Patrick Boyde

Patrick Boyde

Patrick Boyde is Emeritus Professor of Italian. He has been adapting and directing dramas in eight different languages since 2002.

Pat writes:

Since my retirement I have remained active in St John’s College, Cambridge, where I have become well known for a series of semi-staged productions of great works of literature, which are always performed in their original language (Greek, Latin, English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian and Polish).

The plays have all been abridgements of rarely performed verse-dramas, or dramatisations of episodes in classical epics or of books in the Bible. All have been enhanced by live music and illuminated by appropriate images. The meaning has always been made crystal-clear by specially-composed surtitles, or by the projection of the original text.

The key word is 'semi-staged' – by which I imply a low-budget production analogous to a 'concert performance' of an opera (in which a well-rehearsed cast sing from the score under the baton of an inspiring but unobtrusive conductor).

In every case my focus has been on the language of a major text which is to be enjoyed on its own terms and for its own sake, just like a symphony. Every directorial choice is intended to heighten the impact of the Word, to rouse it from its hibernation on the page, to bring it from potency to act.

I have had to learn so much – how to speak dead languages as though they were living; how to use, creatively, the essential high-tech resources; how to coach and inspire teams of amateurs; how to persuade audiences to come along to performances of dense and complex texts in a foreign tongue.

It is this kind of practical knowledge and experience that I want to share with schools and universities all over the world via these 'performance packs'.

There are perhaps two underlying obsessions: first, my conviction – shared with Dante – that the essence of poetry lies in its verbal music (armonia, dolcezza), which is why it does not survive translation; and, second, that good reading-aloud depends on deep understanding and conveys a loving interpretation – which it does more effectively than any written commentary. (And, yes, these obsessions do constitute a muted protest against the cult of the Director in the modern theatre and against the dominance of Theory in the teaching of literature in universities.)