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New Light on Tony Harrison$
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Edith Hall

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266519

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266519.001.0001

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Harrison as Scholar-Poet of the Theatre

Harrison as Scholar-Poet of the Theatre

Chapter:
(p.101) 10 Harrison as Scholar-Poet of the Theatre
Source:
New Light on Tony Harrison
Author(s):

Fiona Macintosh

Publisher:
British Academy
DOI:10.5871/bacad/9780197266519.003.0010

Tony Harrison is widely acclaimed for his ability to make the most complex arguments lucid and accessible. Yet it is this very accessibility that often belies the degree of scholarship that informs his work for the theatre, in particular. It is not just that his versions of ancient Greek plays are underpinned by solid classical learning; it is also that they involve a considerable amount of scholarly research in libraries. To bear witness to this scholar-poet's scrupulous attention to detailed scholarship, this chapter takes as case-study an overlooked text from Harrison’s corpus, Medea, A Sex-War Opera(1985). This work was commissioned by New York’s Metropolitan Opera House as a libretto for a score by Jakob Druckman that was never completed. Indeed, Harrison’s libretto has never properly seen the light of day: the only (albeit truncated) production to date - the 1991 Medea: Sex Warby The Volcano Theatre Company - interwove Valerie Solanis’ 1960’s radical feminist text, The S.C.U.M. Manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men) into the Harrison libretto. Yet Medea, A Sex-War Opera is an ingenious, witty and hard-hitting piece of social intervention that still speaks powerfully back to, and vociferously against, twenty-first century gender discrimination. Ranging from George Buchanan’s Latin version (c.1540s) to Robert Brough’s demotic mid-Victorian burlesque (1856), the libretto is testament to Harrison’s extraordinary wide reading from ancient to modern versions of Medea’s story.

Keywords:   Medea, A Sex-War Opera, Scholar-Poet, Oresteia, Peter Hall, Trackers of Oxyrhynchus

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