· Greek and Roman theatre and stagecraft
· ancient performance traditions
· classical reception in English theatre (esp. early modern and 20th century) and in popular culture (comics, television, film)
· women in ancient society
Current Book Projects
1. Thomas Heywood and the Classical Imagination. This book will study the classical plays of Thomas Heywood, an early modern playwright and contemporary of Shakespeare. Writing with a view to make classical mythology accessible to the London public, Heywood’s plays present a dynamic and engaged point of reception of classical literature. Particular focus will be on his five-play cycle The Ages. This research is supported by a SSHRC Insight Development grant.
2. Aristophanes: Frogs. This book will be a short introduction for students and scholars in English, Theatre, and Classics, to serve as an entry-point for the study of Aristophanes’ hilarious comedy about death and tragedy. It will (I hope) be part of a series I am co-editing with Niall Slater, the Bloomsbury Ancient Comedy Companions, of which eleven volumes are currently in progress.
3. Sex Slaves in New Comedy. This book will examine the roles of female sex slaves in the plays of Menander, Plautus, and Terence, drawing on models of exploitation in modern Southeast Asia. These characters might be prostitutes or domestic slaves: they are often the focus of dramatic action but may not even be speaking characters. This tension (how supposedly romantic plots can center around characters with little or no agency) is crucial for understanding the genre.
4. Beyond Intention and Fidelity (working title). This book will examine representations of the classical world in modern popular culture, with examples drawn mainly from cinema and comics. Examples will deal particularly with cases where a modern work informs or shapes the interpretation of an ancient text, reversing the usual model of dependence or literary debt. Examples will include The Sandman, Tarzan, Die Hard, music by Queen, and the Hercules cartoons I watched on Sunday mornings as a child.
Future projects include studies of stagecraft and non-verbal allusion in Greek tragedy, and of performance problems in Plautus.
I am interested in Greek and Roman poetry and its receptions, and most of my scholarship has focused on ancient theatre. I look at how genre and structure (including metre and other formal elements) can shape a literary work and how it is perceived and understood by its original audience, and by subsequent audiences. My research falls into four broad categories. All of these areas can provide material for intelligent and interested graduate students in Classics and related fields.
Greek and Roman Theatre and Stagecraft. The bulk of my research has concentrated on understanding and interpreting the physical dimension of ancient performance. Role doubling and masked acting are of particular interest, but I have also published on rehearsal practices, costumes, props, the use of extras, actor delivery, and the representation of space in performance. This has involved study of all the extant playwrights from Greece and Rome, and on the theatrical images on South Italian red-figure vases. I have written a books on Aeschylus’ Libation Bearers (2017) and Euripides’ Helen (2014) from this perspective, and SPoRC – The Stagecraft and Performance of Roman Comedy (2006). Since 2000, my work in this area has been generously supported by SSHRC.
Ancient performance traditions. I am also interested in ancient performance generally, from Homer onwards. Questions I have addressed in my research and teaching concern the nature of genre, the dating of specific works, literary allusion, and fragmentary plays. For example, in my work on satyr drama, I have argued (1) Euripides’ Cyclops was performed with Orestes in 408 BCE, and the plays possess a shared set of intertexts; (2) Euripides’ Alcestis represents a unique generic experiment that is meaningfully examined in the light of legislation controlling mockery; (3) P.Oxy. 4546 is a unique cue-script from an ancient performance of Alcestis; (4) Euripides’ Helen is a tragedy that draws on Aeschylus’ satyr drama Proteus (458) as its primary intertext; and (5) Euripides’ Andromeda, produced with Helen in 412, also draws primarily on a satyr drama, Sophocles’ Andromeda.
I have also worked on the reception of Greek drama in the Roman world, not only with the study of Plautus and Terence, but in later authors such as Ovid, Plutarch, and Aelian.
Performance, translation, and adaptation. For texts to continue to have meaning, they must be adapted and re-interpreted for each new audience. I have directed a dozen ancient plays for the modern stage, and done translations for others to direct. My productions are historically informed, seeking to convey ancient meaning effectively today, and draw on my experience performing in improv comedy, Shakespeare, etc. Associated with this is an interest in how others have addressed these questions, both theoretically and through practical examples and reception: this has produced articles on 20th-century performances by J. T. Sheppard, A. P. Herbert, and Douglas Young. I am currently working in a book examining the seventeenth-century playwright Thomas Heywood, a contemporary of Shakespeare, from this perspective.
In the past, I have founded improv comedy groups in Montreal (1987), Edinburgh (1989), and Sackville, NB (1993), all of which are still active. I have also directed a number of modern plays, including Canadian premieres of Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love (2009), Tony Harrison’s The Prince’s Play (2013), and a new translation of The Misanthrope set in Washington DC, also by Tony Harrison (2010).
Popular culture and the reception of classical literature. The questions discussed above ought to be applicable to any text, and understanding develops when the texts are closest to ourselves. Cinema, television, comic books, and video games reveal many aspects of contemporary society that aspire to ‘myth’ (in a classical sense). How this process works requires academic study. I have published edited collections on how comics represent the ancient world (in two volumes co-edited with George Kovacs) and on The Wire and Battlestar Galactica (in two volumes co-edited with Tiffany Potter).