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Euripides and the History of the Play

Euripides (c. 484-407 BCE)

Considered to be the last of the three great Greek tragic authors, Euripides, like Sophocles, was a veteran, and wrote his plays for an audience of veterans. We have documented his writing at least 92 plays, although only 18 of them now survive.  

Euripides characters are considered the most “human” of the three great writers from this time period. Unlike Aeschylus and Sophocles, who wrote about the gods and morality, Euripides wrote about fragility and fallible natures of human kind.  His plays are primarily about suffering, passion, and revenge. He frequently wrote about war and its terrible aftermath.

His most famous plays include Trojan Women, Medea, The Baccae, and Hecuba.  His plays are characterized by strong, complex, morally complicated women often moved to revenge by situations far outside of their control.  

Euripides plays are the most frequently produced of the great tragedies, probably because his theatrical concerns are most like our own.  His work has influenced writers such as John Milton,  Percy Bysshe Shelley and T.S Elliot.  Thousands of years later, his work continues to inspire new translations and adaptations.


 

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Hecuba (425 BCE)

Set at the end of the Trojan war, Queen Hecuba has now been reduced to a slave.  The Greeks are stuck - there is no wind to take them home.  In order to please the ghost of Achilles, the Greeks decide to sacrifice Hecuba’s daughter Polyxena.  Then, Hecuba discovers the body of her son, Polydorus,  who was murdered by Hecuba’s friend, Polymester.  Hecuba persuades Agamemnon to let her get revenge. She and the women of Troy blind Polymester and kill his sons.   Before being exiled by Agamemnon, Polymester prophesies that Hecuba will lose all her humanity and die on the way to Greece.  

Hecuba is one of the more frequently produced Greek tragedies. Its story of war, motherhood, courage and revenge has fascinated theatre artists throughout the centuries.  Recent productions include Vanessa Redgrave at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and an adaptation by Marina Carr at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Cast of Characters:


Polydorus: Younger son of Hecuba and Priam. He was sent to Polymestor for safekeeping during the war


Hecuba: Queen of Troy.  Mother of 19, including Polyxena, Polydorus, Hector and Cassandra.

Chorus: The women of Troy, now enslaved by the Greeks, facing an uncertain future.

Polyxena: The youngest daughter of Hecuba and Priam.  She is taken as a sacrifice for Achilles.

Odysseus: General of the Greeks.  

Talthybius:  The herald of the Greeks.  He brings Hecuba news of how Polyxena dies.

Agamemnon:  The lead general of the Greeks.  

Polymester: The King of Thrace. Betrays the Trojans and kills Polydorus.