Adapting Greek tragedy during the War on Terror: Martin Crimp’s Cruel and Tender

Emma K Cole

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When contemporary playwrights adapt ancient tragedy they often distance themselves from their source, claiming that their adaptations are stand-alone plays that do not evince a complex relationship with the classical material. Martin Crimp differs remarkably from this, and is on record stating that Cruel and Tender, his adaptation of Sophocles’ Trachiniae, not only recalls the original’s structure, but also engages with its metrical patterns. In this article I build upon Crimp’s invitation to consider the two plays in dialogue by exploring Crimp’s interpretation of Sophocles’ Herakles figure and the representation of this character in Luc Bondy’s 2004 production of the play. I argue that Crimp’s adaptation sheds light upon the performance dynamics of Sophocles’ lyrics and can help clarify scholarly debates over the text. In addition, I posit that Cruel and Tender can contribute to scholarship on the connection between combat trauma and Greek tragedy. By examining two of the ways that analysing Cruel and Tender can transform our understanding of Trachiniae, I demonstrate how practitioner readings of the classics can provide insight into debates over dramaturgical uncertainties in ancient tragedy, and the means through which these can be clarified in contemporary performance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-51
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Adaptation in Film and Performance
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016


  • Martin Crimp
  • Herakles
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • War on Terror
  • Greek tragedy
  • Sophocles
  • Trachiniae


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