Monday, February 15, 2010

Seneca = The Roman Tarantino

After Medea vs. Medea a few weeks ago, I was chatting with one of the actors. Like me, he definitely preferred Euripides' version to Seneca's.

I said, "I got the feeling that Seneca was less concerned with moving the action forward, and more with writing speeches that made allusions to all of these other myths, so that he could show off how smart he was."

"Yeah, he was basically the Quentin Tarantino of Ancient Rome," said my friend. "Sorry, I don't like Tarantino."

"Oh, I don't know, I really enjoyed Inglourious Basterds," I said. My friend hadn't seen it, but maybe he should check it out. It seems that what he objects to is Tarantino's random riffs about pop-culture oddities, but Tarantino naturally had to tone that down for Basterds, because it takes place in the '40s. (And I thought that the riff on King Kong was brilliant!)

But anyway, my friend's comparison of Seneca and Tarantino was especially apt because not only are they both known for elaborate, rhetorical, allusion-filled dialogue... they are also really fond of outrageous bloody violence. In Euripides' play (as is typical of Greek tragedy) Medea kills her children offstage, but in Seneca's, she does it right in front of the audience. Seneca, not the Greek playwrights, was the inspiration for Elizabethan and Jacobean revenge tragedy. And after Cutting Ball's staged reading of the Jacobean revenge tragedy Women Beware Women, in the finale of which nearly every character dies in a bizarrely violent way, the post-show discussion compared it to...Quentin Tarantino! It's like there's a direct through-line from the ancient Roman dramatist to the Italian-American auteur.

I always used to have trouble remembering why I should care about Seneca or what his stylistic hallmarks were, but now that I know to think of him as "the Roman Tarantino," I won't forget!

No comments: