Quo Vadis

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The Latin phrase Quo Vadis ("Where are you going?") has been the title of a famous novel and number of dramatized versions of the tale.

The phrase "Quo Vadis?"

This Latin phrase is part of Christian lore (based on the apocryphal Acts of Peter, in which Peter flees Rome but on his way meets Jesus and asks him why he is going to Rome. Jesus says, "If thou desertest my people, I am going to Rome to be crucified a second time", which shames Peter into going back to Rome to accept martyrdom. ).

The original novel

Though it is commonly known as Quo Vadis, the full title of the original novel is Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero and was written in Polish by Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916)[1]. It tells of a love that develops between a young Christian woman, "Lygia" ("Ligia" in Polish) and "Marcus Vinicius", a Roman patrician. It takes place in the city of Rome under the rule of emperor Nero, c. AD 64.

First published in installments in three journals (Gazeta Polska - between 26 March 1895 and 29 February 1896 - Czas and Dziennik Poznański), and as a book in 1896, the novel was translated into more than 50 languages over time. Sienkiewicz received the 1905 Nobel Prize for Literature for Quo Vadis and and some of his other novels.

Translations and adaptations

Various stage versions and several films were based on the tale, including two Italian silent films (1913 and 1924), a plush Hollywood production in 1951 (nominated for eight Academy Awards), a 1985 miniseries directed by Franco Rossi, and a 2001 adaptation by Jerzy Kawalerowicz.[2]

Feliks Nowowiejski composed a successful oratorio based on the novel, performed for the first time in 1907.

The Sign of the Cross, a stage play by Wilson Barrett

A rather tantalizing question is posed by The Sign of the Cross, a play with basically the same theme, that was first performed in England in the same year that the novel Quo Vadis began appearing in serial form (26 March 1895). The play premiered two days later, on 28 March 1895.

Written and produced by the actor, playwright and producer Wilson Barrett ()[], it not only has a remarkably similar theme, but, according to Wikipedia[3], the two works share a number of elements, for example a Roman soldier named "Marcus" who falls in love with a Christian woman ("Lycia" in the novel, "Mercia" in the play), Nero, Tigellinus and Poppea appearing as key characters in both works. However, the endings of the novel and play are not the same.

For more on the play itself and its South African performances, see the entry on The Sign of the Cross

Quo Vadis, a stage play by Stanislaus Stange (1862-1917)[4]

The play text

The novel was adapted as a play called Quo Vadis by Stanislaus Stange (1862-1917)[5], and first produced at the McVickers Theatre , Chicago, on 13 December, 1899 and opened at the New York Theatre (9 April - July 1900) and later at the Academy of Music, New York, (31 December, 1900 to January 1901), produced by F. C. Whitney, directed by Max Freeman with incidental music by Julian Edwards.

In first played in London at the the Adelphi Theatre from 5 May to 1 June 1900,

There is a strong possibility that this adaptation may in fact have been partially based on William Barrett's play The Sign of the Cross, rather than the novel alone.

Performance history in South Africa

1901: Performed as Quo Vadis by The Holloway Theatre Company in Cape Town. In a footnote on p 408, F.C.L. Bosman (1980) ascribes the play to "S. Strange", but then adds "Adapted from H. Sienkiewicz's novel by W. Barrett". Since the source for this was D.C. Boonzaier (1923), who says that "(o)nly the vaguest recollection remains with me of Mr Holloway's Quo Vadis", it is quite probably that the play performed in this case was in fact The Sign of the Cross.

Quo Vadis, an opera by Jean Nouguès and Henri Caïn

The novel was adapted as an opera with 5 acts and 6 tableaux by Jean Nouguès (1875-1932)[6] and Henri Caïn (1857-1937)[7]). It premiered in Nice in 1909, going on to play in Paris, London and Milan, and later opened at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in 1911.










J. Richards. 2009. The Ancient World on the Victorian and Edwardian Stage. Springer: p.144[8]

J.P. Wearing. 2013. The London Stage 1900-1909: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel. Scarecrow Press: p. 15, Google E-book[9]

D.C. Boonzaier, 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1932. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.408

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