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Iphigenia in Adaptation: Neoclassicism, Gender, and Culture on the Public Stages of France and England, 1674-1779

  • Author(s): Wolfe, Rachel Margaret Eller
  • Advisor(s): Williams, Simon
  • et al.

This dissertation interrogates the role of adaptation in creating and maintaining hegemonic cultural formations through a study of two tragedies by Euripides as they were adapted by neoclassical playwrights during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in France and England. Adaptation studies, a relatively new field of academic inquiry, has thus far largely focused on defining adaptation in relation to more established studies of translation and intertextuality, and has primarily concentrated on cross-medium adaptations such as novels adapted into film. Taking these focuses as a point of departure, this study expands the field of adaptation studies by looking at adaptation not across medium, but across time and culture, through the examination of stage plays that were rewritten for public performance in early modern Western Europe hundreds of years after their initial performances in ancient Greece. In this context, with no change in medium, the uses of adaptation as a tool for disguising cultural difference are revealed, refocusing the scholarly discussion of adaptation from a search for definitions to an exploration of its implications for cultural studies.

Exploring the ways in which new ideas about religion, gender, and morality made unadapted Greek tragedies unsuitable for public presentation on early modern stages, the case studies examine the alterations made in nine different adaptations of the two Iphigenia plays that have come down to us from ancient Athens. Looking at adaptations of adaptations (Gluck's operatic adaptation of Racine's retelling of Iphigenia in Aulis, for example) alongside direct adaptations of Greek tragedies, this study argues that local cultural conventions may be threatened by even very recent versions of a story, and that adaptation is leveraged accordingly in order to neutralize such ideological threats. In the process, this exploration traces the ways in which neoclassicism was interpreted and reinterpreted as it shifted times, locations, and genres: from the seventeenth century to the eighteenth, France to England, and spoken tragedy to opera.

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