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English Literature   >   Seneca and Early Modern Drama

Shakespeare's Sources

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Seneca and Early Modern Drama

Shakespeare’s most famous – and infamous – tragedies draw on the Roman playwright Seneca for their dramatic form and theatrical style - including ‘Hamlet’, ‘King Lear’, and ‘Titus Andronicus’. Seneca also had a huge influence on Shakespeare’s contemporaries: Thomas Kyd’s ‘The Spanish Tragedy’ brought the Senecan themes of revenge and ultra-violence onto the English stage, while Tamburlaine’s thundering rhetoric and superhuman ambition in Christopher Marlowe’s play of the same name echo Seneca’s ‘Hercules’. But who was Seneca? What did he write? And why? This course introduces Seneca and explores his enormous influence on theatre in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Shakespeare's Sources

In this module, Helen explores some of the ancient sources for Shakespeare's dramas, including Ovid, Plutarch, and Seneca. While the influence of Ovid and Plutarch often manifests in direct quotation by Shakespeare, however, the influence of Seneca is more dramaturgical, being observed in the structure of his plays, the themes, and his characters. Helen ends by looking at the Senecan in Shakespeare, from characters such as Hamlet and Lady Macbeth, to plays such as Titus Andronicus.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Slaney, H. (2018, August 15). Seneca and Early Modern Drama - Shakespeare's Sources [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Slaney, H. "Seneca and Early Modern Drama – Shakespeare's Sources." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 31 Jan 2019,


Dr Helen Slaney

Dr Helen Slaney

University of Oxford