Tyrant, Thy Name is King: The Tragedy
of Tiberius and Neo-Stoic Taciteanism
State University of New York Fredonia
Iclal Cetin. "Tyrant, Thy Name is King: The Tragedy of Tiberius and Neo-Stoic Taciteanism". Early Modern Literary Studies 15.1 (2009-10). <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/15-1/tibetrag.htm>.
their joint manifesto in Neo-Historicism, Robin Wells, Glenn Burgess,
and Rowland Wymer call for a recognition of the “otherness” of the past and warn
the scholars “not to recruit past thinkers as precursive spokesman and women of
modern values” (xi). Yet, rather than focusing on the alterity of the
Roman world, seventeenth-century playwrights, who take Roman history and
Senecan Stoicism as the basis of their literary works, expose the recurrence of
tyranny in history. For these playwrights, the concept of tyranny does not only
portend a continuum in terms of political oppression but it also signifies the
perpetuation of the humanist discourse and thus allows for a critique of
absolutism and antityranny. This article will specifically look into the
anonymous Tragedy of Tiberius and for the first time offer a reading of
this little-studied play in the context of antityrannical sentiment and
Neo-Stoic Taciteanism. This tyrant-tragedy—highly influenced by Seneca’s Moral
Essays and tragedies and based on Tacitus’ Annals—allows us to
rethink the Neo-historicist portrayal of antityrannical resistance in Jacobean
skeptical view of Jacobean absolutism is in some ways related to the perception
of how the humanist language influenced realpolitik or whether there was
any real political reason for using the humanist discourse in a subversive
manner. In his review of Peltonen’s Classical Humanism and Republicanism in
English Political Thought: 1570-1640, Glenn Burgess argues, for instance, that
humanist language was used in Jacobean England to construct the ideal of a
commonwealth that could flourish under royal dominion (9). Hence, the humanist
language, for Burgess, is not a language of subversion. Peltonen argues on the
other hand that “classical humanism was a ‘mode of discourse’ or a ‘political
vocabulary’ rather than ‘a programme’; it was a means of grasping and
conceptualizing politics, rather than a monolithic and detailed plan or
strategy” (7). It is true that classical humanism provided the Jacobean
thinkers and writers with a political vocabulary but this language also revealed
an ideology about tyranny that was very different from the one articulated by
James I. What is more, the Neo-Stoic and Tacitean discourse on tyranny helped
fashion tyrants on stage not merely in terms of theatricality but also in
opposition to absolutist discourses on tyranny. This certainly does not suggest
that Roman tragedies were militant about giving out political messages on antityranny,
but it makes us question Jonathan Goldberg’s argument in James I and the
Politics of Literature that there is no causality between the reign of
James I and the Roman plays of Jacobean England except for the mutual influence
of the royal and dramatic language or articulation of power (177). As James
Holstun argues in Ehud’s Dagger:
If we wish to
consider the ability of early Stuart citizens to assemble in groups and think
critically and collectively about authority, tyranny, and resistance, then
Parliament’s failure to debate Vindicae, Contra Tyrannos, tells us less
than London’s obsession with antityrannical revenge tragedies and Roman
plays--cultural productions that looped back around into political practice.
this sense, antityrannical Jacobean plays such as The Tragedy of Tiberius were
not limited by the sovereign’s political lexicon, neither was the mutuality
Goldberg contends immune from criticism. Opposition to tyranny persisted during
the Jacobean period, and antityrannical plays became one of the most important
oppositional voices. In Absolute Monarchy and the Stuart Constitution Glenn
Burgess contends “Stoic and Tacitean themes were incorporated into the existing
discourse of court, and used very often to reflect on the disappointments and
frustrations of court life” in England (54). This is certainly not the case in The
Tragedy of Tiberius, which shows that while James I was vehemently opposing
Neo-Stoic Taciteanism, the same teachings were highly influential in plays that
perceived Jacobean absolutism as nothing less than tyranny. Calvin, Erasmus,
and the anonymous playwright of The Tragedy of Tiberius’ interpretation
and appropriation of Seneca’s De clementia may certainly differ, and the
play’s dedication to a member of Prince Henry’s court may even suggest a
critique of James I’s court, but this article will show that The Tragedy of
Tiberius is not Jonson’s Sejanus, neither is it The Revenger’s
Tragedy. It does not show the waning integrity of the royal court, filled
with ‘palace rats’ and corrupt counsels and dukes. Its Neo-Stoic and Tacitean
theme reveals not only “an episode in the long history of court discourse” (54)
as Burgess argues but a means of raising an antityrannical voice, not a loose
response to the court, but a more focused critique of sovereignty.
- It is equally difficult to conceptualize the tyrant on the Jacobean stage
merely within the framework of theatricality, as Rebecca Bushnell suggests in The
Tragedies of Tyrants.  The antityrannical stance
in The Tragedy of Tiberius against the Bodinean absolutist dicta
certainly transcends the theatrical image of the tyrant that one sees in
Marlowe’s Tamburlaine or Greene’s Selimus. The opposing definitions
of tyranny in Jacobean tyrant-tragedies and in James’s political ideology do
not purport a rigid on-stage/off-stage division however, but imply that there
were conflicts as much as convergences between the two, particularly on the
subject of tyranny. Even though James I argues in Basilicon Doron and The
Trew Law that kings can never degenerate into tyrants—nominally or
otherwise—Jacobean tyrant-tragedies convey a rather Neo-Stoic and Tacitean antityrannical
tone suggesting that kings can be tyrants if they act tyrannically.
In this sense, The Tragedy of Tiberius, written in Neo-Stoic and
Tacitean fashion, defies the absolutist doctrine by revoking the image of the
tyrant as a lawfully crowned king, and the fact that it was published
anonymously and dedicated to a member of Prince Henry’s court signifies the
polyphony on tyranny in the Jacobean courts.
Tragedy of Tiberius was published
for Francis Burton and printed by Edward Allde in 1607 with no stage or
re-print history. In his dedication letter,
Francis Burton notes that the anonymous writer is young, handsome and well
educated in Tacitus and thinks his “inwardness” with this Roman historian
should win him the favor of Sir Arthur Mannering,
who was a favorite in Henry’s court before his involvement with Anne Turner.
While clarifying the strong link between Henry’s court and this anonymous play,
this article does not offer a new theory on the identity of the playwright. It
does argue, however that it is a more arduous task to fathom the playwright’s
own motivation for writing an antityrannical play in Jacobean England. He must
have been aware of the scandal surrounding Ben Jonson’s Sejanus and
James I’s denunciation of Neo-Stoic Taciteanism in Basilicon Doron. In
this sense, the sarcastic remark at the end of the play about Tiberius slaying
a poet because “In a doleful tragedy,/ He rail’d on Agamemnon’s cruelty.”
(3357-8) remains a less subtle allusion than Jonson’s Cordus in Sejanus,
yet it offers an insight as to why the playwright might have preferred
J.H.M. Salmon points out, in England, upon the death of Sidney, the legacy of
Seneca and Tacitus had passed on to a group of scholars such as the Earl of
Rutland, Henry Savile, Sir William Cornwallis, and Sir John Hayward; all of
whom congregated around Prince Henry (207). The antityrannical element in
Tacitus’s Annals highly appealed to Lipsius, William Cornwallis, and Thomas
Lodge who were not shy about drawing analogies between their contemporary
political world and that of the post-Augustan empire; combining the
antityrannical historiography of Tacitus and the equally antityrannical ethics
of Seneca in their critique. Even though Shakespeare’s fascination with
Plutarch continued in the Jacobean era, as Robert Evans points out in Jonson,
Lipsius, and the Politics of Renaissance Stoicism Tacitean historiography
influenced the Roman tragedies of the Stuart era immensely. One could argue
then that The Tragedy of Tiberius was not written due to an arcane
scholarly interest in Tacitus. The implied solidarity between the anonymous
playwright, Burton, and Mannering on the grandeur of Tacitus in Francis
Burton’s dedication letter may not only be a means of marketing the play to a
patron, but also of euphemistically noting that the playwright appeals to the political
and literary tendencies of Henry’s court. More importantly, this anonymous
Roman tragedy reveals its anti-Jacobean colors not only by a subtle and
circumlocutory dedication to a member of Prince Henry’s court but also by a
more overt and courageous critique of the Jacobean discourse of sovereignty via
Neo-Stoic Tacitean paradigms.
I was certainly well-versed in the Roman history and philosophy. After all, his
tutor George Buchanan was a pioneer of Seneca and Tacitus in France and England.
Nevertheless, James I had fallen out of his relationship with Buchanan as well
as Tacitus and Seneca. In “Stuart Absolutism and the ‘Utility’ of Tacitus” Alan
Bradford notes that James I’s anti-Tacitean reaction is better revealed by
Edmund Bolton’s 1624 play Nero Caesar, Monarchy Depraved, which received
“royal approbation through its subversion and distortion of the Tacitean view
of monarchy” (139). Bradford emphasizes that Bolton’s play celebrated Stuart
absolutism “toward the Roman Principate, a point diametrically opposed to that
of Tacitus in the Annals” (139). He further notes that “James’s
sponsorship of Bolton to correct what both took to be Tacitus’s republicanism
was an expedient but failed, but the very fact that the king should have
resorted to it at all indicates how acute a problem the Tacitean revival had
posed for Stuart absolutism” (148). J.H.M. Salmon in a similar case, points to
James I’s conversation with Isaac Casaubon in 1610, to show the king’s anti-Tacitean
view. He notes that in this conversation, “the king doubted that Tacitus
deserved his reputation for political wisdom, and Casaubon repeated the
criticism, expressed in his edition of Polybius, that Tacitus merely provided a
breviary of evil actions” (223). As Mark Curtis notes the king also suspended
Oxford and Cambridge lectures on Tacitus and further expressed his deep
disturbance by these political philosophers in his writings and speeches.
This overt anti-Taciteanism was not exclusively about the historiography of
Tacitus, of course. The fact that a historian would indulge in presenting the
history of post-Augustus imperial Rome as a hotbed of tyranny indicated a
discourse of tyranny contradictory to the royal discourse on absolute
I stressed repeatedly in The True Law (1598) that not the Roman
republic but monarchy was the “true pattern of divinity,” and that the king
could only be accountable to God, not to the people of the parliament (64). He
similarly told Prince Henry in Basilicon Doron that lawful, Christian
kings could never be tyrants, regardless of their ethical beings and that he
was a king chosen by God, to be a “little God to sit on his throne and rule
over other men” (12). As Perry Anderson also argues, such a claim for
unquestionable power naturally brought about the King’s conflicts with the
people (and also with the gentry and the parliament). James I’s absolutist view
of sovereignty caused fracases between him and the parliament on numerous
issues, including taxation. A less overt dissonance also presented itself in
the king’s attitude towards Tacitus and Neo-Stoicism. The perils of such a
divergent anti-royalist and antityrannical discourse are what accounts for the
anonymity of The Tragedy of Tiberius in the first place.
- The Annals-based plotline of The Tragedy of Tiberius is more
incendiary than that of Ben Jonson’s Sejanus. The former opens with
the funeral of Augustus, whose long reign had brought peace and stability to
Rome. The opening scene of the play reflects the sorrow felt for the loss of a
great emperor, but more importantly, it shows the anxiety felt over the
political gap his death creates. This is why the bereavement immediately gives
way to a crisis of succession. Even though Young Drusus’ elegy conveys that no
successor can equal Augustus in virtue, Rome needs an emperor and the body
politic needs a head. The playwright thus presents this urgency to crown in
order to circumvent anarchy which implies that virtue is not a sine qua non
for sovereignty. The ethical differences between Germanicus and Tiberius become
manifest once Tiberius’s tyrannical acts start to cast a shadow over his reign.
First, he shuts down the Sibylline temples, dispatches the counsels, and
collaborates with Sejanus to send Germanicus on a mission to Armenia in order
to distance him from the throne. Then, together with Piso, he plots to poison
Germanicus in addition to murdering his own mother and his son, Drusus
Tiberius, Germanicus’ wife, Agrippina; her sons, Drusus and Nero, and finally,
his counsel, Sejanus. The quasi-Hamletian Caligula, the only surviving son of
Germanicus, in a rather stultifying manner ensures his survival and kills
Tiberius. The tragedy that begins with the solemn funeral of a merciful and
virtuous emperor thus ends with the violent tyrannicide of Tiberius. In this
sense, The Tragedy of Tiberius shows the dismal world of tyrants and
foreshadows the abysmal tyranny of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Yet, when compared
to Ben Jonson’s Sejanus, Tiberius surfaces as a more overtly antityrannical
tragedy. Whereas Jonson’s play almost defends apatheia in the face of
tyranny, the latter contests tyranny altogether. Tiberius is not the
arch-tyrant in Jonson’s play, either. As Jonson notes in the synopsis, it is
Sejanus, who “deviseth to make Tiberius’ self his means, and instills into his
ears many doubts and suspicions” (40). Jonson’s play opens with the tribunes
condemning corrupt councils and perils of false flattery. Sabinus describes
tyranny as pertinent to flattery, “Tyrants arts/ Are to give flatterers grace,
accusers power/ And those may seem to kill whom they devour” (1.1). Thus,
Jonson’s Sejanus is more about how a state falls (hence gets corrupted) in the
hands of tyranny whereas The Tragedy of Tiberius depicts “what unto that
state in Nero’s reign befell” (1). In this manner, the Tragedy of Tiberius deals
specifically with Tiberius’s tyranny and in doing so it is more loyal to
Tacitus, who was also predominantly interested in depicting Tiberius’s tyranny.
- It is not a coincidence that the Senecan binary of
a benevolent king and a tyrant also
constitutes the inception of the Tragedy of Tiberius. In fact, the
Senecan representation of tyrant as a vengeful, merciless, temperamental, and
unethical ruler and numerous allusions to Thyestes and De clementia reveal
the Neo-Stoic bent of the tragedy clearly. Drusus Tiberius’s eulogy for Augustus
in the beginning of the play articulates the traits of a king in the humanist
tradition and by recounting Augustus’ virtues, Drusus emphasizes the true
nature of a king in the most Senecan sense:
persistence on mercy and the apotheosis of Augustus is a direct allusion to De
clementia where Seneca portrays Augustus’ rule as one of peace and mercy
and notes “Mercy, then, makes rulers not only more honored, but safer, and is
at the same time the glory of sovereign power and its surest protection. For
why is it that kings have grown old and have handed their thrones to children
and grandchildren, while a tyrant’s sway is accursed and short?” (391). While
young Drusus eulogizes the virtues of Augustus, Tiberius admits that he is old,
drowsy, and can be overruled by his mother:
successor of great Julius,…
I will call him
merciful, yet just withal:
In mercy just,
in justice merciful
I will praise
his meekness, yet in honors robes:
In honor meek,
in meekness honorable. (52-64)
An emperor must
wake, I drowsy am:
is utterly conscious of the fact that a head is needed for the body politic, yet
his confession of ethical and physical defects in front of the senate is not a
form of self-humbling. Quite the contrary, he is asserting that he will secure absolute
sovereign power even though he lacks the fundamental virtues. In other words,
for Tiberius, sovereignty, just like hereditary succession, may be divorced
from virtue and ethics and that is why the logic in his argument does not
indicate his diffidence but foreshadows his forthcoming tyranny. Subsequently,
the fact that he is not being self-critical becomes undeniably manifest when
his self-denigration is taken too literally by Asinius. Asinius’s insinuation
on synarchy or that he should pick a part of the empire and leave the rest,
is retorted with the claim that regardless of his weaknesses, lack of valour
and virtue, Tiberius will acquire absolute sovereignty (174-181). A close
reading of Tiberius’s rhetoric in this scene ironically discloses that he
returns from Rhodes to avenge Rome and the Romans, but this early warning goes
unnoticed by the senators. Tiberius’s use of the simile Etna (21) is so
peculiar that if it is employed in the same tradition of Seneca and early
modern tragedians, it signifies not sorrow for the late Augustus but revenge:
An emperor must
be valiant, I am old:
must he be, my mother lives
And must, shall
be honored while she lives.
An emperor must
be able to endure,
(in war) the
winter’s frosts, the summers heat,
I feel a palsy
rooted in my bones.
He must have
honey dropping eloquence:
I for my part
have never played the orator. (106-117)
Could I but
shadow out in mask of words, The
eruption of the volcano is usually associated with an outbreak of anger or
a whole population, but why does Tiberius use it in Augustus’s funeral, while mourning
for him? It is Hera in Seneca’s Hercules Furens who foresees Hercules’s
rage in the fires of Etna:
The sorrowing language
of my groaning soul,
Or with a stream
of tears alay the flame,
heart doth like an Aetna burn,
Ye Gods I call
to witness of my thoughts. (17-21)
So fiercer than
the fires In
Hercules on Oeta, Dejanira uses Etna to express her anger and revenge
and Iole, whom she fears will make Dejanira a stepdame by marrying Hercules.
Thus she says:
Of Etna’s forge
he’ll rage. But thus to move
with bitter rage and crazed,
thou must be thyself insane. (1.2.120-125)
the playwright is using the simile in its original Senecan context then Aetna
Tiberius’s wrath and revenge on the Romans. In a moment of insincere mourning,
it may seem that Tiberius’s allusion to the volcano is an insignificant means of
articulating his sorrow, but because a few scenes later Tiberius’s fake
mourning leaves its place to political ambition and desire for revenge on Asinius
and Germanicus, it may be inferred that Tiberius reveals his tyrannous revenge
for his exile from the very beginning.
A greater terror
than the Hydra’s rage:
The anger of an
injured wife. Burn thus
The flames of
Etna? This my wrath
Can conquer all
thy conquests, shall a slave
Seize on my
marriage bed? (2.2.305)
divine right to rule is not contested by the senators who expect sovereign
power to “cease the weeping of the state” (135) and although Germanicus
forebodes Tiberius’s tyranny:
becomes clear that sovereign power is detached from its ethical facet and the
sovereign is judged neither by his deeds or his words in this realm. Right
before Nerva crowns him, Tiberius even presages his imminent cruelty and
tyranny, telling the senators that they should re-think their irreversible
The Roman senate
discontent and mutinous:
tyrants in their provinces:
spoiled, unrigged, dismembered:
The city made a
brothel house of sin. (510-516)
senators bypass the nature of Tiberius and his reign, they fall victim to his
tyranny. Tiberius knows that if the distinction between a king and a tyrant is
blurred, senators will also lose their oppositional voice and his absolutist
statement denotes that all tyrannical acts acquire legitimacy after he gets
crowned as king. His speech also contradicts the humanist idea that a king
cannot be exculpated from his tyrannical acts only because he is crowned as the
You are to choose but
once, consider well;
subjects to your emperor.
If you constrain
me to this doubtful task,
And I (as God
forbid) should change my mind.
Turning my pity
to a lion’s rage,
My snow white
conscience to a scarlet dye. (196-201)
from the election and coronation scenes, the plebeians mark Tiberius’ tyranny
in his unhappy expressions rather than in political performance:
plebeians, like Germanicus, assert that the sovereign’s moral acts are still relevant.
Even though they are rather timorous of using the public forum for overtly
criticizing Tiberius’s reign, they distinguish between Germanicus and Tiberius
on the basis of their morality, graciousness, and integrity.
1. Did you not
see our new emperor how bravely he came from his coronation?
2. Yes, it was
a gallant sight sure, but did you mark his countenance? My thought tis
mightily altered within this five or six quarters of a year since I saw him last.
2. I that same
looks I promise is an ill sign, pray God all be well.
3. Augustus was
a goodly man, and I hope he has left such a gracious sample, that Tiberius will
not forget himself.
1. Never talk
of Augustus more, we shall never see his like in Rome, unless
be our emperor.
Om: O worthy
Germanicus! He is a flower indeed. My masters, let’s not talk of
matters, for I am afraid we have said too much already, if the emperor should
know of it. (304-10)
- As the play progresses Germanicus indeed proves
to be an epitome of Senecan virtues of clemency and juxtaposed with the
terrorizing Tiberius, his acts remain benevolent: while in Armenia he offers
peace to Vonones even though he has the power to kill him, “Yet, know my mercy
far exceeds thy strength, / An olives branch wreathed with humility (1780-81).
Unlike Germanicus however, Tiberius’ reign is presented as unjust and highly
arbitrary: when captured by Tiberius (2680), Sejanus remarks: “ I crave no
pity, neither fear thy pride,/ Whose pity only served for a truce, / To levy
new supply of tyranny” (2685-87). The playwright’s portrayal of the stark
contrast between two sovereign figures in the play is distinctly related to the
Neo-Stoic concepts of constancy, benevolence, and mercy, and both the tyrant
and the king are described in relation to these qualities. This descriptive
effort is also observed in the way the playwright mobilizes the humanist
terminology. For instance, the use of animal imagery serves as a way of
substantiating the antityrannical voice in the play.
As the following lines of Agrippina show, her antityrannical resistance uses
the rhetoric of bestiality. She is holding a mirror to the emperor and through
that image we witness the contrasting image of a tyrannical Tiberius and a
benevolent Germanicus, alluding to Senecan paradigms in De clementia. In
this manner, as in the previous dialogue between the plebeians, Germanicus certainly
comes forth as the epitome of constancy and Stoicism, but tragically, he
remains too ideal a Stoic figure, since his Stoic stance prevents him from
rebelling against the tyranny of Tiberius:
Impatient fury fly Germanicus,
How is thy reason dimmed with cloudy passion?
Proud swelling dropsy, ever gnawing worm,
Insatiate vulture, vile ambition,
Deluding Sirene, where is Germanicus?
The Legions love thee not for to aspire,
Thy virtue shines not in oppression;
No honor in ambitious aray:
No meekness in traitors happiness,
Thy father got thee not for to rebel,
Nor Caesar did abet thy treacheries,
By nature heir, then be thou natural. (576-586)
- Germanicus’ self-mastery over his ambition
and passion inadvertently leads to Tiberius’ unleashing of his tyranny. Agrippina,
determined to starve herself after Germanicus’ death, uses a wide array of
animal imagery to portray the iniquitous and tyrannical nature of Tiberius:
use of animal imagery used here is carefully designed to reveal both the
extreme cruelty of Tiberius and to depict the inadequateness of the catalogue
of images to articulate the tyranny of Tiberius. Agrippina’s intrepid assail on
Tiberius is not mere maritality, she portrays an image of a bloody tyrant who
turns the country into a slaughterhouse:
monsters, ill is too too good,
Cruel, too mild
a title for thy deeds:
never find a man so bad
resemble thy foul villanies
crocodile, asp, viper, basilisk
tame, milde, gentle, virtuous,
poison, fury, envy, wrath. (2913-19)
My last fond
Tyrant know that I will speak
Burton might not have mentioned him in his dedication letter, but the
playwright’s references to Thyestes and, in particular, Atreus’s banquet
scene (2480) and to Euripides’s play, the Bacchae, (2400) also signifies
the increasing Senecan influence in the tragedy. When Sejanus concocts a
terrible plan to make Tiberius suspect his own son, Tiberius exclaims that he
will not forgive his son and notes:
In spite of
Nero, in disdain of Rome
butcher, bloody shambles Rome,
Who sells the
fairest ware at meanest price. (2954-58)
forgiveness in some petty kings
young Drusus is likened to Atreus here, and Tiberius presents himself not as Thyestes
but as Thyestes’ sons. Yet, Tiberius’ first sentence, “talk of forgiveness in some
petty kings,” is the almost verbatim statement of Atreus, who fails to forgive
Thyestes and gives in to revenge, anger and violence. As the minister tries to
dissuade him from taking revenge on his brother, Atreus decisively notes in the
second act of Thyestes “The king who binds himself to want what’s right/
Sits on a shaky throne” and adds “Sanctity, piety, trust are luxuries for
private life./ Leave kings to go their own way.” Via his allusion to Thyestes,
the playwright of The Tragedy of Tiberius then seeks to evoke the
image of a Senecan banquet since Tiberius and his son will meet at a feast that
day. In this sense, both the parallels between Seneca’s Moral Essays, particularly
De clementia and the allusions to Seneca’s tragedies in The Tragedy
of Tiberius strengthen the Neo-Stoic conceptualization of antityranny in
Not in the state
of mighty emperors,
This day he
dooth provide Thyestes feast,
And bids his
father to the bloody cates. (2479-83)
climactic turn in the tragedy comes with Tiberius killing his own progeny. With
the death of Young Drusus, the lineage for succession is disrupted and Tiberius
enters a phase of frenzy: he stabs four messengers consequently, puts a burning
crown on Sejanus’s head, causes Agrippina to die, stabs her keeper, and as Nero
and Drusus feed on each other’s arms and die, Tiberius exclaims, “Virtue go
with him, vice stay with me, / Till I have massacred my prisoners” (3123-24).
Even on his deathbed, as he crawls with pain, Tiberius rages like a tyrant,
threatening to, “Burn even all the temples of the gods, / That cannot help the
Roman emperor (3339-40). In this rather Faustian moment, Tiberius is portrayed
as being abandoned by the gods.
the end of the play, it is Caligula who evokes Tiberius’s nemesis by recalling
his execution of Zeno:
There Nero, the
hate of Rome lies butchered,
death of Zeno in the hands of Tiberius can be nothing but a final sarcasm. Although
Suetonius notes in The Twelve Caesars that Zeno is banished to the
island of Cinara, the playwright presents Tiberius as the murderer of Zeno,
thus metaphorically making him the enemy of Stoicism (and Neo-Stoicism),
perhaps harking back at James I’s critique of Stoics in Basilicon Doron.
He raigned noe
day, but some were murthered,
master Zeno a Greek word,
What dialect? He
killed him, for because he thought
He mocked him
for his Rhodian banishment. (3348-53)
Holstun’s argument that antityrannical revenge tragedies increased in Stuart
England could then be complemented by the analysis of Roman tragedies such as The
Tragedy of Tiberius, which show the continuing discussion of tyranny
and the persistence of the use of the humanist discourse in portraying tyrants
during the Jacobean era. It was mostly the divorce of sovereignty from a
deterministic divine-right theory and a subsequent critique of the ethical
nature of the sovereign figure that contradicted and opposed James I’s view
that tyrants could at best be a scourge from God sent to the sinful lot. The
Tragedy of Tiberius in this sense engages in a comparative portrayal of
Augustus, Tiberius, and Germanicus, showing that their ethical and political differences
not only draw the line between a king and a tyrant but the same differences
also determine the welfare of the empire and the populus.
in the case of this anonymous tragedy, the Tacitean and Neo-Stoic influence is
not mobilized solely to reflect on the corruption of the court, as Glenn
Burgess contends, neither does the humanist discourse of tyranny in the play
parallel James I’s absolutist discourse of tyranny in Basilicon Doron and
The Trew Law of Free Monarchies. Quite the contrary, the Tacitean historiography,
Seneca’s De Clementia and Thyestes contribute to the antityrannical
tone of the play, which shows that a lawful king can indeed degenerate into a
tyrant and be faced with tyrannicide. In this manner, The Tragedy of
Tiberius shows the polyphony on the discourse of tyranny in Jacobean
England, particularly the dissonance between the Neo-Stoic Taciteans and James
I on the subject of the portrayals of tyrannical reigns and tyrannicide.
 The discussion of tyranny in early modern drama has been the
subject of other studies in the past. In the mid-twentieth century, W. A.
Armstrong explored the way in which tyranny was used in the political and
dramatic works of the Elizabethan era. In his work, he claims that during the
sixteenth-century, the sermons of the Anglican church, the books, and the plays
collectively recited the fall of evil kings, and by this they all hoped to urge
the monarch to live up to the highest ideals of his position by the method of
speculum principis (161-2). Armstrong claims that “In Tudor England,
tyrant-tragedies like Cambises and Mustapha showed that divine intervention,
without a subject’s raising a hand against him, is the ideal solution to the
problem of his tyranny from the point of view of contemporary morality” (165).
Armstrong’s paradigms in studying the Elizabethan conception of tyranny in
early modern drama do not suffice to fully explicate and interpret the Roman
tyrant-tragedies in early Jacobean England, which show a stronger sense of antityranny
and resistance. The most exhaustive study of tyrant-tragedies in the last two
decades is offered by Rebecca Bushnell in Tragedies of Tyrants, which studies
the tyrants in light of the Platonic tradition and suggests that “to understand
the representation of the tyrant on the Renaissance stage, we need to
investigate the origins of this ideology of opposition constructing the
tyrant’s unstable figure in the tradition of Western political thought that
stems from Plato and Aristotle” (9). I suggest that Seneca and Tacitus have
played a more dominant role in the representation of tyrants on Jacobean stage.
Moreover, for Bushnell, Renaissance drama “locates the tyrant at center stage
even though he was meant to be pushed to the margins of political life and
humanity” (187). I would argue, however, that this prospect may limit the
discussion of tyranny to theatricality. This article suggests, however, that it
is also possible to look at the question of tyranny as a real political issue
in Jacobean England. In this respect, one may argue that, as long as they
remained as the binary opposite of monarchs in ethical and political terms,
tyrants were never at the margins of seventeenth-century political life.
Consequently, Jacobean tyrant-tragedies reflect the anxiety over James I’s
absolutist discourse and show that not God but the tyrannical acts of
sovereigns upset the socio-economic equilibrium.
 In “The
Figure of the Tyrant in English Revolutionary Thought,” Robert Zaller shows
that the reaction to the absolutist claims of the Stuart Dynasty resulted in a
“climactic revival of the classical and humanist figure of the tyrant, and one
with an unprecedented outcome: the trial and execution of a reigning monarch,
Charles I, and the abolition of monarchy in England” (586).
study of the play is based on the Malone Society edition of the tragedy edited
by W. W. Greg in 1915.
 The most
relevant source for biographical information about Arthur Mannering remains
John Oldmixon’s The Life and Posthumous Works of Arthur Maynwaring. Oldmixon
notes that being “a favorite of Prince Henry,” Mannering was “a man of
gallantry” who, after his affair with Anne Turner, “lessened his interest in
the prince by concerning himself for that wicked woman” (3). Oldmixon notes that Sir Arthur Maynwaring was exposed
to Forman’s spells and even implies that his position in Henry’s court must
have deteriorated due to the effect of Turner’s magic. He thus claims, “When
the counsels and Mrs. Turner, intended to practice their love experiments on
the Earl of Essex, by powders and philters, and applied to Dr. Forman of
Lambeth, a Quack, for the drugs, Mrs. Turner to see how effectually they would
operate, gave them first to Sir Arthur Mannering, who was so enflamed by them,
that he rode fifteen miles through a storm of rain and thunder, to Turner’s
house. Wilson in his Life of King James, says, he scarce knew where he was,
till he was there” (3).
 In Truth
Brought to Light by Time: The Proceedings Touching the Divorce Between Lady
Frances Howard and Robert Earl of Essex, printed for Michael Sparke in 1651,
the court evidence brings in a document by Simon Forman and shows that:
also enchantments showed in court, written in parchment wherein
contained all the names of the blessed trinity, mentioned in the scriptures;
another parchment, +B+C+D+E and in a third likewise parchment were
the names of the holy trinity as also a figure, in which was written this
corpus, and upon the parchment was fastened a little piece of the skin of
some of these parchments, the devils had particular names, who were
torment the Lord Sommerset, and Sir Arthur Manwaring, if their loves
should not continue, the one to the countess, the
other to Mrs. Turner (138).
In The Life and Posthumous Works of Arthur Maynwaring,
John Oldmixon not only confirms this love affair between Anne Turner and Mannering,
which is infamously spiced up by Forman’s potions, but he also gives a better
genealogical map of Sir Arthur Mannering. Oldmixon refers to the Maynwarings as
an “old but decaying” family (2).
 See Mark
H. Curtis, “The Alienated Intellectuals of Early Stuart England,” Past and
Present, 23 (1962): 26-27.
 Yet, the play itself deviates from
the historical sources in many instances to create a theatrical effect. It is
the citizens, for instance, who execute Piso to revenge Germanicus’s death;
whereas in the Twelve Caesars, Tiberius kills Piso for having poisoned
Germanicus (125). Similarly, Suetonius writes that Nero is forced to commit
suicide and Drusus eats the flock from the mattress because of forced hunger
(126). In the early modern version of Tiberius, however, the two brothers feed
on each other’s arms to suppress their hunger. Thus, the playwright effectively
combines his knowledge of Roman history with Senecan drama.
anonymous playwright takes the skeleton of Asinius’s speech almost verbatim
from Tacitus, whose Asinius Gallus says, “by this question I did not mean that
you should do an impracticable thing, and share that power which cannot be
separated; but I meant to reason you into a confession that the
commonwealth is but one body, and can be governed by one soul” (15). Still the
dramatization of the divine order and the sun king analogy are clearly the
playwright’s own depiction of monarchy.
 In Book 1, chapter 19 of De
clementia, Seneca uses one of the most powerful parables to distinguish a king
from a tyrant, “bees are most easily provoked, and, for the size of their
bodies, excellent fighters, and where they wound they leave their stings; but
the king himself has no sting. Nature did not wish him to be cruel or to seek
revenge that would be so costly, and so she removed his weapon, and left his
anger unarmed” (411). Virgil Georgics (4.150-178), also used by Thomas Aquinas
in De Regimine Principum (1.2; 1.3, 12).
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