Lady Jane Lumley's Iphigenia - some background

The Tragedie of Euripedes called Iphigeneia dramatizes how Iphigenia is brought to Aulis to be sacrificed so that the Greek ships can sail to Troy. It was first ‘translated out of Greake into Englisshe’ c.1555  by Lady Jane Lumley, and has only been performed twice in modern times. It is the first known dramatic text by a woman in English. Lumley’s script shows how Iphigenia is physically, politically and emotionally imprisoned: caught between the demands of her father Agamemnon (the Greek commander) and her mother Clytemnestra who strives to save her daughter’s life through marriage to the hero Achilles. This production will emphasize the limits of female agency and the possibilities to transcend them offered by Lumley’s script, and by all-female productions.

Lady Jane Lumley’s sixteenth-century translation of Euripedes’ tragedy, the first to appear in English, engages directly with issues of imprisonment, freedom of choice and gendered identity. Her tragic heroine transcends the stalemate of her parents’ quarrel by declaring

"I will offer my selfe willing to deathe, for my countrie"


 Iphigenia’s courage and resolution contrasts with Agamemnon’s cowardice, indecision and deceit. Fearing the Greek army (the ‘host’), his wife’s reaction, and his own inability to carry out the sacrifice of his daughter, Agamemnon pretends that he has summoned Iphigenia to be married to Achilles. Lumley suggests that in both cases, the reduction of a woman to a ‘commoditie’ to be trafficked between men is wrong.


Iphigenia’s story had immediate relevance for the translator, Lady Jane Lumley, since her father, Lord Arundel, had sacrificed her cousin, Lady Jane Grey to be executed at the hands of Catholic Mary Tudor. Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen of England on 9th October 1553 but ruled for only nine days before she was imprisoned in the Tower of London and executed on 12 February 1554. Euripedes’ tragedy is an ideal vehicle to express the sense of guilt, loss, blame and anger which must have hung over the Lumley household.

Lumley’s translation is daring in finding moments of dark comedy in the ludicrous situations faced by the protagonists. It also speaks out against a tradition of male, military valour, since Lumley’s Greek hero is Iphigenia.   



The Rose Company was established in 2013 out of the love of classic and historical performance texts and a belief in gender justice. This first production represents their commitment to bringing historical texts to contemporary life.