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Greek Plays In Georgian Reading1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 September 2009


If you lived in Reading in 1821, you might be tempted by the advertisement in your local newspaper for forthcoming attractions at the neighbourhood's commercial theatre. Should your taste encompass Greco-Roman themes, you might want to see ‘Monsieur DECOUR, the renowned FRENCH HERCULES!! Who will perform… FEATS AND EVOLUTIONS…’. If you preferred oriental stunts, you would choose ‘The Chinese JUGGLERS from the Court of Pekin!!’ Such exhibitions are fairly typical of the popular entertainments enjoyed during the late Georgian era in any fast industrializing provincial town not too far from London. But what is surprising is that the same newspaper offers a review of a production in the town hall of Euripides’ little known tragedy Orestes.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 1997

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2. Representation of the Orestes of Euripides at Reading School’, Reading Mercury no. 5163, 11 5th 1821, p. 5Google Scholar col. 3.

3. For an excellent account of this whole period see Macintosh, Fiona, ‘Tragedy in Performance: Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Productions’, in Easterling, P. E. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy (forthcoming, Cambridge, 1997)Google Scholar.

4. See Boas, Frederick S., University Drama in the Tudor Age (Oxford, 1914), 1117Google Scholar. There may have been an Antigone in Greek at St. John's College, Cambridge, in the early 1580s; see Smith, Bruce R., Ancient Scripts and Modern Experience on the English Stage, 1500–1700 (Princeton, 1988), 216Google Scholar.

5. Our Recent Actors (London, 1888), vol. i. 34Google Scholar.

6. Valpy, Richard (ed.), Poems, Odes, Prologues, and Epilogues, Spoken on Public Occasions at Reading School (London, 1804), vii–viiiGoogle Scholar.

7. See further Field, William, Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Opinions of the Rev. Samuel Parr, LLD., vol. i (London, 1828), 7881Google Scholar; a shorter account is to be found in Barker, E. H., Parriana, or Notices of the Rev. Samuel Parr, LI.D., vol. i (London, 1828), 1011Google Scholar.

8. Davis, Michael (ed.), Areopagitica and Of Education (London, 1963), 89–110 at 105Google Scholar.

9. Field (n. 7 above), 79–80.

10. Stanford, W. B., Ireland and the Classical Tradition (Dublin, 2nd ed. 1984), 32–3Google Scholar.

11. Thomas Sheridan's two other published works were translations of Latin satire. See further Rae, Fraser, ‘Thomas Sheridan 1687–1738’, Dictionary of National Biography vol. xviii (London, 1909), 86–7Google Scholar.

12. See Avery, Emmett L., The London Stage, Part 2: 1700–1729 (Carbondale, Illinois, 1960), 319Google Scholar.

13. Fines, John, Dr. Richard Valpy, Headmaster of Reading School (unpublished typescript, Reading Public Library, 1967), 17Google Scholar.

14. This cutting is said by Fines (n. 13 above), 17, to be in W. C. Eppstein's collection of newspaper cuttings relating to Reading School (1794–1808), held in Reading Public Library. It is not there now.

15. Lemprière, Raoul, Société Jersiaise Bulletin no. 106, vol. xxiii (1981), 115–23Google Scholar.

16. Fines (n. 13 above), 11.

17. See The Dramatic Works of Mary Russell Mitford (London, 1854), vol. i. xviiGoogle Scholar.

18. Naxton, Michael, The History of Reading School (Reading, 1986), 53Google Scholar. On the Winchester College plays in the sixteenth century see Motter, T H. V., The School Drama in England (London/ New York/Toronto, 1929), 2835Google Scholar.

19. Oldfellow, Oliver (pseudonym of B. B. Bockett), Our School; or, Scraps and Scrapes in Schoolboy Life (London, 1857), 73Google Scholar.

20. Field (n. 7 above), 80.

21. Marchant, E. C., ‘Richard Valpy’, Dictionary of National Biography vol. xx (London, 1909), 85–6Google Scholar.

22. See further Clarke, M. L., Greek Studies in England 1700–1830 (Cambridge, 1945), 85–6, 93Google Scholar.

23. Trevor-Roper, Hugh, Archbishop Laud (Basingstoke/London, 3rd ed. 1988), 402Google Scholar.

24. Mitford (n. 17 above), xv; Newdick, Robert S., Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd (unpublished typescript, no date but pre-1939, Reading Public Library), 13Google Scholar; Bockett (n. 19 above), 72; prologue to Hecuba, Reading Mercury no. 5564, 10 29th 1827, p. 4Google Scholar col. 3.

25. Carlisle, N., A Concise Description of the Endowed Grammar Schools in England and Wales (London, 1818), vol. i. 37–8Google Scholar.

26. Fines (n. 13 above), 15.

27. Valpy, Richard (ed.), Poems, Odes, Prologues, and Epilogues Spoken on Public Occasions at Reading School (London, 2nd ed. 1826), viiGoogle Scholar.

28. Sherwood, Mary Martha, The Life and Times of Mrs. Sherwood (1775–1851), from the Diaries of Captain and Mrs Sherwood, edited by Darton, E J. Harvey (London, 1910), 82–5, 130–3, 145Google Scholar.

29. Mitford, Mary Russell, Belford Regis: Sketches of a Country Town (three volumes, London, 1835), vol. i. 313Google Scholar.

30. Cooper, John J., Some Worthies of Reading (London, 1923), 82Google Scholar.

31. Mitford (n. 29 above), 312–13, Mitford (n. 17 above), xv.

32. Reading Mercury no. 5563, Monday 10 22nd 1827, p. 3Google Scholar col. 2.

33. The Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles. Acted at the Triennial Visitation of Reading School, Oct. 15,16, 17, 1806 (Reading, 1806)Google Scholar.

34. Reading School Play. Triennial Visitation’, Reading Mercury no. 2334, Monday 10 20th 1806, p. 3Google Scholar col. 2. Mary Russell Mitford was later to claim that she had written all the reviews for the Reading Mercury (n. 17 above, xv), and she certainly composed all those from 1818 onwards. But it is unlikely that she wrote the earliest review in 1806.

35. Darter, William, Reminiscences of Reading, by an Octogenarian (Reading, 1888), 111–14, 125Google Scholar.

36. Mitford (n. 29 above), 310.

37. Bockett (n. 19 above), 77.

38. Reading Mercury (n. 2 above).

39. Milton ed. Davis (n. 8 above), 104.

40. Reading School Play’, Reading Mercury no. 2491, Monday 10 23rd 1809, p. 3Google Scholar col. 2.

41. Reading Mercury no. 4692, Monday October 26th 1812, p. 3 col. 3.

42. Mitford (n. 17 above), xvii, recalls a Reading Greek play featuring Antigone, which is more likely to have been Sophocles’ Antigone than Aeschylus’ Septem, Sophocles’ O.C. or Euripides’ Phoenissae.

43. Reading Mercury no. 4848, Monday 10 23rd 1815, p. 3Google Scholar col. 1.

44. Reading Mercury no. 4505, Monday 10 18th 1818, p. 3Google Scholar col. 3.

45. Fines (n. 13 above), 16.

46. The Orestes of Euripides as Performed at the Triennial Visitation of Reading School, October 1821, Chiefly from Mr. Potter's Translation (Reading, 1821)Google Scholar. See Darter (n. 35 above), 113 .

47. Reading, Sat. Oct. 16th', Reading Mercury no. 5367, Monday 10 18th 1824, p. 3Google Scholar col. 2.

48. Reading Mercury (n. 32 above).

49. Ward, W. S., Transcript of 19 Original Letters by Thomas Noon Talfourd, Deposited in Collections in the USA (unpublished typescript, no date, Reading Public Library), 21Google Scholar.

50. Talfourd, Thomas, ‘The Drama’ in New Monthly Magazine 21, 11. 1st 1827, 462–5Google Scholar.

51. Marchant (n. 21 above), 86.

52. Mitford (n. 17 above), xxvi.

53. ‘The Greek plays’, in Mitford (n. 29 above), 294–318.

54. See further Jenkyns, Richard, The Victorians and Ancient Greece (Oxford, 1980), 63–5Google Scholar.

55. Chorley, Henry (ed.), The Letters of Mary Russell Mitford (second series, London, 1872), vol. ii. 213Google Scholar.

56. Mitford (n. 29 above), 308. See also 315, on the effect of the tragedies: ‘Even the most unlettered lady was sensible to that antique grace and pathos.’

57. Mitford (n. 17 above), xv.

58. Letter to Mrs. Holland in Chorley (n. 55 above), vol. i. 116–17.

59. Reading Mercury (n. 32 above).

60. Reading Mercury (n. 32 above).

61. Chorley (n. 55 above), 116–17.

62. Mitford (n. 29 above), 314–15.

63. Mitford (n. 17 above), xvi.

64. Bockett (n. 19 above).

65. Talfourd, T. N., Tragedies: To Which Are Added a Few Sonnets and Verses (London, 1844 edition), 34, 260Google Scholar.

66. Valpy (n. 27 above), 173.

67. Reading Mercury (n. 2 above).

68. Reading Mercury (n. 47 above).

69. Reading Mercury (n. 44 above).

70. See Pentzell, Raymond J., ‘New Dress'd in the Ancient Manner: The Rise of Historical Realism in Costuming the Serious Drama of England and France in the Eighteenth Century’ (Diss. Yale 1967), 221–2Google Scholar.

71. The Hecuba of Euripides, Represented at the Triennial Visitation of Reading School, Oct. 15, 16, 17, 1827. Translated by Mr. Potter (Reading, 1827)Google Scholar.

72. Reading Mercury (n. 47 above).

73. Reading Mercury (n. 47 above).

74. The Hecuba of Euripides (n. 71 above).

75. Pat Easterling's study is to be published in a PCPS supplement, edited by Chris Stray, containing essays on the history of Classics at Cambridge.

76. Campbell, Lewis, A Guide to Greek Tragedy for English Readers (London, 1891), 319, 321 n. 1Google Scholar.

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