5 must-read plays that were not originally written in English

If you’re an actor, theatre performer or simply enjoy plays, chances are you have come across names such Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Samuel Beckett, Arthur Miller, Neil Simon or Oscar Wilde or any number of English language greats. While these playwrights are important and considered classic writers for a reason, it is equally important to look at authors are from other countries and languages in order to gain new perspectives, even on things you may have taken for granted. Here are a few to get you started.

  • A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen

A Doll's House is a three-act play written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen and translated by R. Farquharson Sharp. It was published in 1879 and premiered at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen later in the same month. The play is set in a Norwegian town in 1879 and was controversial because of the way it portrayed a married woman at a time when women did not have equal footing or opportunities in society. A Doll’s House created a storm and also gained Ibsen a wider audience, although Ibsen claimed that he did not intend to write a feminist play. The play was based on the life of Laura Kieler, who was a good friend of Ibsen’s. Most of what happened between the protagonist Nora and her husband, Torvald happened between Laura and her husband, Victor. In 2006, the centennial of Ibsen's death, A Doll's House held the distinction of being the world's most performed play that year.

  • Tughlaq by Girish Karnad

Tughlaq is a 1964 Kannada play set during the reign of Muhammed bin Tughlaq. Tughlaq is portrayed as a ruler with vision and ideas but whose reign was considered a complete failure. This thirteen-scene play is based on historical events but was also a commentary on the contemporary politics of the 1960s. According to U.R. Ananthamurthy’s article in The Wire, “...reason for Tughlaq’s appeal to Indian audiences is that it is a play of the 1960s, and reflects as no other play perhaps does the political mood of disillusionment which followed the Nehru era of idealism in the country.” Karnad himself has translated the current English version of the play.

  • God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza

The God of Carnage, first published in 2008, was originally written in French and later translated into English by Christopher Hampton. When Alan and Annette’s son hits Michael and Veronica’s son, breaking two teeth, the parents decide to meet in order to discuss the matter civilly. However, as the evening progresses, the conversation devolves into becoming increasingly childish, with irrational arguments, the men ganging up on the women and spouses switching sides as the fighting continues. Both the original French play, and subsequent stagings in English and New York have received critical acclaim.

  • The Black Hermit by Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʼo

The Black Hermit was the first play written by Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʼo.At the time the play was written, Kenya had just gained its independence. The story follows a young man Remi, who is the first of his tribe to attend university. The play highlights problems faced by local governments of newly-independent African countries, some of which are relevant even today. Overwhelmed by the problems he faces between marriage, family relations and obligations to his country and tribe, Remi goes into isolation as the black hermit.  However, after being petitioned to return to his tribe, he must face his past.  

  • Hagoromo

Among the most-performed Japanese Noh plays, Hagoromo is a prominent example of the traditional swan maiden motif. The authorship of this play is unknown. Although sometimes attributed to Zeami, the earliest references to the play date to 1524, which suggest that it was written well after his time. The story is simple, a fisherman walking with his companions at night finds the Hagoromo, which is the magical robe of feathers belonging to a ‘tennin’ (aerial spirit). The tennin appears to him and demands that he return it, as she cannot return to heaven without it. After some arguing, the fisherman agrees to return it if the tennin will show him some of her dance. She accepts his offer and eventually returns to heaven. While the play is said to be very fulfilling to watch, it is still an important read and can provide insight into the conventions of Noh theatre.















Editorial Desk

Editorial Desk