Seneca’s tragedy “Phaedra” will be presented Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 27-28, in the Griffis Hall Courtyard in Zacharias Village on the Mississippi State campus. Entertainment will begin at 5:45 p.m. each evening; performances are at 6 p.m. Admission is free. Audiences are encouraged to bring a chair or blanket to sit on and are welcome to bring dinner.
Dr. Donna L. Clevinger directs the production. Dr. Wilfred E. Major of Louisiana State University is dramaturg. The production directed by Dr. Donna L. Clevinger is part of the university Lyceum Series as well as the Shackouls Honors College “Classical Week 2016,” a celebration of Greek, Roman and other cultures of the ancient world. Once again, the Griffis Hall patio will serve as a backdrop for this rarely produced tragedy.
Scholars have noted that Lucius Annaeus Seneca was born into a Roman family living in Spain around 4 B.C. As a young man, he traveled to Rome and distinguished himself not only in rhetoric and oratory but also in philosophy. In 49 A.D. with the influence of Empress Agrippina, he became the tutor for her son Nero who later became the country’s emperor. Several years later Seneca fell out of favor with Emperor Nero and was forced to commit suicide in 65 A.D. Records indicate that he did this deed “with stoic nobility.”
The ten Senecan tragedies of the first century A.D. are the only Roman tragedies to survive. They are also the only plays that dramatize the philosophy of ancient stoicism, especially the moral conflict between passion and reason. The intensity of these tragedies made them especially popular in the Renaissance.
T. S. Eliot stated “No author exercised a wider or deeper influence upon Elizabethan mind or upon the Elizabethan form of tragedy than did Seneca.”
Phaedra is perhaps the most influential of Senecan tragedies, not least for its impact on Racine’s classic French version. In the story, while the heroic king Theseus is away in the underworld, his wife, Phaedra, develops a taboo passion for his son (her stepson) Hippolytus, a staunch moralist. Phaedra struggles with a variety of emotions as she deals with her desire. Under the influence of her nurse, Phaedra falsely accuses Hippolytus of assaulting her. When Theseus returns, he uses his power to take revenge on his own son. Unfortunately, the truth emerges too late and the unspeakable horrors have already been released.
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