American Communist Idealism in George Cram Cook’s The Athenian Women (1918)


  • Edith Hall King’s College London



Athenian Women, George Cram Cook, communists, left-wing theatre in the USA


The Athenian Women, written by the American George Cram Cook with input from Susan Glaspell, is a serious, substantial play drawing chiefly on Lysistrata and Thesmophoriazusae. It premiered on March 1st 1918 with the Provincetown Players. Cook was convinced of parallels between the Peloponnesian War and World War I. He believed there had been communists in Periclean Athens comparable to those who were making strides in Russia (in 1922 to become the USSR) and the socialists in America, amongst whom he and Glaspell counted themselves. The paper examines the text and production contexts of The Athenian Women, traces its relationships with several different ancient Greek authors including Thucydides as well as Aristophanes, and identifies the emphatically stated socialist and feminist politics articulated by the two main ‘proto-communist’ characters, Lysicles and Aspasia. Although the play was not particularly successful, its production had a considerable indirect impact on the future directions taken by left-wing theatre in the USA, through the subsequent dramas of Glaspell and Eugene O’Neill for the Provincetown Players.


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Author Biography

Edith Hall, King’s College London

EDITH HALL is Professor of Classics at King’s College London. She acts as consultant with theatre companies including the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. In 2012 she was awarded a Humboldt Research Prize to study ancient Greek theatre in the Black Sea, and in 2014 she was elected to the Academy of Europe. In 2017 she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Athens. Her books include Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-Definition through Tragedy (OUP, 1989); Sophocles' Antigone, Oedipus the King, Electra (OUP, 1994); Aeschylus' Persians: Edited with Translation and Commentary (1996); Medea in Performance (Legenda, 2000); Dionysus since 69: Greek Tragedy at the Dawn of the Third Millennium (2004); The Theatrical Cast of Athens: Interactions between Ancient Greek Drama & Society (2006); Agamemnon in Performance (OUP, 2007); Aristophanes in Performance (Legenda, 2007); The Return of Ulysses: A Cultural History of Homer’s Odyssey (2007); Greek Tragedy: Suffering Under the Sun (OUP, 2010); Theorising Performance (Duckworth, 2010); Reading Ancient Slavery (Bloomsbury, 2010); India, Greece and Rome 1757–2007 (Institute of Classical Studies, 2010); Ancient Slavery and Abolition (OUP, 2011); Adventures with Iphigenia in Tauris: A Cultural History of Euripides’ Black Sea Tragedy (OUP, 2013); Introducing the Ancient Greeks: From Bronze Age Seafarers to Navigators of the Western Mind (W. W. Norton, 2014); Aristotle’s Way: How ancient wisdom can change your life (The Bodley Head, London, 2018).