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GENERAL INTRODUCTION

GENERAL INTRODUCTION RHETORIC

Senecan drama is a drama of the word. Its speeches are eloquent, forceful, delighting in the language and in the poetic medium. Their fluency reflects the rhetorical training that Seneca received, and which had become established as the standard form of higher education at Rome in the second half of the first century BC—so much so that all Roman writers from Ovid on reflect its influence in varied ways. Seneca’s interest in powerful utterance does not, of course, exclude an interest in other things, in action and character, but they are mediated through the rhetoric. He is a master of pace and diction: a master at contrasting long, flowing sentences with brief, pithy ones, and at varying high-flown poetic language with simple direct speech. Such verbal energy is highly theatrical, in all senses; it invites comparison immediately with the verve of blank verse in the hands of Marlowe or Shakespeare. Often, too, Senecan rhetoric, like that of the Elizabethan dramatists, makes a virtue of excess, in the sense that its excesses match excesses of emotion and attitude in the dramatis personae. Above all, the script of Seneca’s dramas demands performance, as much as a musical score does. At the very least, the reader needs to imagine this poetry

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