Robert Bridges' Masque Demeter and Oxford's Persephones

Wrigley, Amanda (2010). Robert Bridges' Masque Demeter and Oxford's Persephones. New Voices in Classical Reception Studies, 5



This essay takes as its focus Robert Bridges’ masque Demeter and its first performance in 1904 by the women students of Somerville, Oxford as part of the official opening ceremony for their new Library. It considers how Bridges’ elegant retelling of the myth of Persephone— which draws on the Homeric Hymn to Demeter—provides an appropriate allegory of wisdom and maturation and a suggestive commentary on how the higher education of women at this time was understood to prepare them for their future roles in society. The paper also shows how the occasion as a whole raised the profile of this all-female hall amongst the overwhelmingly male colleges and University of Oxford. Women students were very far from being on an equal footing with their male coevals at this time, not only in terms of educational status but also in terms of recreational opportunities. The performance of Demeter, however, set a firm precedent for dramatic performance within women’s halls. The paper describes how, soon after the performance, women scholars of Somerville contributed to the more decorative aspects of the Oxford University Dramatic Society’s Greek play productions from 1905; and how the classicist Gilbert Murray—who was actively involved in the education of women at Oxford, enjoying a long and special relationship with Somerville in particular—vigorously and practically encouraged the performance of Greek plays in translation and adaptation in the women’s halls.

Viewing alternatives

Download history

Item Actions