Tragic Seneca: An Essay in the Theatrical Tradition

Tragic Seneca: An Essay in the Theatrical Tradition

Tragic Seneca: An Essay in the Theatrical Tradition

Tragic Seneca: An Essay in the Theatrical Tradition

Synopsis

Tragic Seneca undertakes a radical re-evaluation of Seneca's plays, their relationship to Roman imperial culture and their instrumental role in the evolution of the European theatrical tradition.Following an introduction on the history of the Roman theatre, the book provides a dramatic and cultural critique of the whole of Seneca's corpus, analysing the declamatory form of the plays, their rhetoric, interiority, stagecraft and spectacle, dramatic, ideological and moral structure and their overt theatricality. Each of Seneca's plays is examined in detail, locating the force of Senecan drama not only in the moral complexity of the texts and their representations of power, violence, history, suffering and the self, but the semiotic interplay of text, tradition and culture.The later chapters focus on Seneca's influence on Italian, English and French drama of the Renaissance. A.J. Boyle argues that tragedians such as Cinthio, Kyd, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Webster, Corneille, and Racine owe a debt to Seneca that goes beyond allusion, dramatic form and the treatment of tyranny and revenge to the development of the tragic sensibility and the metatheatrical mind. Tragic Seneca attempts to restore Seneca to a central position in the European literary tradition. It will provide readers and directors of Seneca's plays with the essential critical guide to their intellectual, cultural and dramatic complexity.

Excerpt

This book is the product of almost two decades of thinking about Seneca tragicus. I began to teach Senecan drama at both the graduate and the undergraduate level in Australia during the late 1970s, inspired by John Herington’s seminal Arion article of 1966 and my own developing interest in Roman theatre. Dissatisfaction with the then current state of Senecan criticism and with Senecan tragedy’s exclusion from both classics curricula and the modern canon was only intensified by the intellectual excitement experienced in the classroom and the dramatic power generated on stage. Productions of Phaedra at the Sydney Opera House in 1987 and of Troades at the Alexander Theatre, Melbourne, in 1988 testified to the tragic force and theatrical craftsmanship, indeed theatrical self-consciousness, of these plays. My previous work has focused primarily on individual plays: both through critical essays (1983 and 1985) and through editions, translations and commentaries on specific texts: Phaedra (1987) and Troades (1994). in ‘Senecan tragedy: twelve propositions’ (The Imperial Muse I, 1988) I attempted to make some larger statement about Senecan drama. This book develops some positions of that essay, incorporating and expanding my earlier work into a dramatic and cultural critique of Seneca’s tragic corpus, and a new investigation of his seminal role in the formation of Renaissance drama.

My attention to Seneca tragicus has not been unique. No reader of this book will be unaware that it is part of an upsurge in Senecan studies (some even call it an ‘industry’) which has taken place especially over the last decade, embracing commentaries on specific texts, specialised monographs on dramaturgy, metrics, Ovidian influence, argumentative structure, spectacle, choruses, and the theatrical and textual traditions. the following revaluation of Senecan tragedy and its impact on the Renaissance is conscious of its status as part of this collaborative scholarship. Its aim is to further the canon revision implicit in recent work and to help restore Seneca to a position of centrality in the European literary and dramatic tradition.

It is a pleasure to acknowledge debts. To Francis Cairns Publications I am grateful for permission to reuse material from my editions of Seneca’s Phaedra and Troades. To the National Endowment for the Humanities I am

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