Julia Ward Howe’s Hippolytus: Remaking Greek Tragedy for Nineteenth-Century America

Helene Foley

Helene Foley

In 1857, Julia Ward Howe, poet, author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and later a prominent social activist and feminist, wrote a new version of Hippolytus for the then famous actors Edwin Booth and Charlotte Cushman. After its Boston premiere was abruptly and mysteriously cancelled, the play was not performed until 1911 and only published in 1941. Howe’s play adapted Euripides and Racine to address controversial gender issues emerging in the literature of the period, in increasingly androgynous acting styles, and in Howe’s own writing and personal experiences. In this lecture, Professor Helene Foley of Barnard’s Department of Classics and Ancient Studies, will explore the ways in which Howe re-imagines a Greek tragedy to capture contemporary American conflicts concerning identity.

Helene P. Foley is Professor of Classics at Barnard College. She writes on Greek epic and drama, women and gender in Antiquity, and modern performance and adaptation of Greek drama. She is the author of Ritual Irony: Poetry and Sacrifice in Euripides, The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, and Female Acts in Greek Tragedy and is currently completing a book version of her Sather Classical Lectures at University of California, Berkeley. Professor Foley was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008 and has received Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Humanities, American Council of Learned Societies, Loeb Foundation, and Institute for Advanced Study (at Princeton) fellowships, as well as three teaching awards.