Hear No Evil, See No Evil

The Infanticide of Seneca’s Medea on Stage and in Recitation

MARIA HALEY (University of Leeds)

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Abstract: Latinists are becoming open to the theory that Seneca’s tragedies were staged. Whilst this began as a reaction to the traditional case for tragic recitation in Seneca’s time, contemporary evidence suggests that staging and recitation need not be considered as mutually exclusive modes. Faced with the possibility of these performances, it is now worth considering not if, but how these different performance modes may have shaped Seneca’s tragedies when they were performed in Nero’s Rome. Taking Seneca’s Medea as a case study, the focus of this paper will be on the infanticide monologue and the infanticide itself. The most likely forms of performance will be outlined based on evidence from Latin sources, that we may then consider how a staged performance of the infanticide episode alone would shift the emphasis of the scene, in comparison to a full recitation of the play. The benefits and limitations of each performance mode will also be evaluated throughout with reference to AD 1C Roman performance theory, from sources such as Cicero and Quintilian. Ultimately, the discussion will highlight the performative potential of Seneca’s tragedies, to consider how these performances shaped meaning for a Roman audience.

About the Author: Maria Haley is a PhD candidate in Classical Studies at the University of Leeds, specializing in Greek and Roman tragedy, with particular attention to how performance culture shapes presentations of classical myth. Maria’s previous projects included an examination of kindred curses and contamination in Sophocles’ Theban tragedies, and a comparative thesis on The Death of Agamemnon in Aeschylean and Senecan tragedy. She is currently developing this comparative approach to uncover how Greek and Roman tragedies presented revenge, taking the feast of Thyestes as a case study. In addition to her academic work, Maria is also developing and delivering outreach workshops to implement in schools that do not offer classics, in order to increase the uptake of classics at university level.