Drama in the margins – academic text and political context in Matthew Gwinne's Nero: Nova Tragædia (1603) and Ben Jonson's Sejanus (1603/5)

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Abstract

In the front matter to Matthew Gwinne’s Nero, John Sandsbury asserts that this history-play will supplant the ‘puerile’ pseudo-Senecan Octavia. My paper will explore this definition of the play as emulous academic exercise, through a comparative examination of Nero’s divorce and exile of Octavia in the pseudo-Senecan Octavia and Act IV of the 1603 Nero. Comparative reading of ‘text’ and ‘margin’ will, I argue, reveal a significant fissure between Octavia and Nero, above all in undermining the ‘apologetic’ drive of the pseudo-Senecan play, which seeks to disassociate Seneca from Nero’s tyranny and absolve the philosopher of any responsibility in the tragic fate of Octavia. I will then propose that the only post-antique sources Gwinne sidenotes in his text –John of Salisbury’s Policraticus (1159) and Savile’s The Ende of Nero (1591) – adumbrate this perspective further, for both these authors in different ways question the value of the doctrine of ‘absolute obedience’, a position Seneca conspicuously takes in the 1603 Nero. A third section will take this reading further, setting Nero against Jonson’s (1605) Sejanus to suggest that Nero is a text with genuine cultural impact, pointing the way for later authors who will find in Rome’s ancient history a potent way to speak to contemporary power.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)602-622
JournalRenaissance Studies
Volume30
Issue number4
Early online date29 Aug 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016

Keywords

  • Academic drama
  • Matthew Gwinne
  • Ben Jonson
  • Margination

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