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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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.
Buckley , E 2016 , ' Drama in the margins – academic text and political context in Matthew Gwinne's Nero: Nova Tragædia (1603) and Ben Jonson's Sejanus (1603/5) ' , Renaissance Studies , vol. 30 , no. 4 , pp. 602-622 . https://doi.org/10.1111/rest.12244
© 2016 The Society for Renaissance Studies and John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This work has been made available online in accordance with the publisher’s policies. This is the author created, accepted version manuscript following peer review and may differ slightly from the final published version. The final published version of this work is available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/rest.12244
DescriptionRenaissance Studies Journal (Special Issue): Latin Drama, Religion and Politics in Early Modern Europe. Editors: Sarah Knight and Elizabeth Sandis.
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