BAD BOY OF ATHENS: Classics from the Greeks

Book number: 93562 Product format: Hardback Author: DANIEL MENDELSOHN

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Bibliophile price £4.00
Published price £20

The literature of Greece and Rome is a lifelong passion for the author, and the last of these brilliant essays tells the story of his correspondence with the novelist Mary Renault, whose series about the homosexual Alexander the Great introduced the teenage Mendelsohn to the classical world and liberated him to live with the fact that he was gay. Mendelsohn never met Renault, learning of her death by seeing it in the newspaper, but he later got a chance to visit her partner and their friends and hear about the affectionate way Renault used to talk about her young correspondent "The American Boy". The "Bad Boy of Athens", which gives the collection its title, is the Greek playwright Euripides with his penchant for portraying deranged women. The comic playwright Aristophanes nailed Euripides's style in the satire Thesmophoriazousae, where the women of Athens use a fertility festival as an excuse to debate whether to kill the playwright who is badmouthing them. The section on Euripides concludes with thoughts about Deborah Warner's acclaimed production of Medea starring Fiona Shaw and Jonathan Cake. Mendelsohn's view is that Warner sidestepped the deranged nature of Medea's murderous lust, reducing the play's impact by making her into a frustrated housewife. In "Alexander, the Movie!" he administers the same critical treatment to Oliver Stone's biopic of Alexander the Great. Howard Davies's Broadway production of Noel Coward's Private Lives starred Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman, so you would expect near-perfection, but according to the author it failed because Davies was trying to make the characters real, whereas the whole point of the play is that their witty dialogue is totally artificial. Mendelsohn is kinder to Coward himself, who with wistful self-deprecation referred to his art as a "talent to amuse". Other nuanced criticism covers the film The Hours, with Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf, a chapter on Susan Sontag, and a detailed appreciation of Stoppard's play about the classical scholar and poet A. E. Housman, The Invention of Love, a "one-sided play about a two-sided character." 368pp.

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ISBN 9780007545155

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