It's All in the Translation

Examining the role of translation in interpreting dramatic literature.


Key Staff

Primary instructor

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres, Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique


In this lesson students will examine the important role translation plays in interpreting the dramatic literature and theater of the ancient Greeks. Students will read, rehearse, and perform a short passage from four different translations of the Greek tragedy, Hecuba, and compare and contrast the dramatic impact of each.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Prepare and present and informal dramatic scene.
  • Articulate and justify personal aesthetic criteria for critiquing dramatic texts.
  • Be able to compare multiple interpretations of visual and aural productions.
  • Analyze, compare, and evaluate differing interpretations of the same dramatic texts and performances.

Teaching Approach

  • Thematic
  • Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Discussion
  • Discovery Learning
  • Experiential Learning
  • Research
  • Reflection

Assessment Type



What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • Projector
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Here are some resources to help you in your lesson planning:



  • Euripides: Electra and Other Plays, tr. John Davie, London, Penguin Books, 1998.
  • Euripides' Hecuba, tr. Frank McGuinness, London, Farber and Farber, 2004.
  • Euripides: Medea and Other Plays, tr. Philip Vellacott, Penguin Books, 1963.


Note: At the Internet Classics Archive, you can download a complete copy of Hecuba, translated by E. P. Coleridge. Other translations you might consider using are Hecabe, translated by Philip Vellacott in Euripides: Medea and Other Plays, Penguin Books, 1963; Hecabe, translated by John Davie in Euripides: Electra and Other Plays, Penguin Books, 1998; and, a new version by Frank McGuinness from a literal translation by Fionnula Murphy, available from Faber & Faber, London, 2004. The McGuinnes text provides the greatest contrast in form from the others. There are many scenes in the play to choose from; it is only important that you choose the same scene from each play.

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should understand what translation is and know the basics elements of theater (actors, playwright, scene, script, etc.)

Physical Space



Small Group Instruction

Accessibility Notes

Students with visual disabilities may need modified handouts or texts.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.



1. Tell your students that you are going to do a scene from an ancient Greek play by the ancient Greek playwright, Euripides. Discuss who Euripides was. You can find information at the Euripides Web site. Continue this discussion by referring to the ARTSEDGE lesson, Greek Theater. To gain a better understanding of the theater at this time in history, discuss some of the major elements in the lesson.

2. Using an overhead or projector, project a selection from the original Greek text of Hecuba (The play can be found on the Perseus Digital Library Web site.) Remind students that when they study any ancient Greek play they are not really dealing with the original text, but rather are dealing with a translation of the original text. Ask them to consider how the translators might influence the text of the play.

Build Knowledge

1. Tell your students that they are going to examine four different translations of one short scene from Hecuba. Select a short cutting from the play that will give each actor approximately 8 to 10 lines. Make copies of that scene from the four different translations.

2. Divide the class into pairs, and then divide the pairs into 4 groups. Assign one of the 4 translations to each group. (Each pair in group one will have translation one; each pair in group two will have translation two, etc.) Before students begin rehearsing, give them a synopsis of the scene they will be presenting, and provide any information they might need to understand what is happening in the scene. Finally, encourage students to find a way to make the text work as theatre in the presentation.


1. When it is time to present the scenes, group them according to translation so that the students can compare how different actors interpreted the same translations, and then compare how the translations differed from one another. Use the Scene Discussion Guide worksheet located under 'Resources in Reach' to assist in the discussion of scenes.

2. As the students are watching the scenes, have them keep in mind the following:

  • Does the scene seem formal or informal? Classical or modern?
  • How believable is the dialogue?
  • Are the characters interesting?
  • How would you rate the dramatic impact of the translation? (High, low, moderate?)
  • How would you rate the theatricality of the translation? (Was it easy to play? Did it inspire you as an actor or director?)


1. After all the scenes have been presented and discussed, bring the class to a close by asking the students to consider the significance of the role of the translator in dramatic works. Ask them if they take other languages and if they would ever be interested in becoming translators.

2. Ask if they are aware of any other plays they have read that are translations. (Some possible answers: plays by Chekhov, Ibsen, Moliere, Strindberg, and Pirandello.) What are some insights they now have about these plays?


Use the Assessment Rubric located under 'Resources in Reach' to assess your students' works.

Have students develop a program featuring several different translations of the same scene from Hecuba. Have them include program notes that are an analysis of each translation.

Challenge students to find several different translations of other playwrights and do a comparative study/performance.

Assign students a research project to explore what it takes (training, background, etc.) to become a literary translator today.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education

Grade 9-12 Theater Standard 7: Analyzing, critiquing, and constructing meanings from informal and formal theatre, film, television, and electronic media productions

National Standards in Other Subjects
Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts



Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

Jim Carpenter
Original Writer

Email Print Share


- +
Email a link to this page
Share This Page


Related Resources


Use this collection of resources and articles to devise an approach for supporting individual needs in the classroom: from English Language Learners or students with disabilities, to conflict resolution and giving feedback.



© 1996-2019 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  

ArtsEdge is an education program of

The Kennedy Center 

with the support of

The US Department of Education 

ARTSEDGE, part of the Rubenstein Arts Access Program, is generously funded by David Rubenstein.

Additional support is provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Kennedy Center education and related artistic programming is made possible through the generosity of the National Committee
for the Performing Arts and the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts.

The contents of this Web site were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not
necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.
Unless otherwise stated, ArtsEdge materials may be copied, modified and otherwise utilized for non-commercial educational purposes
provided that ArtsEdge and any authors listed in the materials are credited and provided that you permit others to use them in the same manner.

Change Background:

Connect with us!    EMAIL US | YouTube | Facebook | iTunes | MORE!

© 1996-2019 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  
    Privacy Policy
| Terms and Conditions


You are now leaving the ArtsEdge website. Thank you for visiting!

If you are not automatically transferred, please click the link below:

ArtsEdge and The Kennedy Center are in no way responsible for the content of the destination site, its ongoing availability, links to other site or the legality or accuracy of information on the site or its resources.