Seneca's death mask.

If Shakespeare was unlikely to have known much

about Greek tragedy except at second hand, he

would certainly have known about Seneca.

Seneca was a Roman tragedian who was born within a few years of Christ, and died in about A.D. 65. His tragedies, probably written to be read rather than acted, are indebted to their Greek originals, but add to them a depth of horror and revenge which becomes, at times, almost sensational*.

The Elizabethan audience was accustomed to violence on stage: in the miracle plays, grimly realistic soldiers nailed Christ to the cross, for example.

(Click here to see more about the audience.)

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The Elizabethans also admired Seneca for his elevated style. The highest praise Sir Philip Sidney could give the one English play of which he approved--Gorboduc--was that it was "full of stately speeches and well sounding phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca his style."

Footnotes

  1. Staging violence

    The Elizabethan audience was accustomed to violence on stage: in the miracle plays, grimly realistic soldiers nailed Christ to the cross, for example.

    (Click here to see more about the audience.)