• ‘Ercles' Vein’: Heracles as Bottom in Ted Hughes’ Alcestis

    Stephe Harrop (see profile)
    Ancient Greece & Rome, Classical Tradition
    Adaptation, Classical reception, Greek and Roman drama, Poetry, Shakespeare
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    Ted Hughes’ version of Euripides’ Alcestis (1999) is a play which diverges significantly from its ancient source-text, most notably in an interpolated sequence during which the drunken Heracles re-enacts his own labours, before experiencing traumatic visions. This article identifies this un-Euripidean interlude as a characteristic instance of inter-textual adaptation practice, in which Hughes constructs a self-reflexive, meta-theatrical play on the bombastic, tyrannical ‘Ercles’, as exuberantly performed by Nick Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (c.1595). It locates this analysis within the context of developing scholarship on Hughes’ adaptations from the classics, and an increasing focus on the poet’s use of mediating texts, especially Shakespearean verse, in constructing complex, multi-layered and challenging re-writings of classical source-texts. It contends that the meta-theatrical comedy of Hughes’ Heracles-as-Bottom offers a familiar analogue for some key elements of the ‘prosatyric’ Alcestis, while also allowing the modern poet to expand upon the back-story of Heracles’ labours, as well as providing him with an opportunity to dramatize some of the darker aspects of the ancient hero’s violent career. It finally goes on to consider how this characterization might be related to the wider reception of Heracles, especially in his maddened, murderous aspects, in recent adaptations for the theatre.
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    4 years ago
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