Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses: Mythic Revision as a Ritual for Grief


When artists turn to Greek or Roman myth as the source material for their works, they engage in a process known as mythic revision. These mythic revisions, whether a novel or a play, provide the audience with a sense of connection between them and those who have preceded them and create a feeling of universal or shared experience. Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses, which premiered in Chicago in 1998, allowed audiences on the cusp of a new millennium to return to Ovid’s fantastical tales and consider their contemporary relevance. However, when the play transferred to New York and opened shortly after September 11, 2001, the classical myths about death and loss took on greater resonances than before. In New York, the play moved beyond an entertaining dramatization of Ovid’s mythology and provided audiences to contemplate loss and grief by identifying with the dramatic performance.

This paper explores the confluence between dramatic mythic revision and the dramaturgical devices that enabled audience members to experience catharsis. I contend that the cathartic power behind Metamorphoses comes from a combination of devices acting upon the audience. First, as repositories of ancient wisdom, myths imply the presence of a spiritual dimension. Second, the story-telling quality of Readers Theatre predisposes the audience to accept certain allegorical truths. And third, the hermeneutic dramaturgy of the production, which calls attention to itself by emphasizing how myths can be re-envisioned and re-told, encourages the audience to re-visit their own conceptual understanding of death and loss.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.