Retelling the story

Few stories have pre-occupied dramatists more than the Amphitryon myth. Originally a Greek legend, the story of Heracles’ mortal mother and foster father has provided extensive material for dramatic works over the centuries. Estimates at the exact number vary. Amphitryon 38, Giraudoux’s 1929 version, was so named because he claimed to have found thirty-seven previous [...]



Plautus’s Amphitruo is unique among his surviving comedies, in that it intertwines the world of the gods – traditionally a tragic realm – with the traditional urban world of comedy. The prologue Plautus wrote for the play negotiates the question with some uneasiness. He describes the generic amalgam he has produced as a tragicomedy.   The [...]

Dryden’s Alcmena

Dryden’s play, though radically original, was intimately shaped by his knowledge of two previous masterpieces which retell the same story – by the Ancient Roman dramatist Plautus and the French playwright Molière in the 1660s.   But, among the many departures from the precedents they set, Dryden chooses to allow us to see Alcmena in matrimonial [...]

Dryden’s Actors

From 1682 to 1695 only one acting company operated in London. In that one company were gathered all the finest performers of the age, and they presented an amazing line-up of talent and originality. It is unlikely that there has ever been a single ensemble in England which exceeded them in quality.   Dryden knew the [...]

Non-Identical Casting

NON-IDENTICAL CASTING   The great Jacobean playwright Ben Jonson dearly wanted to write his own Amphitryon play. But he thought there was one insuperable problem. Where, he asked, would he find two pairs of identical twins, who were brilliant actors, to play Jupiter and Amphitryon, and Mercury and Sosia? He was being strangely literal-minded. The [...]

Banville, Kleist and God’s Gift by Bryan Radley

Heinrich von Kleist and John Banville (Copyright Michael Miller 2014) “‘Who if not I, then, is Amphitryon?’”: Banville, Kleist, and God’s Gift(1) Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811) is an enduring influence on the Booker Prize-winning Irish writer John Banville (b.1945). Not only does Banville repeatedly nail his comedy to Kleist’s mast in novels such as Eclipse [...]


The English theatre, between the late 1580s and the stifling imposition of royal censorship on the playhouses in 1737, has bequeathed to us an unrivalled inheritance of great plays, created by generation after generation of brilliantly innovative dramatists. But only the tiniest percentage of this wealth is ever seen on our stages today. Every decade [...]