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Show or Tell? Seneca's and Sarah Kane's Phaedra Plays

Bexley, E.M.

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This article analyzes the Senecan background to Sarah Kane's Phaedra's Love by focusing upon both playwrights' predilections for graphic violence and sexual content. Kane's version of the Phaedra story presents sex, death and mutilation as acts that often defy meaning – these phenomena have such a strong experiential impact that they are slow to move into the referential realm of sign and symbol. By placing these acts centre stage, Kane also implicates the audience. Of course, we cannot propose the same performance effects for Senecan tragedy, owing to lack of evidence. Nonetheless Seneca's work, like Kane's, plays upon dramaturgic techniques of showing and telling: Phaedra's passion is nefas, simultaneously immoral and something she physically cannot speak. Death is also meaningless in Seneca: the final scene shows Theseus trying and failing to make sense of his son's torn body. Both Seneca and Sarah Kane push the boundaries between theatrical illusion and visual reality and, in the process, comment on the nature of theatre itself.


Bexley, E. (2011). Show or Tell? Seneca's and Sarah Kane's Phaedra Plays. Trends in Classics, 3(2), 365-393.

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Nov 20, 2011
Publication Date Nov 20, 2011
Deposit Date Sep 27, 2017
Publicly Available Date Oct 9, 2017
Journal Trends in Classics
Print ISSN 1866-7473
Electronic ISSN 1866-7481
Publisher De Gruyter
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 3
Issue 2
Pages 365-393


Published Journal Article (213 Kb)

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