An analysis of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s “Dianeira”


  • Matteo Verzeletti Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano


Timberlake Wertenbaker, Dianeira, Sophocles, Women of Trachis, Heracles, Reception studies


Maybe one of the greatest among the living across her forty-year ongoing career, UK-based playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker gave us several translations and rewritings of ancient Greek and Latin classics, all endowed with a witty and precious writing. One of the most pecu- liar is the BBC-Radio 3 radio drama Dianeira, broadcast in 1999, based on the classical Athenian tragedy Trachiniai by Sophocles. In her work, more a rewriting than a translation, although most pages consist in fresh and accurate translations of the original, she depicts the Sophoclean tragedy through the words of an elderly and drunk woman – Irene – carefully listened to by a bunch of tourists in a village in Attica. Few changes are made by the author re-imagining the ancient story; anyway, she explores the characters with different proceedings from Sophocles’, notably portraying the ties between Deianeira, Heracles, their son Hyllos and Iole. In this paper I analysed the drama focusing mainly on Dianeira’s interactions with ancient tragedy, showing that Wertenbaker’s rewriting follows perspicuous strategies, emphasizing and modernizing the characters’ feelings, making her Deianira, like previously noted by Sophie Mills, more ambiguous and less of an innocent than Sophocles’. A careful analysis of the text demonstrates, also, how little Feminist readings, rejected by Timberlake Wertenbaker herself, help with their understanding. Mostly Victoria Pedrick and Ann Wilson focused on feminine victimhood in the Dianeira; thus sometimes making correct remarks, this proceeding leads them to misread and misinterpret the text, eventually failing in analysing one of the pivotal points of the drama, the character of Hyllos. Hyllos, with his empathy and sensitiveness, unhinges simplistic gendered readings of the Dianeira, delivering us a haunting drama from an ingenious playwright.