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Senecan tragedy


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The plays of Seneca exercised great influence on medieval playwrights, who used them as models for literary imitation. They were edited by Nicholas Trivet, and in the 15th and 16th cents there was a considerable vogue in Italy for Senecan tragedy. The plays of Giraldi (1504–73)—notably his Orbecche (1541)—and of Ludovico Dolce (1508–68) were particularly famous. The same movement in France had its effect on Buchanan's Latin plays and on the plays of Jodelle and Garnier, and both the Italian and the French fashion influenced English drama in the 16th cent.

The characteristics of the Senecan tragedy were: 1. a division into five acts with Choruses—and in the English imitations often a dumb show expressive of the action; 2. a considerable retailing of ‘horrors’ and violence, usually, though not always, acted off the stage and elaborately recounted; 3. a parallel violence of language and expression. Gorboduc is a good example of a Senecan tragedy in English. The fashion, which developed in learned rather than popular circles, was short‐lived, and was displaced by a more vital and native form of tragedy. But its elements persisted in Elizabethan drama and may be traced in such plays as Tamburlaine the Great and Titus Andronicus. More than a century later traces of Senecan influence are apparent in Dryden's Troilus and Cressida (1679).

1. a division into five acts with Choruses—and in the English imitations often a dumb show expressive of the action; 2. a considerable retailing of ‘horrors’ and violence, usually, though not always, acted off the stage and elaborately recounted; 3. a parallel violence of language and expression.

Subjects: Literature.


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