Theatre of ancient Rome

Theatre of ancient Rome refers to the time period of theatrical practice and performance in Rome beginning in the 4th century B.C., following the state’s transition from Monarchy to Republic.[1] Theatre of the era is generally separated into the genres of tragedy and comedy. Some works by Plautus, Terence, and Seneca the Younger survive to this day. Eventually, theatre would represent an important aspect of Roman society because it would come to function as the primary means through which the Roman people could express their political emotions during the republican and imperial periods of Rome.[2]

Choregos actors MAN Napoli Inv9986
Roman mosaic depicting actors and an aulos player (House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii)

Origins of Roman theatre

Rome was founded in 753 B.C.E as a monarchy under Etruscan rule, and remained as such throughout the first two and a half centuries of its existence. Following the expulsion of Rome's last king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, or "Tarquin the Proud," circa 509 B.C.E., Rome became a Republic, and was henceforth led by a group of magistrates elected by the Roman people. It is believed that Roman theatre was born during the first two centuries of the Roman Republic, following the spread of Roman rule into a large area of the Italian peninsula, circa 364 B.C.E.

Following the devastation of widespread plague in 364 B.C.E, Roman citizens began including theatrical games as a supplement to the Lectisternium ceremonies already being performed, in a stronger effort to pacify the gods. In the years following the establishment of these practices, actors began adapting these dances and games into performances by acting out texts set to music and simultaneous movement.

As the era of the Roman Republic progressed, citizens began including professionally performed drama in the eclectic offerings of the ludi (celebrations of public holidays) held throughout each year—the largest of these festivals being the Ludi Romani, held each September in honor of the Roman god Jupiter.[3] It was as a part of the Ludi Romani in 240 B.C.E. that author and playwright Livius Adronicus became the first to produce translations of Greek plays to be performed on the Roman stage.[1][4][5]

The early drama that emerged was very similar to the drama in Greece. This was due to extensive contact between the Romans and the Greeks, which allowed the Romans to develop an interest in a new form of expression.[6] Following the conclusion of the Third Macedonian War in 168 B.C.E., the Romans gained even more access to Greek culture, specifically in the arts, allowing for the Romans to further develop a basis for drama in their own society.[7] The development that occurred was first initiated by playwrights that were Greeks or half-Greeks living in Rome.[8] While Greek literary tradition in drama influenced the Romans, the Romans chose to not fully adopt these traditions, and instead the dominant local language of Latin was used.[9] These Roman plays that were beginning to be performed were heavily influenced by the Etruscan traditions, particularly regarding the importance of music and performance.[10]

Genres of ancient Roman theatre

Actor as Papposilen Antikensammlung Berlin
A Roman actor playing Papposilenus, marble statue, c. 100 AD, after a Greek original from the 4th century BC

The first important works of Roman literature were the tragedies and comedies written by Livius Andronicus beginning in 240 BC. Five years later, Gnaeus Naevius, a younger contemporary of Andronicus, also began to write drama, composing in both genres as well. No plays from either writer have survived. By the beginning of the 2nd century BC, drama had become firmly established in Rome and a guild of writers (collegium poetarum) had been formed.[11]

Roman tragedy

No early Roman tragedy survives, though it was highly regarded in its day; historians know of three early tragedians—Ennius, Pacuvius and Lucius Accius. One important aspect of tragedy that differed from other genres was the implementation of choruses that were included in the action on the stage during the performances of many tragedies.[12]

From the time of the empire, however, the work of two tragedians survives—one is an unknown author, while the other is the Stoic philosopher Seneca. Nine of Seneca's tragedies survive, all of which are fabulae crepidatae (tragedies adapted from Greek originals); his Phaedra, for example, was based on Euripides' Hippolytus. Seneca is well known for composing works which feature a heavy presence of violence and horror.

Seneca appears as a character in the tragedy Octavia, the only extant example of fabula praetexta (tragedies based on Roman subjects, first created by Naevius), and as a result, the play was mistakenly attributed as having been authored by Seneca himself. However, though historians have since confirmed that the play was not one of Seneca's works, the true author remains unknown.[11]

Roman comedy

All Roman comedies that have survived can be categorized as fabula palliata (comedies based on Greek subjects) and were written by two dramatists: Titus Maccius Plautus (Plautus) and Publius Terentius Afer (Terence). No fabula togata (Roman comedy in a Roman setting) has survived.

In adapting Greek plays to be performed for Roman audiences, the Roman comic dramatists made several changes to the structure of the productions. Most notable is the removal of the previously prominent role of the chorus as a means of separating the action into distinct episodes. Additionally, musical accompaniment was added as a simultaneous supplement to the plays' dialogue. The action of all scenes typically took place in the streets outside the dwelling of the main characters, and plot complications were often a result of eavesdropping by a minor character.

Plautus wrote between 205 and 184 B.C. and twenty of his comedies survive to present day, of which his farces are best known. He was admired for the wit of his dialogue and for his varied use of poetic meters. As a result of the growing popularity of Plautus' plays, as well as this new form of written comedy, scenic plays became a more prominent component in Roman festivals of the time, claiming their place in events which had previously only featured races, athletic competitions, and gladiatorial battles.

All six of the comedies that Terence composed between 166 and 160 BC have survived. The complexity of his plots, in which he routinely combined several Greek originals into one production, brought about heavy criticism, including claims that in doing so, he was ruining the original Greek plays, as well as rumors that he had received assistance from high ranking men in composing his material. In fact, these rumors prompted Terence to use the prologues in several of his plays as an opportunity to plead with audiences, asking that they lend an objective eye and ear to his material, and not be swayed by what they may have heard about his practices. This was a stark difference from the written prologues of other known playwrights of the period, who routinely utilized their prologues as a way of prefacing the plot of the play being performed.[13][11]

Syria bosra theater
A well preserved Roman theater in Bosra (Syria)

Stock characters in Roman comedy

Statuette actor Petit Palais ADUT00192
An ivory statuette of a Roman actor of tragedy, 1st century.

The following are examples of stock characters in Roman comedy:

  • The adulescens is an unmarried man, usually in late teens or twenties; his action typically surrounds the pursuit of the love of a prostitute or slave girl, who is later revealed to be a free-born woman, and therefore eligible for marriage. The adulescens character is typically accompanied by a clever slave character, who attempts to solve the adulescens’ problems or shield him from conflict.[14]
  • The senex is primarily concerned with his relationship with his son, the adulescens. Although he often opposes his son's choice of love interest, he sometimes helps him to achieve his desires. He is sometimes in love with the same woman as his son, a woman who is much too young for the senex. He never gets the girl and is often dragged off by his irate wife.[14]
  • The leno is the character of the pimp or 'slave dealer.' Although the activities of the character are portrayed as highly immoral and vile, the leno always acts legally and is always paid in full for his services.[14]
  • The miles gloriosus is an arrogant, braggart soldier character, deriving from Greek Old Comedy. The character’s title is taken from a play of the same name written by Plautus. The miles gloriosus character is typically gullible, cowardly, and boastful.[15]
  • The parasitus (parasite) is often portrayed as a selfish liar. He is typically associated with the miles gloriosus character, and hangs upon his every word. The parasitus is primarily concerned with his own appetite, or from where he will obtain his next free meal.[14]
  • The matrona is the character of the wife and mother, and is usually displayed as an annoyance to her husband, constantly getting in the way of his freedom to pursue other women. After catching her husband with another woman, she typically ends the affair and forgives him. She loves her children, but is often temperamental towards her husband.[14]
  • The virgo (young maiden) is an unmarried young woman, and is the love interest of the adulescens, She is often spoken of, but remains offstage. A typical plot point in the last act of the play reveals her to be of freeborn descent, and therefore eligible for marriage.[14]

Roman theatre in performance

Stage and physical space

Beginning with the first presentation of theatre in Rome in 240 B.C., plays were often presented during public festivals. Since these plays were less popular than the several other types of events (gladiatorial matches, circus events, etc.) held within the same space, theatrical events were performed using temporary wooden structures, which had to be displaced and dismantled for days at a time, whenever other spectacle events were scheduled to take place. The slow process of creating a permanent performance space was due to the staunch objection of high-ranking officials: it was the opinion of the members of the senate that citizens were spending too much time at theatrical events, and that condoning this behavior would lead to corruption of the Roman public. As a result, no permanent stone structure was constructed for the purpose of theatrical performance until 55 B.C.E

During the time of these temporary structures, theatrical performances featured a very minimalist atmosphere. This included space for spectators to stand or sit to watch the play, known as a cavea, and a stage, or scaena. The setting for each play was depicted using an elaborate backdrop (scaenae frons), and the actors performed on the stage, in the playing space in front of the scaenae frons, called the proscaenium. These structures were erected in several different places, including temples, arenas, and at times, plays were held in Rome’s central square (the forum).[13][1]

In 55 B.C., the first permanent theatre was constructed. Built by Pompey the Great, the main purpose of this structure was actually not for the performance of drama, but rather, to allow current and future rulers a venue with which they could assemble the public and demonstrate their pomp and authority over the masses. With seating for 20,000 audience members, the grandiose structure held a 300-foot-wide stage, and boasted a three-story scaenae frons flanked with elaborate statues. The Theatre of Pompey remained in use through the early 6th century, but was dismantled for it stone in the Middle Ages. Virtually nothing of the vast structure is visible above ground today.[13][3]

Actors

The first actors that appeared in Roman performances were originally from Etruria. This tradition of foreign actors would continue in Roman dramatic performances. Beginning with early performances, actors were denied the same political and civic rights that were afforded to ordinary Roman citizens because of the low social status of actors. In addition, actors were exempt from military service, which further inhibited their rights in Roman society because it was impossible for an individual to hold a political career without having some form of military experience. While actors did not possess many rights, slaves did have the opportunity to win their freedom if they were able to prove themselves as successful actors.[16]

The open-air declaiming, gesturing, singing, and dancing of Roman stage acting required stamina and agility.[17]

The spread of dramatic performance throughout Rome occurred with the growth of acting companies that are believed to have eventually begun to travel throughout all of Italy. These acting troupes were usually composed of four to six trained actors. Usually, two to three of the actors in the troupe would have speaking roles in a performance, while the other actors in the troupe would be present on stage as attendants to the speaking actors. For the most part, actors specialized in one genre of drama and did not alternate between other genres of drama.[18]

The most famous actor to develop a career in the late Roman Republic was Quintus Roscius Gallus (125BCE- 62BCE). He was primarily known for his performances in the genre of comedy and became renowned for his performances among the elite circles of Roman society.[19] Through these connections he became intimate with Lucius Licinius Crassus (italicize name), the great orator and member of the Senate, and Lucius Cornelius Sulla.[20] In addition to the acting career Gallus would build, he also would take his acting abilities and use them to teach amateur actors the craft of becoming successful in the art. He would further distinguish himself through his financial success as an actor and a teacher of acting in a field that was not highly respected. Ultimately, he chose to conclude his career as an actor without being paid for his performances because he wanted to offer his performances as a service to the Roman people.[21]

Young Folks' History of Rome illus046
Roman actors.

Though the possibility exists that women may have performed non-speaking roles in Roman theatrical performances, the overwhelming majority of historical evidence dictates that male actors portrayed all speaking roles. The public opinion of actors was very low, placing them within the same social status as criminals and prostitutes, and acting as a profession was considered illegitimate and repulsive. Many Roman actors were slaves, and it was not unusual for a performer to be beaten by his master as punishment for an unsatisfactory performance. These actions and opinions differ greatly from those demonstrated during the time of ancient Greek theatre, a time when actors were regarded as respected professionals, and were granted citizenship in Athens.[14][1]

Seneca-Cordoba
A sculpture of Lucius Annaeus Seneca, by Puerta de Almodóvar in Córdoba.

Notable Roman playwrights

  • Livius Andronicus, a Greek slave taken to Rome in 240 BC; wrote plays based on Greek subjects and existing plays. Rome's first playwright
  • Plautus, 3rd century BC comedic playwright and author of Miles Gloriosus, Pseudolus, and Menaechmi
  • Terence, wrote between 170 and 160 BC
  • Gaius Maecenas Melissus, 1st century playwright of a "comedy of manners"
  • Seneca, 1st century dramatist most famous for Roman adaptations of ancient Greek plays (e.g. Medea and Phaedra)
  • Ennius, contemporary of Plautus who wrote both comedy and tragedy
  • Lucius Accius, tragic poet and literary scholar
  • Pacuvius, Ennius's nephew and tragic playwright

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d Moore, Timothy J. (2012). Roman Theatre. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521138185.
  2. ^ William J. Slater, Roman Theater and Society, (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1996), vii.
  3. ^ a b Zarrilli, Phillip B.; McConachie, Bruce; Williams, Gary Jay; Fisher Sorgenfrei, Carol (2006). Theatre Histories: An Introduction. Routledge. pp. 102, 106. ISBN 978-0-415-22728-5.
  4. ^ Banham, Martin (1995). The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521434379.
  5. ^ Beacham, Richard C. (1991). The Roman Theatre and Its Audience. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674779143.
  6. ^ Gesine Manuwald, Roman Republican Theatre, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 15.
  7. ^ Gesine Manuwald, Roman Republican Theatre, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 17.
  8. ^ Gesine Manuwald, Roman Republican Theatre, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 18.
  9. ^ Gesine Manuwald, Roman Republican Theatre, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 19.
  10. ^ Gesine Manuwald, Roman Republican Theatre, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 25.
  11. ^ a b c Brockett, Oscar; Hildy, Franklin J. (2003). History of the Theatre. Allyn and Bacon. ISBN 9780205358786.
  12. ^ Gesine Manuwald, Roman Republican Theatre, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 74.
  13. ^ a b c Bieber, Margarete (1961). The History of Greek & Roman Theater. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 151–171.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Thorburn, John E. (2005). The Facts on File Companion to Classical Drama. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 9780816074983.
  15. ^ Hochman, Stanley (1984). McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama. VNR AG. p. 243. ISBN 9780070791695.
  16. ^ Gesine Manuwald, Roman Republican Theatre, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 22-24).
  17. ^ Gesine Manuwald, Roman Republican Theatre, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 73.
  18. ^ Gesine Manuwald, Roman Republican Theatre, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 85.
  19. ^ William J. Slater, Roman Theater and Society, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), 36.
  20. ^ William J. Slater, Roman Theater and Society, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), 37.
  21. ^ William J. Slater, Roman Theater and Society, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), 41.

External links

Actor

An actor is a person who portrays a character in a performance (also actress; see below). The actor performs "in the flesh" in the traditional medium of the theatre or in modern media such as film, radio, and television. The analogous Greek term is ὑποκριτής (hupokritḗs), literally "one who answers". The actor's interpretation of their role—the art of acting—pertains to the role played, whether based on a real person or fictional character. Interpretation occurs even when the actor is "playing themselves", as in some forms of experimental performance art.

Formerly, in ancient Greece and Rome, the medieval world, and the time of William Shakespeare, only men could become actors, and women's roles were generally played by men or boys. After the English Restoration of 1660, women began to appear on stage in England. In modern times, particularly in pantomime and some operas, women occasionally play the roles of boys or young men.

Alazon

Alazṓn (Ancient Greek: ἀλαζών) is one of three stock characters in comedy of the theatre of ancient Greece. He is the opponent of the eirôn. The alazṓn is an impostor that sees himself as greater than he actually is. The senex iratus (the angry father) and the miles gloriosus (the glorious soldier) are two types of alazṓn.

Bouffon

Bouffon (English originally from French: "farceur", "comique", "Donovan", "jester") is a modern French theater term that was re-coined in the early 1960s by Jacques Lecoq at his L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris to describe a specific style of performance work that has a main focus in the art of mockery. The word gave rise to the English word buffoon.

Fabula

Fabula may refer to:

Fabula, Latin word for a play (see Theatre of ancient Rome)

Fabula atellana: Attelan farce

Fabula palliata: Roman comedy in a Greek setting

Fabula togata: Roman comedy in a Roman setting

Fabula crepidata: Roman tragedy in a Greek setting

Fabula praetexta: Roman tragedy in a Roman setting

Fabula saltata: Roman pantomime (dancer accompanied by song)

Fabula, Law Latin for a contract or covenant

Fabula and syuzhet, terms in Russian formalism

Fabula (moth), genus of moths

Fabula Award, Slovenian literary award

Fabula (journal), a multilingual journal in folkloristics

Fabula crepidata

A fabula crepidata or fabula cothurnata is a Latin tragedy with Greek subjects. The genre probably originated in adaptations of Greek tragedy (hence the names, coming from crepida = sandal and cothurnus) beginning in the early third century B.C. Only nine have survived intact, all by Seneca. Of the plays written by Lucius Livius Andronicus, Gnaeus Naevius, Quintus Ennius, Marcus Pacuvius, Lucius Accius, and others, only titles, small fragments, and occasionally brief summaries are left. Ovid's Medea also did not survive.

Fabula togata

A fabula togata is a Latin comedy in a Roman setting, in existence since at least the second century B.C. Lucius Afranius and Titus Quinctius Atta are known to have written fabulae togatae. It is also treated as an expression that functioned as the overall description of all Roman types of drama in accordance with a distinction between Roman toga and Greek pallium. There are recorded sources that cite how this drama could be obscene and moralistic.By mid-second century BCE the fabula togata become one of the two types of drama that constituted a bifurcated Roman comedy along with fabula palliata. The fabula togata was distinguished from the palliata primarily by its use of Roman or Italian characters, transferring the comic situations of the bourgeois palliata to the lower-class citizens of the country towns of Italy. The palliata was based on originals of Greek New Comedy, tragedies from Attic sources as well as the grand dramatization of Rome's past.There is no existing complete fabula togata but there are surviving fragments that indicate aspects of the creative practice.

Greek tragedy

Greek tragedy is a form of theatre from Ancient Greece and Asia Minor. It reached its most significant form in Athens in the 5th century BC, the works of which are sometimes called Attic tragedy. Greek tragedy is widely believed to be an extension of the ancient rites carried out in honor of Dionysus, and it heavily influenced the theatre of Ancient Rome and the Renaissance. Tragic plots were most often based upon myths from the oral traditions of archaic epics. In tragic theatre, however, these narratives were presented by actors. The most acclaimed Greek tragedians are Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.

Leno (disambiguation)

Jay Leno (born 1950) is an American comedian and talk show host.

Leno may also refer to:

Leno (surname)

Leno, Italy

Leno (stream)

Leno weave, a pattern in weaving

Leno, a stock character in theatre of ancient Rome who is a slave dealer or pimp

"Poor Leno", a song by Norwegian duo Röyksopp

List of stock characters

A stock character is a dramatic or literary character representing a type in a conventional manner and recurring in many works. The following list labels some of these archetypes and stereotypes, providing distinctive examples.

Mo lei tau

Mo lei tau (traditional Chinese: 無厘頭; simplified Chinese: 无厘头; pinyin: Wúlítóu; Jyutping: mou4 lei4 tau4; literally: 'nonsensical') is a type of slapstick humour associated with Hong Kong popular culture that developed during the late 20th century. It is a phenomenon which has grown largely from its presentation in modern film media. Its humour arises from the placement of surprising and incongruous elements, and the complex interplay of cultural subtleties. Typical constituents of this humour include nonsensical parodies, juxtaposition of contrasts, sudden surprises in spoken dialogue and action and improbable and deliberate anachronisms.

During an interview with Stephen Chow for his 2006 "Asian Invasion" season, the BBC's film critic Jonathan Ross referred to the genre as "Silly Talk", a label that Chow was happy to accept.

Money bag

A money bag (moneybag, bag of money, money sack, sack of money, bag of gold, gold bag, sack of gold, etc.) is a bag (normally with a drawstring) of money (or gold) used to hold and transport coins and banknotes from/to a mint, bank, ATM, vending machine, business, or other institution. Money bags are usually transported in an armored car or a money train and, in the past, via stagecoach. It is a type of Currency packaging.

Outline of ancient Rome

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to ancient Rome:

Ancient Rome – former civilization that thrived on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to become one of the largest empires in the ancient world.

Outline of classical studies

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to classical studies:

Classical studies (Classics for short) – earliest branch of the humanities, which covers the languages, literature, history, art, and other cultural aspects of the ancient Mediterranean world. The field focuses primarily on, but is not limited to, Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during classical antiquity, the era spanning from the late Bronze Age of Ancient Greece during the Minoan and Mycenaean periods (c. 1600-1100 BCE) through the period known as Late Antiquity to the fall of the Western Roman Empire, c. 500 CE. The word classics is also used to refer to the literature of the period.

Praetexta

The praetexta or fabula praetexta was a genre of Latin tragedy introduced at Rome by Gnaeus Naevius in the third century B.C. It dealt with historical Roman figures, in place of the conventional Greek myths. Subsequent writers of praetextae included Ennius, Pacuvius and Lucius Accius. The name refers to the toga praetexta, the official dress of Roman magistrates.

All Roman Republican tragedies are now lost. From the Imperial era only one play has survived, the Octavia.

Roman amphitheatre

Roman amphitheatres are amphitheatres – large, circular or oval open-air venues with raised seating – built by the ancient Romans. They were used for events such as gladiator combats, venationes (animal slayings) and executions. About 230 Roman amphitheatres have been found across the area of the Roman Empire. Early amphitheatres date from the republican period, though they became more monumental during the imperial era.Amphitheatres are distinguished from circuses, hippodromes, which were usually rectangular and built mainly for racing events and stadia, built for athletics. But several of these terms have at times been used for one and the same venue. The word amphitheatrum means "theatre all around". Thus an amphitheatre is distinguished from the traditional semicircular Roman theatres by being circular or oval in shape.

Roman theatre

Roman theatre may refer to:

Theatre of ancient Rome, the theatrical styles of Ancient Rome

Roman theatre (structure), the theatre buildings of Ancient Rome

Roman Theatre of Arles, an ancient theater in Arles, France

Roman theater (Amman), a 6,000-seat, 2nd-century Roman theatre

Roman Theatre (Cádiz), an ancient structure in Cádiz, Andalusia, in southern Spain

Roman Theatre (Mainz), an excavated structure in Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany

Roman Theatre (Mérida), an ancient structure in Mérida, Spain

Roman Theatre, Aosta, an ancient building in Aosta, north-western Italy

Roman theatre, Cartagena, an ancient Roman theatre in Cartagena, Spain

Roman theatre, Verona, an ancient Roman theatre in Verona, northern Italy. Not to be confused with the Roman amphitheatre known as the Verona Arena

Roman theatre (structure)

Roman theatres derive from and are part of the overall evolution of earlier Greek theatres. Indeed, much of the architectural influence on the Romans came from the Greeks, and theatre structural design was no different from other buildings. However, Roman theatres have specific differences, such as generally being built upon their own foundations instead of earthen works or a hillside and being completely enclosed on all sides.

Senecan tragedy

Senecan tragedy refers to a set of ancient Roman tragedies. Ten of these plays exist, of which most likely eight were written by the Stoic philosopher and politician Lucius Annaeus Seneca. The group includes Hercules Furens, Medea, Troades, Phaedra, Agamemnon, Oedipus, Phoenissae, Thyestes, Hercules Oetaeus, and Octavia. Hercules Oetaeus is generally considered not to have been written by Seneca, and Octavia is certainly not. In the mid-16th century, Italian humanists rediscovered these works, making them models for the revival of tragedy on the Renaissance stage. The two great, but very different, dramatic traditions of the age—French neoclassical tragedy and Elizabethan tragedy—both drew inspiration from Seneca. Usually, the Senecan tragedy focuses heavily on supernatural elements.

Seneca's tragedies rework those of all three of the Athenian tragic playwrights whose work has survived. Probably meant to be recited at elite gatherings, they differ from the Greek versions in their long declamatory, narrative accounts of action, their obtrusive moralising, and their bombastic rhetoric. They dwell on detailed accounts of horrible deeds and contain long reflective soliloquies. Though the gods rarely appear in these plays, ghosts and witches abound. Senecan tragedies explore ideas of revenge, the occult, the supernatural, suicide, blood and gore.

Although many of the Senecan tragedies adapt the same Greek myths as tragedies by Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides, scholars tend not to view Seneca's works as direct adaptations of the Attic works, as Seneca's approach to the myths differs significantly from the Greek poets and often contains themes familiar from his philosophical writings. It is possible that Seneca's tragic style was more directly influenced by Augustan literature.French neoclassical dramatic tradition, which reached its highest expression in the 17th-century tragedies of Pierre Corneille and Jean Racine, drew on Seneca for form and grandeur of style. These neoclassicists adopted Seneca's innovation of the confidant (usually a servant), his substitution of speech for action, and his moral hairsplitting.

The Elizabethan dramatists found Seneca's themes of bloodthirsty revenge more congenial to English taste than they did his form. The first English tragedy, Gorboduc (1561), by Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton, is a chain of slaughter and revenge written in direct imitation of Seneca. (As it happens, Gorboduc does follow the form as well as the subject matter of Senecan tragedy: but only a very few other English plays—e.g. The Misfortunes of Arthur—followed its lead in this.) Senecan influence is also evident in Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, and in Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and Hamlet. All three share a revenge theme, a corpse-strewn climax, and The Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet also have ghosts among the cast; all of these elements can be traced back to the Senecan model.

Theatre of ancient Greece

The ancient Greek drama was a theatrical culture that flourished in ancient Greece from 700 BC. The city-state of Athens, which became a significant cultural, political, and military power during this period, was its center, where it was institutionalised as part of a festival called the Dionysia, which honored the god Dionysus. Tragedy (late 500 BC), comedy (490 BC), and the satyr play were the three dramatic genres to emerge there. Athens exported the festival to its numerous colonies.

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