Although based on Sophocles' play written some 500 years previously, and retelling the same story, Seneca's tragedy has a quite different character. Instead of the mounting dramatic tension of the Greek original, Seneca's piece is more like a dramatic poem – indeed, it is quite possible that Seneca's plays were never performed in ancient Rome but merely offered as recitals. Here Oedipus lacks the blithe confidence of the Sophoclean hero, already declaring at the start that ‘Fate is preparing…some blow for me’. The choral interludes offer linguistic embellishment rather than commenting on the action. Seneca's achievement lies less in the dramatic structure than in his powerful use of language, which was to be very influential on Renaissance dramatists and helped to engender the violent excesses of many Elizabethan and Jacobean plays, most notably Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. In philosophical terms, Seneca reproduces none of the moral dilemma of Sophocles (a virtuous man who commits evil in the very act of trying to avoid it). In Seneca, all is fated, there can be no escape. The only nobility rests in the fact that man can outdo the gods in their suffering. By causing his mother's death, Oedipus endures even more than Apollo has foretold. With a huge golden phallus as its centrepiece, Peter Brook directed a memorable production of Oedipus in a version by Ted Hughes in 1968.
Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).