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Ancient drama in the community

The project demonstrates to school teachers and their students across the UK (and beyond) how Greek drama research and performance will transform and update their current understanding of key texts, themes and issues (especially those studied for Greek, Classical Studies and Classical Civilization at A-level, Higher, Advanced Higher and IB). Halliwell and Hesk have published leading-edge research on Aristophanic Comedy, the relationship between Athenian Old Comedy and its contexts, Greek Tragedy, Greek Tragedy and its social functions and ancient theories of tragedy (especially Aristotle and Plato). The aim is to engage a broad constituency in and beyond schools with the artistry, humour and contemporary modern relevance of Greek drama.

Impact pathways

With Beppe Pezzini’s participation, the emphasis will be on development of performance by students, in conjunction with the Byre Theatre, presenting drama at schools (initially those at Kirkaldy and Glenrothes). The methodology will lean heavily on communicating passion for Greek drama facilitating school teachers and students without imposing demands on teachers’ scarce time or for additional work.

The aim is also to create a drama community with a broader presence (Byre Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe etc.): 

  • Use of online briefing sheets/webpages, blogs and recorded talks/podcasts/media appearances (with further materials currently being produced by Classics undergraduate interns).
  • Halliwell’s two mass-market English translation editions of Aristophanes (1998; 2015), and other more pupil-friendly publications (e.g. Hesk 2003; 2005).
  • Talks and workshops for pupils; talks at teacher-only events.
  • In-school performances; interactions with classical teachers’ associations and other stakeholders (e.g. national exam boards)
  • Development of closer links with other theatre communities.

Evidence of impact and reach will be garnered through narrative testimony/feedback from teachers and pupils and figures for attendance, page views, downloads and copies of translations sold.

Underpinning research 

  • Stephen Halliwell
    • Aristophanes: Birds and Other Plays, 1998; ‘Aristophanic Sex: the Erotics of Shamelessness’, 2002
    • ‘Learning from Suffering: Ancient Responses to Tragedy’, 2005
    • Greek Laughter, 2008; Between Ecstasy and Truth, 2011
    • Aristophanes: Clouds, Women at the Thesmophoria, Frogs, 2015. A New Verse Translation with Introduction.
  • Jon Hesk
    • Deception and Democracy in Classical Athens, 2000
    • Sophocles’ Ajax, 2003
    • ‘The Socio-political Dimension of Ancient Tragedy’, 2007
    • ‘Euripidean euboulia and the problem of ‘tragic politics’’, 2011
    • Deliberation and Decision-Making from Homer to Aristotle, in progress.

For full details and further items see relevant staff pages.

Read more about the collaboration with the Byre Youth Theatre:

Greek drama in schools

Professor Stephen Halliwell and Dr Jon Hesk have published widely on Aristophanic Comedy, the relationship between Old Comedy and its contexts, and on Greek Tragedy and ancient theories of tragedy (especially Aristotle and Plato). Jon Hesk is currently working on the problems and pathologies of decision-making in the Greek city. They have both given many talks on these topics to teachers and school pupils in Fife and elsewhere.

Drawing on his experience talking to teachers and their pupils, Jon Hesk is developing a series of online resources and worksheets. These are intended to help teachers by making the results of recent research on Greek drama accessible in a digested format geared to recent school syllabuses, so that teachers can benefit from on-going academic re-evaluations of key texts and themes.

Worksheets have been developed around the following Higher, Advanced Higher, AS- and A-level syllabus elements because they ask questions which are directly addressed by recent scholarly research: 

  • SQA Classical Studies Advanced Higher: ‘Comedy, Satire and Society';
  • SQA Classical Studies Higher: ‘Social Aspects of the Classical World: Classical Drama’;
  • AQA Classical Civilization AS Level: ‘Aristophanes and Athens’;
  • AQA Classical Civilization A2 Level: ‘Greek Tragedy’;
  • Cambridge International Classical Civilization AS and A Level: ‘Aristophanes’ and ‘Drama: the idea of tragedy’;
  • OCR AS and A Level: ‘Greek Tragedy in its Context’ and ‘Comic drama in the ancient world’.
  • Many AS/A level Greek language and literature syllabuses also have elements relevant to this project.

Jon is aware that syllabuses change regularly and that many of them, particularly in Scotland, have recently undergone radical revision, but he hopes that the questions the briefing sheets tackle will be relevant even under the new specifications, and intends to update the briefings as soon as he can.

A longer-term goal of this project will be to engage with examination boards concerning the value and drawbacks of using recent research to inform their choice of set texts and the shape of their Greek drama syllabuses. 

Aristophanes and Athens

A series of twelve planned documents intended to help teachers incorporate recent research on Aristophanes into their teaching. They are not intended as ready-to-use lesson-plans but as briefing documents to help teachers develop their own lessons. They summarise key debates in recent scholarship on topics that have featured in recent Higher, Advanced Higher, AS- and A-level syllabuses and assessment. Sheets 1, 4, 5 and 11 are currently available.


Greek Tragedy

Jon is also planning a series of documents on Greek tragedy. The first of these is available below.

If you have any comments on the documents or suggestions for future topics, please send them to

Politics and gender conflict in Greek drama

Dr Jon Hesk

In this recording of a lecture, Jon Hesk discusses Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, Euripides’ Medea and Sophocles’ Antigone.  He shows how these plays’  representations of their female protagonists provided Athenian men with important food for thought concerning their own roles and responsibilities within the city and the household.  In the case of Aristophanes, however, we have to distinguish between some of Lysistrata’s more serious remarks and the tenor of the play as a whole.

Accompanying materials: 


Morality, Politics and Religion in Euripidean Tragedy

Jon Hesk

In this lecture Jon Hesk argues that Euripides’ plays are not, as is sometimes thought, radical critiques of religious practice and belief.  Rather, they stage the difficulty of moral, social and political decision-making in a world where external forces are ineluctable (and yet often hard to detect), stakes are high (and yet not always easily perceived as such), and humans have the capacity to reason between courses of action (and yet find themselves in dilemmas fuelled by emotion and conflicting moral imperatives).   At the end of the lecture, the audience asked Jon lots of excellent questions and you are likely to learn as much from that discussion as from the lecture itself!

Additional Materials



Orestes and Electra at tomb

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