Greek immigrants playing ancient Greeks at Chicago’s Hull-House: whose antiquity?

Wrigley, A. and Davis, R. (2011). Greek immigrants playing ancient Greeks at Chicago’s Hull-House: whose antiquity? Journal of American Drama and Theatre, 23(2) pp. 7–29.


This essay considers the role of drama in activities designed to engage local Greek immigrants in the cultural life of Hull-House, Jane Addams' social settlement on Chicago's West Side, at the turn of the twentieth century. It interrogates the various claims on Greek antiquity made by the forces involved in the productions of The Return of Odysseus (1899), which drew on Homer's Odyssey, and Sophocles' Ajax (1904), exploring how individuals and communities contributed to and engaged with these stagings of antiquity, and why. An examination of the critical, popular, and intellectual receptions of these productions demonstrates that tensions in the perceived cultural value of the performance of ancient Greek texts are closely related to socio-economic situations and assumptions of cultural heritage. The essay argues that for Hull-House workers and producer Mabel Hay Barrows these productions were an attempt to connect the Hull-House stage and its social work with the prestigious school and university tradition of staging Greek drama in the original language. For the Greek community, the productions were a site of struggle between their social identity and their relationship with the American economy. They engaged with their ties (real or imagined) to a rich classical past and elements of American philhellenism to generate cultural capital which enabled them to achieve unprecedented access to Hull-House resources.

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