‘The cunning of their ground’: The Relevance of <i>Sejanus</i> to Renaissance Tragedy

  • Peter Byrne Kent State University - Trumbull Campus
Keywords: Jonson, Sejanus, Tragedy, Metatheater,


Modelled on contemporary metatheatrical tragedies such as Tamburlaine and Richard III, Sejanus is Jonson’s riposte to these rebellious innovations to tragedy illustrating that his peers have failed to resolve substantially the problem of generic decay. Sejanus, modelled on the anarchic heroes of Marlowe and Shakespeare, satirizes these figures, while the play’s rigid decorum demonstrates the structural discipline necessary to produce tragedy’s moral function. Sejanus enacts Jonson’s criticism of the ‘corrupt’ context of early modern tragedy, its characters and argument the result of a decayed ethos in which the use of performance has corroded both gesture and interpretation into cynicism, and in which true heroism, and true tragedy, are impossible.