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Crossing the Stages:
The Production, Performance and Reception of Ancient Theater


John G. Fitch
Department of Greek and Roman Studies
University of Victoria

Playing Seneca?

The notion that Seneca did not intend his plays to be performed was first propounded in the early nineteenth century. As Dana Sutton has noted, it was initially not so much an academic thesis as an "expression of taste," a reaction against the non-realistic conventions of Senecan drama. The notion gradually acquired a prosopon of academic arguments, displayed most notably in O. Zwierlein's Die Rezitationsdramen Senecas (1966). But as B. Walker pointed out in her review, Zwierlein continued to rely on overly restrictive criteria of what can and cannot be performed on stage. A series of critics have argued, in fact, that there is nothing in the text of the tragedies which would justify placing them in a separate category from stage drama: such critics include, in addition to Walker, William M. Calder III, L. Braune, and Dana F. Sutton in his monograph Seneca on the Stage (1986).

This paper will summarize l'état de la question, and will ask what lines of research might prove fruitful in the future. In particular, it will examine some of those passages in Seneca's dramas which seem prima facie to demand performance, such as Herc. 987-1026 and Thy. 1003-05. The question will be raised why such passages are relatively infrequent, and whether they can be taken as evidence of Seneca's intentions for the plays as a whole.

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