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By Seneca, E. F. Watling

Although their subject matters are borrowed from Greek drama, those exuberant and infrequently macabre performs specialize in motion instead of ethical matters and are strikingly diverse common from Seneca's prose writing. This assortment contains Phaedra, Oedipus, Thyestes, and The Trojan Women.

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S. Eliot1 noticed that ‘Seneca’s plays might be practical models for the modern “broadcasted” drama’. Where in other writers action, or activity in the prosecution of the plot, might be looked for, Seneca will cheerfully suspend the action for the recital of a monologue which may be quite inappropriate, on any realistic basis, to the time and situation, but entirely relevant to the character of the speaker or his mood at that moment in the drama. In the application of this technique, Seneca’s choice of dramatic speech is confined to a very narrow range; almost the only alternative to monologue (in which the speaker delivers his thoughts with equal freedom either with or without regard to the presence of any other person on the stage) is the formal ‘stichomythia’ – a line-for-line fencing match between two opponents.

Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603) is an example of a ‘thriller’ of bourgeois life, with the least possible resemblance in form or setting to classical tragedy. Servants indulge in such homely talk as: Fie, we have such a household of serving creatures! Unless it be Nick and I, there’s not one amongst them all can say boo to a goose – and the gentlemen’s blank verse can be relaxed and naturalistic: Choose of my men which shall attend on you, And he is yours. I will allow you, sir, Your man, your gelding, and your table, all At mine own charge; be my companion.

The group ‘A’ (various sources) has; Hercules Furens, Thyestes, Thebais (for Phoenissae), Hippolytus (for Phaedra), Oedipus, Troas, Medea, Agamemnon, Octavia, Hercules Oetaeus. From the absence of Octavia from ‘E’, and for other reasons, it is believed that this group has prior authority; although it has been suggested that ‘A’ represents an edition of the plays issued shortly after the death of Seneca, while ‘E’ represents the collection as it existed in his lifetime, excluding, for obvious reasons, Octavia.

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