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 16.1578 Greek Drama
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1578 Greek Drama

I've had replies on and offlist to my inquiry on Greek Drama. I will 
look up Baldwin's study, and I am grateful for the replies.

Heller

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Matthew Steggle <
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Date: 		Friday, 23 Sep 2005 09:44:42 +0100
Subject: 	Greek Drama Available in Elizabethan/Jacobean England

For Jack Heller -

I've got an article forthcoming on the Renaissance reception of 
Aristophanes, which basically argues: the first printed English 
translation of an Aristophanes play is 1651, _Hey for Honesty_ (a 
translation, attributed to Thomas Randolph, of Aristophanes's _Wealth_). 
  But there were Latin translations around earlier, and you can trace a 
handful of performances at the universities and so on.  What's most 
interesting about the reception of Aristophanes is that people - 
particularly Ben Jonson - keep talking about him as a classical 
precedent for the practice of satirizing identifiable living people by 
name in your comedies.  Certainly, Jonson has read Aristophanes, and 
models bits of, for instance, _The Staple of News_ on episodes from 
those plays, as well as borrowing Aristophanes's "old comic freedom" of 
representing living individuals on stage.

As for Greek tragedy... Emrys Jones has argued Shakespeare may have read 
some Euripides in Latin translation (I think in _Scenic Form in 
Shakespeare_), and there's a debate still going about that.  Again, 
English translations are not really available, although honourable 
mention for Jane Lumley's _Iphigeneia_.  Milton clearly loves Greek 
tragedy and it's interesting to read not just _Samson Agonistes_ but 
also _A Masque_ in the light of Greek tragic models.  The devil's in the 
details, in that it's a real pain to demonstrate, satisfactorily, 
"indebtedness" rather than just similarities.  For what it's worth, it's 
clear that Shakespeare, Jonson, and the rest could get at Greek tragedy 
in Latin translation, and I can't imagine them not having a professional 
interest in seeking it out and seeing if there was anything in there 
they could steal. Actually demonstrating that that made a difference, of 
course, is much harder.

- Matt

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Chris Coffman <
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Date: 		Saturday, 24 Sep 2005 09:28:16 +1000
Subject: 16.1578 Greek Drama
Comment: 	RE: SHK 16.1578 Greek Drama

Alert readers also find striking resemblances between the opening of 
Hamlet and Aeschylus's Agamemnon.  It is generally agreed, however, that 
Shakespeare read no Greek, but the possible aura of Greek literary 
classics in the late Elizabethan literary world, like the influence of 
sermons and the Geneva Bible, is a possibly under-estimated element in 
Shakespeare's imagination.

The most recent work on Shakespeare's general literary sources is Robert 
Miola's _Shakespeare's Reading_ (Oxford 2000).  Shakespeare read 
Plutarch's Lives in the North translation and Ovid in the Golding 
translation, but Miola endorses Baldwin's conclusions in _Small Latin 
and Lesse Greek_ that Shakespeare had a good Latin education from his 
Erasmian grammar school days in Stratford-upon-Avon.  Observable echoes 
from Euripides in Shakespeare's work certainly came through Seneca, whom 
Shakespeare undoubtedly read in Latin.

Miola states flatly "No Greek text has appeared behind Shakespeare's 
works" (p. 166), but elsewhere he observes that as a reader, Shakespeare 
read (1) competitively, matching wits with his sources, and (2) 
eclectically, drawing on a huge number and variety of source texts.

At the time of the burning of William Tyndale, himself a master of Greek 
and Hebrew, in 1536, Ascham reports of Cambridge "Aristotle and Plato 
are studied . . .Sophocles and Euripides were more familiar than Plautus 
. . .  Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon were more . . . discussed 
that Livy, etc."  Oxford had a similar standard, and before 
Shakespeare's birth the ability to read Greek classics had diffused 
among English royals and aristocrats.

Elizabethan England, like Orthodox Judaism, was a culture that looked to 
the texts of the remote past for the secrets of wisdom and the highest 
standard of literary expression.  Given that Shakespeare's competitors 
Marlowe, Jonson and Chapman (among others) were excellent Greek 
scholars, is it impossible that Shakespeare would have tried to learn, 
however he could, what they knew of the glamorous Greek classics?

The existence of rough translations in "samizdat" manuscript form is 
unattested, but in any case, unless a translator of William Tyndale's 
skill were involved, it's difficult to imagine Shakespeare taking 
anything but the broadest hints from such a rendition-but perhaps that 
accounts for the echoes in Hamlet and Lear.

Even at the margin, the influence of Homer or the tragedians on 
Shakespeare would have produced fascinating results, and perhaps it did.

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