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Aristophanes and Douglas Young.

Douglas Young (1913-73) was a powerful voice for the use of Scots language in poetry as part of the construction of national identity. His wry humor culminated in two Aristophanic translations, The Puddocks (Frogs) and The Burdies (Birds), which confirmed Young's place as a public poet. (1) It is not possible here to assess the nature of Young's translation, (2) nor to explore specific aspects of the stage performances, (3) but it is worth distinguishing three threads that braid together throughout his career--his work as an academic, as a politician, and as a litterateur.

Young achieved a first-class degree from St. Andrews in Scotland in 1934 and continued his studies at New College, Oxford, until 1938. Following the war, he held academic positions at University College, Dundee (1947-53), St. Andrews (1953-68), McMaster University in Ontario (1968-70), and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as Paddison Chair of Greek (1970-73). His most significant scholarly publications were his Teubner edition of Theognis in 1961 (2nd ed., 1971) and his lighthearted but thought-provoking articles on Homeric composition (in one of which he demonstrates that Milton did not in fact write Paradise Lost). (4) A posthumously published translation of The Oresteia (1974, into English) has not been received well, in part because of his excessive conservatism as a textual critic; the translation nevertheless possesses many inventive and appealing turns of phrase.

As a student he supported the unsuccessful 1933 campaign of the novelist Eric Linklater, who was running for the National Party of Scotland (NPS) in a by-election. (5) Within a decade (one that included completing four years at Oxford), while still in his twenties, Young was elected Chairman of the Scottish National Party (SNP), as it was then known, a position he held from 1942 to 1945. Following the party position, he resisted conscription, defending himself ably in court by arguing that the 1707 Act of Union granted British Parliament no right of conscription over Scottish citizens. (6) This unpopular position led to vilification in the press and two jail terms. In 1944, he ran in a Kirkcaldy by-election and attained 42 percent of the vote. (7)

A leading figure in what has been called the Scottish Renaissance alongside Hugh MacDiarmid, (8) Young wrote poetry in what he called "Lallans," Robert Burns's term for the Scots language. Young's polyglot Auntran Blads (1943, with a foreword by MacDiarmid) contains poems of Burns rendered into ancient Greek as well as translations into Lallans from a variety of languages. This was followed by A Braird o Thristles (1947), celebrations of Edinburgh and St. Andrews, anthologies, and occasional essays. His entertaining 1950 travel narrative Chasing an Ancient Greek takes as its unlikely subject Young's journeys to European libraries while working on Theognis. His moving if overdetermined translation of Psalm 23 (composed in Edinburgh Prison on St. Andrews Day, 30 November 1942) ties his political incarceration with his literary ambitions, and was written amidst his reading of Homer, the tragedians, and Theognis. The integration of all three threads can be seen most clearly in the two Lallans translations of Aristophanes that Young produced.

The Puddocks, "A verse play in Scots frae the auld Greek o Aristophanes," was self-published in December 1957. The play premiered at the Byre Theatre in St. Andrews by the Reid Gouns (i.e., "Red Gowns" an allusion to the university academic dress), 25-28 February 1958. The play was subsequently performed by "the Sporranslitters" (Cutpurses), at the 1958 Edinburgh Fringe Festival ("Perifery o the Fest o Embro" according to a program note, 29 August-12 September), in advance of which a second edition of the script was published in August 1958. Both volumes, envisaging future performances, grant performance rights to amateur companies that pay a guinea (or more) to support the Scottish National Dictionary. (9)

The additions to the second edition represent a curious assortment that betrays some of Young's intentions for the play. A three-page foreword to the second edition of The Puddocks affirms the value of the work as a literal translation, rejecting suggestions that Aeschylus and Euripides be updated "and to substitute Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns, or Burns and Hugh MacDiarmid, or Diana Dors and Marilyn Monroe." (10) Young refers to David Lindsay's Ane Pleastant Satyre of the Thrie Estaites (1552, but which had been directed at the Edinburgh Festival by Tyrone Guthrie in 1948) and Robert MacLellan's The Flouers o Edinburgh (also 1948, a play which explores the linguistic tension between Scots and English in Scotland and which had been revived at the 1957 Edinburgh Festival): in so doing, The Puddocks is connected to the theatrical masterpieces of the Scottish Renaissance, blurring the distinctions between the Festival and the Fringe. Young acknowledges two changes required by the Lord Chamberlain, but questions his authority to censor Scots plays and urges future playwrights to take a constitutional stand on the matter. Following the translation, he appends three carefully edited pages of critical opinions, the cast and production list of the Byre production, an eleven-page glossary, and an eighty-three-line epilogue spoken on the final night of production in St. Andrews. He also expands the explanatory notes that appended the first edition, preserving local variants of jokes used in the Byre performance, which stand alongside his explanations of specific passages of the Greek.

The combination of textual criticism alongside local ad hominem jokes (however helpful for the theater historian) may be seen as an odd self-indulgence, marking the habits of a scholar for whom no textual variant is insignificant. With the critical opinions culled and ordered by Young, the nationalist purpose of the work emerges. (11) Twenty-one excerpts from notable figures are cited, though it is not clear if all of these were published or if some of the praise comes from personal letters. Sir Maurice Bowra, former vice-chancellor of Oxford and then president of the British Academy, is cited first, followed by T. S. Eliot: in beginning his citations with these two famous names, Young asserts that this is a scholar's Aristophanes, and a poet's, and therefore of significant cultural value. (12) Scots poet Norman MacCaig, who had also been a conscientious objector in the war, comes third, with a variety of playwrights and journalists following. Edwin Morgan, a poet associated with the Scottish Renaissance, writing in the Saltire Review, extended the association not just to the poetry and the use of Scots Lallans but to the political content as well: "Aristophanes's Frogs exploits a historical literary situation, the dearth of serious dramatists ... but its main interest is a permanent one. The author opens up the whole question of the value of art, its relation to the ethics of the State, and its influence on men." (13) Morgan's comparison of the lack of dramatists in Athens with the state of Scots literature in the 1950s is implicit and pointed.

The Edinburgh production was performed in the Braidburn Theatre, an outdoor park venue with a small burn (creek) that was dammed to form the Styx. It is not a short play (the St. Andrews performance had lasted 130 minutes), (14) and the environmental hazards threatened the success of several performances due to cold or wet weather and small audiences. Music was clearly important (the program lists twenty-four women and nine men in the play's two choruses, and three original reels by Kenneth C. Barclay were printed on the back of the program), and though it was prerecorded, one can imagine the effect for the forty or fifty in the audience at the midnight performance, when the weather cooperated, the wind was still, and the chorus emerged as initiates carrying real torches. (15)

Wishing to build on their initial performance of The Puddocks, the Reid Gouns approached Young for another Aristophanic translation. The Burdies ran for twenty performances at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 27 August-12 September 1959. Again, the publication of the script in advance of opening reveals much about Young's ambitions: his preface discusses spelling and pronunciation conventions and admits that he "had to do the version in some haste--half of it in four days." (16) The explicitly didactic and self-justificatory format is perpetuated: this edition also contains a glossary, sixteen pages of notes, and a selection of critical opinions of The Puddocks. Young's haste therefore arose from the need to give the script to the cast, and there remains an odd jumble of amateurish charm and scholarly pretense that sits unexpectedly alongside what he must have seen as a political document. Young had already published many tracts (including, in 1955, a constitutional discussion, The Treaty of Union between Scotland and England, 1707: The Legal Basis of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, recalling his 1942 trial), and it would be a disservice to treat the translations as somehow distinct. (17)

The 1959 production of Burdies "was extremely amateurishly produced and completely flopped." (18) The script was nevertheless incorporated into the 1965/66 season of the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company, directed by Tom Fleming, one of the leading lights of Scottish theater. As one of the company's inaugural plays, and in 1966 its first contribution to the Edinburgh International Festival, Young's work was promoted to a site of central cultural discourse. Where it could be excused as being of only local interest in the Fringe, the prominence given to Young's work by the Lyceum production made a positive claim concerning a Scots identity in an international context. The implicit claim of cultural continuity from classical Athens (a claim anticipated when he translated Burns into Greek) makes an assertion of value, and the dialectical choice asserts national identity. This makes a political claim concerning Scotland's place within the UK and asserts a European cultural identity that reflects Young's long-held positions, including his notorious incarceration during the war.

The choice of The Burdies for the Lyceum Theatre Company's first contribution to the festival continues the associations with nationalism and European identity that had also been established by previous festival performances, including The Thrie Estaites (1957) and The Flouers o Edinburgh (1948) nine and eighteen years previously. The paradox is implicit even in the medium chosen: literary ambitions are asserted even as they are filtered through the supposedly baser register of comedy. This becomes almost a statement of national disposition: the majority of Scots language performances before the 1990s were comedies, principally translations of Moliere and Goldoni. Indeed, while Young's Aristophanes was the first play the new company staged at the festival, the opening play of its season was Victor Carin's The Servant o' Twa Maisters, adapted from Goldoni (opening 1 October 1965). (19)

Mixed reviews of the 1966 production, and particularly a hostile attack from Alexander Scott (poet, playwright, and Reader of Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow), necessarily affect any modern perception of the impression this production must have made on its audience. The flurry of letters in the Scotsman, supplemented by the impassioned defense by Young's friends, (20) leaves an unpleasant aftertaste as sincere advocates for Scots language turn on each other. Young's thorough documentation of the whole affair (21) signals a willingness to face his detractors directly but diminishes the possibility of international impact that those behind the production of the play surely hoped would develop. Even if what is presented is (only?) "stage-Lallans," (22) positioning Young's Aristophanes in the context of its political uses foregrounds dialectical concerns that represent a core component of the assertion of Scots identity at this time.

We cannot approach Young's sparkling versions today apart from their politics and the positioning of Scots identity in the 1950s and 1960s. They admit no naive reading. As a political statement by a poet-scholar, or a scholarly argument by a political poet, or a poetical outpouring of an academic politician, Young's Aristophanes versions demand consideration and careful study.

University of British Columbia


I remain grateful to Amanda Wrigley, Nick Gauthier, and Heather M. Padgen for their patient assistance. This research has been supported in part by a UBC Hampton Fund Research Grant.

(1) The following abbreviations are used for Young's Aristophanes translations: [Puddocks.sup.2]: Douglas Young, The Puddocks: A Verse Play in Scots from the Greek of Aristophanes, 2nd ed. (Tayport, UK: published by the author, 1958).

Burdies: Douglas Young, The Burdies: A Comedy in Scots Verse from the Greek of Aristophanes (Tayport, UK, 1959). The Burdies is reprinted in Serving Twa Maisters: Five Classic Plays in Scots Translation, ed. John Corbett and Bill Findlay (Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2005), 47-141. Pages 47-48 provide the cast list from 1966; the editors discuss Young in their introduction (xiii-xvii, xxxii-xxxiii); this edition is cited as Corbett and Findlay.

(2) For an initial overview, see J. Derrick McClure, "The Puddocks and The Burdies 'by Aristophanes and Douglas Young in Frae Ither Tougues: Essays on Modern Translations into Scots, ed. Bill Findlay (Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, 2004), 215-30. See also Bill Findlay, "Motivation and Method in Scots Translations, Versions, and Adaptations of Plays from the Historic Repertoire of Continental European Drama," 2 vols. (PhD diss., Queen Margaret University College, 2000), 1:82-108. Lorna Hardwick, "Classical Theatre in Modern Scotland--A Democratic Stage?," in The Role of Greek Drama and Poetry in Crossing and Redefining Cultural Boundaries, ed. Lorna Hardwick and Carol Gillespie (Milton Keynes, UK: Open University, 2003), available at (accessed April 2011), examines the role of Greek drama on the Scottish stage generally.

(3) Douglas Young, Scots Burds and Edinburgh Reviewers: A Case Study in Theatre Critics and Their Contradictions (Edinburgh: Macdonald, 1966), offers a starting point. Mention is made (Puddocks (2), xi) of a recording of the 27 February performance at the Byre deposited somewhere in St. Andrews and Edinburgh, but I have so far been unable to locate either copy.

(4) Douglas Young, "Miltonic Light on Professor Denys Page's Homeric Theory," Greece and Rome 6 (1959): 96-108.

(5) This campaign became the source for the fictional account of the election in Linklater's 1934 novel Magnus Merriman. Linklater's 1938 novel The Impregnable Woman provided a Scottish Lysistrata, anticipating in some ways Young's Aristophanic experiment (see McClure, 227-28). Linklater's first son, Magnus, born in 1942, was apparently named after his literary counter-self.

(6) The trial on 13 April 1942 is summarized in Douglas Young, A Scot's Free Fight (Glasgow: Scottish Secretariat, 1942), and also in his Chasing an Ancient Greek: Discursive Reminiscences of an European Journey (London: Hollis and Carter, 1950), 55-66. Compton MacKenzie later used Young as an example in On Moral Courage (London: Collins, 1962). See also E. Christian Kopff, "A Free-Minded Scot: Douglas Young Remembered," Chronicles, November 1995, 27-31.

(7) Clara Young and David Murison, eds., A Clear Voice: Douglas Young, Poet and Polymath. A Selection from His Writings with a Memoir (Loanhead, UK: Macdonald, n.d.), 78. The following year, Robert McIntyre won the first seat for the SNP in the 1945 Motherwell by-election. The seat was lost in the next general election, but Mclntyre did become party chairman in 1947.

(8) William Findlay, "Diaskeuasts of the Omnific Word," Cencrastus: Scottish and International Literature, Arts and Affairs, 23 (1986): 48-52, discusses Young's attempts to revive Scottish vernacular humanism through translation.

(9) Young and Murison, A Clear Voice, the memorial anthology produced after the author's death, was edited by his daughter and the editor of the Scottish National Dictionary. For obvious reasons, the Dictionary was a favorite cause.

(10) [Puddocks.sup.2], ix. The forward to the second edition is on pages ix-xi.

(11) Ibid., 50-52.

(12) When he next published a series of excerpts (Burdies, 82-84), these first two were reversed, with Eliot at the head (among many other changes).

(13) [Puddocks.sup.2], 51.

(14) Ibid., xi.

(15) I am very grateful to James Russell, "heid bummer o' the Mystic Chorus" in the Edinburgh Puddocks, for sharing his personal reminiscences with me.

(16) Burdies, iv.

(17) Bill Findlay, "Towards a Reassessment of Douglas Young: Motivation and His Aristophanes Translations," Etudes ecossaises 10 (2005): 175-86, ties the translations to Young's 1940s pamphlet on the cultural place of Lallans in Scotland and the associated issues of nationalism.

(18) Young and Murison, 22.

(19) See Corbett and Findley, 331-38.

(20) Nan Dunbar, writing from Oxford in a letter dated 25 August 1966, presents herself as an expert on Aristophanes but does not reveal that she was the dedicatee of the 1959 publication. Her commentary on Aristophanes' Birds was published by Oxford in 1997.

(21) Young, Scots Burds.

(22) The phrase was used of Young's Aristophanes by John Corbett, Written in the Language of the Scottish Nation: A History of Literary Translation into Scots (Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, 1999), 155.
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Title Annotation:theatrical plays 'The Puddocks' and 'The Burdies'
Author:Marshall, C.W.
Publication:Comparative Drama
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 22, 2010
Previous Article:Politics, war, and adaptation: Ewan MacColl's Operation Olive Branch, 1947.
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