The influence of Senecan drama on eighteenth-century French tragedy
This thesis provides a sequel to studies relating to the influence of Senecan drama in sixteenth and seventeenth-century France, and although charting a final stage in the history of Seneca's importance as a literary source, strives to prove that the eighteenth century still offers substantial material for discussion. The influence which the Roman tragedies exerted during this period is assessed firstly by means of reference to contemporary editions and translations of the dramas, educational treatises, and works of criticism on the ancient and modem theatre, which allow us to judge how widespread knowledge of Seneca's work was, and secondly by detailed analysis of eighteenth-century tragedies based on Senecan themes. Evidence shows that critical reaction to the plays as a whole was very frequently unfavourable, but this did not prevent French dramatists appropriating any elements suited to their particular needs. The nature of these borrowings can best be understood by being discussed in relation to the general development of French tragic drama during this period, and must also be weighed against the considerable interest which was shown in the Greek tragedians, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, at this time. Tragic dramatists of the eighteenth century inherited the neo-classical tradition established in the preceding century, but also reacted against its restrictions and sought to explore new territory. There was a manifest desire to increase the emotional and visual impact of tragedy, and this atmosphere was more conducive to a real appreciation of the strong themes which Seneca offers than the earlier century had been. Crebillon's exploitation of the horrific elements of the Thyestes in Atree et Thyeste is one example of the new way in which the tragedies could be used, and the Latin writer's vivid descriptions of supernatural or spectacular phenomena, as well as the originality of some of his scenes, also appealed to other dramatists (and operatic librettists) of the period.