Tanya Pollard, CUNY Brooklyn College

Translating Greek Drama: Schoolbooks and Popular Theater in Early Modern England

The conjunction of this paper’s title is deliberately perverse: only a handful of Greek plays were translated into English before the middle of the seventeenth century, and none of them were performed in the public theaters. Beyond these few English translations, available editions of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes were strictly academic, typically glossed and translated in Latin on facing pages, in split pages, or between the lines. Unlike the plays of Seneca, whose influence on the popular drama of the period has been well documented, the editions and translations of Greek plays circulating in sixteenth-century England have been almost entirely ignored by critics. Directed for the most part towards schoolboys and scholars, these texts are worlds apart from the popular, bawdy, vernacular plays of the early modern public theater. Turning conventional wisdom on its head, however, this paper will argue that the printed editions of Greek plays appearing over the course of the sixteenth century, alongside the accompanying revival of interest in Aristotle’s Poetics, played a central role in the development of both popular dramatic genres in England and the English public theater itself.