Tony Harrison

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Tony Harrison
Born (1937-04-30) 30 April 1937 (age 83)
Leeds, County Borough of Leeds, England
OccupationPoet, dramatist, librettist
Alma mater University of Leeds [1]
Notable works V.
Notable awards European Prize for Literature (2010)

Tony Harrison (born 30 April 1937) is an English poet, translator and playwright. He was born in Leeds and he received his education in Classics from Leeds Grammar School and Leeds University. [2] He is one of Britain's foremost verse writers and many of his works have been performed at the Royal National Theatre. [2] He is noted for controversial works such as the poem "V", as well as his versions of dramatic works: from ancient Greek such as the tragedies Oresteia and Lysistrata , from French Molière's The Misanthrope , from Middle English The Mysteries . [2] He is also noted for his outspoken views, particularly those on the Iraq War. [2] [3] [4] In 2015, he was honoured with the David Cohen Prize in recognition for his body of work. [5]



Adaptation of the English Medieval Mystery Plays, based on the York and Wakefield cycles, The Mysteries , were first performed in 1985 by the Royal National Theatre. [2] Interviewed by Melvyn Bragg for BBC television in 2012, Harrison said: "It was only when I did the Mystery Plays and got Northern actors doing verse, that I felt that I was reclaiming the energy of classical verse in the voices that it was created for." [6]

One of his best-known works is the long poem "V" (1985), written during the miners' strike of 1984–85, and describing a trip to see his parents' grave in Holbeck Cemetery in Beeston, Leeds, 'now littered with beer cans and vandalised by obscene graffiti'. The title has several possible interpretations: victory, versus, verse, etc. Proposals to screen a filmed version of 'v.' by Channel 4 in October 1987 drew howls of outrage from the tabloid press, some broadsheet journalists, and MPs, apparently concerned about the effects its "torrents of obscene language" and "streams of four-letter filth" would have on the nation's youth. Indeed, an Early Day Motion entitled "Television Obscenity" was proposed on 27 October 1987 by a group of Conservative MPs, who condemned Channel 4 and the Independent Broadcasting Authority. The motion was opposed only by MP Norman Buchan, who suggested that fellow members had either failed to read or failed to understand the poem. The broadcast went ahead and, after widespread press coverage, the uproar subsided. Gerald Howarth MP said that Harrison was "Probably another bolshie poet wishing to impose his frustrations on the rest of us". When told of this, Harrison retorted that Howarth was "Probably another idiot MP wishing to impose his intellectual limitations on the rest of us". [7]


Richard Eyre calls Harrison's 1990 play, The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus "among the five most imaginative pieces of drama in the 90s". Jocelyn Herbert, famous designer of the British theatrical scene, comments that Harrison is aware of the dramatic visual impact of his ideas: "The idea of satyrs jumping out of boxes in Trackers is wonderful for the stage. Some writers just write and have little idea what it will look like, but Tony always knows exactly what he wants." [8]

Edith Hall has written that she is convinced that Harrison's 1998 film-poem Prometheus is "artistic reaction to the fall of the British working class" at the end of the twentieth century, [9] [10] and considers it as "the most important adaptation of classical myth for a radical political purpose for years" and Harrison's "most brilliant artwork, with the possible exception of his stage play The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus". [9]

Professor Roger Griffin of the Department of History at Oxford Brookes University, in his paper The palingenetic political community: rethinking the legitimation of totalitarian regimes in inter-war Europe, describes Harrison's film-poem as "magnificent" and suggests that Harrison is trying to tell his audience "To avoid falling prey to the collective mirage of a new order, to stay wide awake while others succumb to the lethe of the group mind, to resist the gaze of modern Gorgons". [11]




Film and television

Theatre and opera

About Harrison and his poetry

Literary prizes

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<i>The Gaze of the Gorgon</i>

The Gaze of the Gorgon is a film-poem created in 1992 by English poet and playwright Tony Harrison which examines the politics of conflict in the 20th century using the Gorgon and her petrifying gaze as a metaphor for the actions of the elites during wars and other crises and the muted response and apathy these traumatic events generate among the masses seemingly petrified by modern Gorgons gazing at them from pediments constructed by the elites.

<i>Prometheus</i> (1998 film)

Prometheus is a 1998 film-poem created by English poet and playwright Tony Harrison, starring Walter Sparrow in the role of Prometheus. The film-poem examines the political and social issues connected to the fall of the working class in England, amidst the more general phenomenon of the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe, using the myth of Prometheus as a metaphor for the struggles of the working class and the devastation brought on by political conflict and unfettered industrialisation. It was broadcast on Channel 4 and was also shown at the Locarno Film Festival. It was used by Harrison to highlight the plight of the workers both in Europe and in Britain. His film-poem begins at a post-industrialist wasteland in Yorkshire brought upon by the politics of confrontation between the miners and the government of Margaret Thatcher. It has been described as "the most important artistic reaction to the fall of the British working class" at the end of the twentieth century.

The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus is a 1990 play by English poet and playwright Tony Harrison. It is partially based on Ichneutae, a satyr play by the fifth-century BC Athenian dramatist Sophocles, which was found in fragments at the Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus.


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  5. Jonathan McAloon, poet Tony Harrison wins David Cohen Prize for Literature 2015, Telegraph, 26 February 2015.
  6. "Melvyn Bragg on Class and Culture: Episode 2, BBC2 , broadcast 2 March 2012
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  8. "The Guardian Profile: Tony Harrison Man of mysteries". The Guardian. 1 April 2000. Retrieved 17 May 2013.
  9. 1 2 Edith Hall. "Tony Harrison's Prometheus: A View from the Left" (PDF). ... an essential requirement in a film where the most unlikely wheezing ex-miner is slowly made to represent Prometheus himself
  10. Lorna Hardwick (15 May 2003). Reception Studies. Cambridge University Press. pp. 84–85. ISBN   978-0-19-852865-4 . Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  11. Roger Griffin (December 2002). "The palingenetic political community: rethinking the legitimation of totalitarian regimes in inter-war Europe" (PDF). Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions . 3 (3): 24–43. doi:10.1080/714005484.[ permanent dead link ]
  12. BFI. "The Gaze of the Gorgon". Archived from the original on 13 December 2013.
  13. Merten, Karl (2004). Antike Mythen – Mythos Antike: posthumanistische Antikerezeption in der englischsprachigen Lyrik der Gegenwart. Wilhelm Fink Verlag. pp. 105–106. ISBN   978-3-7705-3871-3 . Retrieved 4 May 2013. der Räume und Kunstwerke des Achilleions hat, von entsprechendem dokumentarischem Filmmaterial begleitet.
  14. "Sir Harrison Birtwistle Bow Down - Universal Edition". Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  15. "Sir Harrison Birtwistle Yan Tan Tethera - Universal Edition". Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  16. Morley, Sheridan (7 October 1992). "A Sub-Brechtian 'Square Rounds'". The New York Times.
  17. "THEATRE / Bang, bang, dead confusing: Square Rounds - Olivier, National Theatre, 4 October 1992; Who Shall I Be Tomorrow? - Greenwich Theatre; The Darling Family - Old Red Lion; Lady Aoi - New End | Culture &#124". The Independent. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  18. Independent newspaper review of the play, 22 April 1996. Accessed 16 January 2015.
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  21. Moss, Stephen (26 February 2015). "Tony Harrison: still open for business". The Guardian . Retrieved 28 February 2015.