Intensive dramatizes Sophocles, examines gender in myth

[CW: This article mentions suicide.]

Next semester, junior Abigail Lass will teach “Sophocles’ Women of Trachis,” a Greek and Roman Studies and Drama cross-listed course alongside Professor Emerita of Greek and Roman Studies Rachel Kitzinger. The intensive is set to shake up traditional classroom dynamics—culminating in a recorded outdoor performance to be released with the translation—and peer into modern gender dynamics.

GRST 385 examines a lesser-known Sophocles play, newly translated from Greek by Kitzinger and Professor Emeritus of English Eamon Grennan over the course of six to seven years. Before the play’s events, Herakles dies and becomes a god, ransacks a city and kills its inhabitants to woo Iole, whom he captures. The play starts with Herakles spending his final day on Earth swooning over Iole. His wife Deianeira gives Herakles a love potion to win him back, which she learns is actually poison, and then kills herself. In his last moments, Herakles asks his son, Hyllos, to put him out of his misery and marry Iole.

“The play leaves you with Hyllos, the son, and Iole the captive woman, these two younger characters,” Lass explained. “Something Rachel and I are excited about exploring is: Can these two people of the younger generation create a better future? Can they create a more equitable relationship? Can things be better?”

“The play is structured around the contrast between female and male voice,” Kitzinger expressed over email. “Our translation will, we hope, pose questions about communication between men and women, about how difficult it is to understand each other’s perspectives and the destruction that comes from not being able to do so.”

While the text itself is old, the structures of patriarchy it examines are current. The conversations we have around gender have existed for millennia, and Lass argued that it is important to read these texts in order to create art that can consider structural inequalities.

“The larger trajectory of the myth seems to bend towards the patriarchy but Sophocles in the text does not mention that at all,” Lass stated. “We’re really interested in playing with the ambiguities and not privileging one side over the other and looking at breaking those molds… If you’re going to have conversations about gender dynamics, you need to create a full picture and that includes looking at the history of this medium.”

Unlike standard drama productions, GRST 385 limits rehearsal to 10 hours a week and requires no crew assignments or prerequisites. The instructors said the intensives empower students to collaboratively determine the course’s direction, a thought echoed by Associate Professor of Greek and Roman Studies Rachel Friedman, who connected Lass and Kitzinger in the first place. They hope these factors encourage students from all majors and backgrounds to audition.

Auditions for GRST 385 will take place the first week of December.

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