Newton (1581) Seneca, his Tenne Tragedies – Rare!


Out of stock


Newton, Thomas, et al. Seneca, his Tenne Tragedies Translated into Englysh. (London, 1581)

Quarto (5×7).  Folios 1-199 (missing all before 1 and after 199). Rebound. Boards are missing, though the ‘original’ vellum is retained with handwritten title on spine. Vellum applied to new end-papers creating a flexible hardcover.  Custom slipcase included with quarter-bound case, spine elaborately stamped in gilt, five raised bands with ornament, title and “London 1581” stamped between.

Condition: Regrettably missing front matter and everything post folio 199. Cover consists of ‘original’ vellum pasted to a new endpaper, front endpaper has previous collector’s typewritten notes tipped into paste-down and free endpapers. New binding remains solid. Slipcase shows wear to corners and extremities, though remains strong and attractive. Slipcase does its job well.

Provenance: The name John Emirton [sp.] is written on front cover (see photos).

Seneca, his Tenne Tragedies Translated into Englysh shows up only twice in auction records I have discovered. Copies are in The British Library, St. Pancras and University of Aberdeen.

Seneca His Tenne Tragedies (1581) is the first printed collection of Seneca’s plays in English. Thomas Newton brought together translations of the ten plays then thought to be by Seneca (two have since been discredited), seven of which had been published individually in the 1550s and 60s.

Seneca’s plays have a number of distinctive features. These include the use of soliloquy; supernatural elements such as ghosts and witches; spectacle; violence and blood; cruelty and revenge; elevated rhetoric; self-reflection and self-consciousness; moral commentary; and explorations of the passions and their restraint based on the stoic belief that emotions are destructive and should be overcome with self-control and reason.

Seneca’s influence on Shakespeare and English drama

The plays had a strong influence on drama in Elizabethan England (both directly and via works from the later Middle Ages that had also assimilated Senecan tropes). This influence is particularly evident in the genre of revenge tragedy, an early example of which is Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy (c. 1587). The centrality of Seneca to English tragedy of the period is felt when Polonius singles out the Roman playwright in his description of the travelling players: ‘Seneca cannot be too heavy’ (Hamlet, 2.2.400).

Shakespeare’s early plays show clear familiarity with Seneca’s Latin texts. Verbal echoes can be seen in, for example, Titus Andronicus and Richard III. But there is also a more indirect and creative influence felt throughout the work of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. This is well summed up by T S Eliot as ‘the penetration of Senecan sensibility’.

This influence is so widespread it can even be detected in non-tragic works such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which contains verbal echoes and dramatic parody, for example in Bottom’s attempt at ‘Ercles’ (Hercules) in Act 1, Scene 2. Seneca was also one of the primary models for the five-act structure of Renaissance drama. – British Library Website