The emperor Claudius
may appear to be the protagonist of the play The
Tragedy of Claudius Tiberius Nero, but in fact it concerns the Emperor
Tiberius, uncle to Claudius. The narrative
within the play is not complicated one but as the characters often share the
same name, the plot can be confusing. The play is focused around the reign
of Tiberius; it is violent and bloody. The play was published anonymously by
Tragedy of Claudius Tiberius Nero opens with the funeral of Augustus and
the crowning of Tiberius, who feigns reluctance at becoming the next emperor
....monster, tiger, earth's infection,
Plague of the world, scourge of our happy Rome,
Treason's first born, hell's out-spewed vomit,
Prodigious homicide, and murder's law...
yet would I had my wish;
Oh, that even all the people in the world,
Had but one neck that at one deadly blow,
I might unpeople all the world
The main theme within the play is murder, and the playwright has been creative in his quest to perform death on his victims, using varying methods of death, for instance stale water; a poisoned apple; the eating of arms; starvation; strangling oneself with a chain; throwing oneself down a deep well; smothering; stabbing; a poisoned crown, and a burning crown and death by being literally ripped apart limb by limb. The play raises a multiplicity of issues concerning the human psyche, such as family, power, greed, ambition, lust, hate, jealousy, self-sacrifice, friendship, loyalty, duty and honour. The play hints at cannibalism, bastards, and military affairs. The play not only shows how corrupt the court was but how fickle court society was too. In the play Tiberius is finally murdered by his ambitious, scheming nephew, Claudius, who suffocates the aging Emperor before stabbing him; this differs from the account given by Suetonius, who records that Tiberius died of old age after contracting a cold; he was seventy seven and had been Emperor for twenty three years.
The Tragedy of Claudius Tiberius
Nero provides a political commentary on Jacobean rule; through its narrative
it explores and highlights the abuses of power open to criticism and accusations
by those who brandish it. As playwrights were confronted by the problem of
representing political life as they saw it, and to overcome parallels being
made too obvious, it was easier to move the action of the play to the court
of ancient Rome. Dramatists would often use the veil of the Roman play to
express political feelings and observations surrounding the rule of James
VI and I, calling into question the restrictions made on playwrights by James.
Freedom of expression was not allowed if it was to contain damaging criticism
of the monarchy or showed them in a bad light. Those in the position to impose
the rationale behind such restrictions and objections, feeling the need to
silence those brave enough to expose political abuse, had to be proof of malefactions
within the court.
The Roman play appears to be a popular genre around the date that The Tragedy of Claudius Tiberius Nero was published. Shakespeare had already written Julius Caesar, and there was also Ben Jonson's play, Sejanus, and another anonymous play entitled Nero. Playwrights could express and highlight political opinions, as well as expose the failures of the king and his court.
Embedded within the play are references
from the works of other playwrights, with numerous references to Shakespeare.
In Hamlet, Act I scene v, Old Hamlet king of Denmark, recently dead,
appears as a ghost to his son, Hamlet, to inform him of his murder by poison
being poured into his ear while he slept in his orchard. The ghost then asks
Hamlet to avenge his murder. This idea is mirrored in The Tragedy of Claudius
Tiberius Nero, where Tiberius is in his orchard and the ghost of the murdered
Germanicus appears to him and talks of revenge for his death. Another similarity
to Hamlet within the play is when Germanicus, alone on the stage, comments
on the awful prodigies in Rome; this speech is very similar to Horatio's in
Act I scene i, 115-128. Shakespeare's reference to 'Nemean lion's name' in
Act I, scene iv, 83 is again mirrored in The Tragedy of Claudius Tiberius
Nero, when Tiberius refers to Nemea and lions. The chameleon mentioned
by Sejanus, is also mentioned in, Hamlet, Act 3, scene ii, 93. Furthermore,
'Ides of March' is taken from a line in Julius Caesar, (Act I, sc.ii,
18). In the play there are several references to other plays, Tamburlaine,
by Marlowe; Shakespeare's Richard II, and a line from a poem by Chidiock
Tichborne, called 'Elegy', written while he was in the Tower of London before
his execution for his involvement in the Babington affair in 1586 -'
glass is run.'
Roman plays often represented those in hierarchal positions abusing the powers they had been allotted. The Tragedy of Claudius Tiberius Nero is set in the ancient court of Rome and emphasises the corruption within it. The play also makes allusions to Mary Queen of Scots, mother to James VI and I. England was under Protestant rule and the allusion the play makes towards Roman Catholics implies James' involvement with Catholics due to his connection with Mary Queen of Scots. Mary was a Catholic and charged with conspiring plots against the crown, she was executed in 1587 in the hall at Fotheringay Castle, and had chosen as her successor to her right to the crown, Philip of Spain; she had cast James aside because he was a Protestant.
The playwright would have derived his historical knowledge on the biographer to the Caesars, Suetonius; precise details of his life are not known, bur he was born around AD 69 and he died around AD 140. Suetonius wrote the book The Twelve Caesars, which 'provided a model for Einhard's Charlemagne in the ninth century and a source for Petrarch's Lives of the Illustrious Romans in the fourteenth. The English translation by Philemon Holland (1606), though diffuse, is spirited and popular.' (1)
Robert Graves (1895-1985) also based his historical novels I, Claudius and Claudius the God on the work of Suetonius. Another source of historical knowledge was the Roman historian, Tacitus (c.55-120) who wrote Historiae, which was a history of the empire from Galba in AD 68 to the assassination of Domitian in AD 96; he also wrote Annales, which is a history of the Julian line from Tiberius to Nero. (1) 'Tacitus' writings gave a critique of court corruption an implicitly radical political edge. James, for one, recognised this implicit political threat - he considered Tacitus anti-monarchical and was disturbed by his subjects increasing interest in the historian's writings.' (2)
The extensive knowledge of classical
and mythological history demonstrated through the language of the characters
shows their status and education. The allusion to the deities only serves
to show the judgements and lives of the gods as unsuitable, a metaphor for
God's anointed on earth, allowing parallels to be made between the corrupt,
murderous Tiberius and King James VI and I.
The playwrights extensive knowledge of classical and mythological history is demonstrated by the language of his characters, this is designed to show their education and status. The allusion to the deities often only shows that even the gods had unsuitable lives and judgements; a metaphor for Gods anointed on earth, allowing parallels to be made between the corrupt, murderous Tiberius and king James VI and I.
There is much evidence in the play to suggest the playwright had knowledge of writers of travel, which would have informed the people of the Renaissance of new geographical discoveries. The playwright displays his knowledge by mentioning these exotic and distant places throughout his text, such as Africa, Armenia, Babylon, Capri, the Danube river, Germany, Greece, the Orient, Sicily, and Thebes: he includes references to Indians and Pigmies, and mentions a wide variety of exotic animals: elephants, tigers, crocodiles, camels, bears, leopards and asses. James VI and I was also very interested in exotic animals and possessed several which he let roam free in James' Park. The inclusion of merchandise from distant countries hints at new found wealth: gold, pearls, diamonds and jasper, and exotic fruit such as the pomegranate are mentioned. All these references show the Renaissance was an expanding world.
During the reign of the emperor Augustus, Jesus Christ was executed; Tiberius was forty two years of age at this time and still had fourteen years before becoming emperor of Rome. There are several biblical references within the play: 'Palantia's leave her Lucifer', 'saviour of the world', 'Babylon', and 'blazing comets of the East'; Germanicus comments on the 'new devised religion / Of the inconstant Jews called Christians.' The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 demonstrated the lack of faith Catholics had with promises of freedom from persecution, and hopes of seeing the Roman Catholic faith established by law. James persecuted the Catholics and was perceived as a tyrant. Roman Catholics were treated with horrible contempt: no Roman Catholic was allowed to live in London, and no Catholic could be a lawyer or a doctor.
In the play Tiberius is portrayed as a kind of anti-Christ, ruthless and ambitious in his malicious quest for power. Tiberius is so full of evil he is unable to stop, and will not let anything or anybody stand in his way. Matricide is only the start of his unquenchable lust for keeping his crown, his unnaturalness is highlighted when he goes on to plot and kill the deaths of Germanicus and all his family, also innocent messengers who inform him of other victims' deaths, and not being satisfied with having the deaths of so many on his conscience he emulates the original sin by giving Agrippina a poisoned apple: a metaphor for Roman Catholics and the poison at court.
The pinnacle of his blood lust,
Tiberius' dying wish for genocide where he would decapitate and 'unpeople'
the entire world, only enforces the concern the playwright had, and encourages
Christian (Protestant) audiences to question the moral motivations of the
Tiberius is not the only evil character within the play; Sejanus demonstrates qualities of not being at one with Christian doctrine. He describes the ' tumults in my cloven heart' which connotes similarities appertaining to the devil, one being possessed by devil-like qualities, inhuman, evil, showing no remorse or empathy with fellow human beings. This type of character can be seen in the persona of Aaron in Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus; in the final Act of Othello, when Othello looks to see whether the feet of Iago are cloven like the Devil's; in The Tempest, when Caliban talks of 'cloven tongues' and in Troilus and Cressida, where Cressida speaks of a 'cloven chin'.
Through the characters of the play, the playwright highlights the violations made by James I's failings as a patriarchal ruler; instead of showing the court as an image of virtues and manners it is represented as morally and politically unstable. The implications of a corrupt court invoking the wrath of God could have terrible judgements made not only on the sinners but the nation as a whole.
In 1607 the publisher Francis Burton very cautiously dedicated The Tragedie of Claudius Tiberius Nero, to Sir Arthur Mannering, fearing reprehension for this my Dedication because so many Plaies have formerly been published without Inscription unto particular patrons (contrary to Custome in divulging other Bookes) (3)
In 1611 Francis Burton made another dedication using the name of Sir Arthur Mannering in a volume of sermons written by Lancelot Andrewes (4) (1555-1626), called Scala coeli, which reads:
How Francis Burton
came to be acquainted with Sir Arthur Mannering is not known. The interesting
thing is, the more one delves into the life of
It is ironic that
Sir Arthur should have married twice, especially when he had fathered three
children with the unfortunate Mrs Anne Turner, who endeavoured to gain matrimonial
status with Sir Arthur without success. Anne
Turner was married to an eminent
connection with Sir Arthur Mannering and Mrs Anne Turner was her connection
with Frances Howard, Countess of Essex and
Poison was regarded an alien crime to the English character (Somerset 259) and Sir Edward Coke claimed that there was no record of any convictions for poisonings between the reigns of Edward III and Henry VIII, (Somerset 260), a period of about two hundred years. This is not strictly true, as Henry VIII regarded poisoning as so odious that it should be regarded as high treason and that offenders of the crime should be boiled to death in hot water, only to be immersed a little at a time to give the utmost pain. This law was repealed in the reign of Henrys son, Edward; as a result poisoning was classified as a felony, and the penalty for it was hanging. (Somerset 260).
more widespread with the discovery of mineral compounds.
The culture of poisons was reflected in the drama of the Renaissance;
Italy had a popular literary tradition with poison, as many books first found
publication there as early as 1473, when a book by Peter of Abano (1250-1312)
calledTractatus de venenis, printed in Padua.
This book on poisons was translated into French in 1593.
Works on poisons were often dedicated to Popes, such as the book written
by Peter de Marra in 1362 and entitled
Playwrights include numerous ways of bringing about death by poison for unsuspecting victims, usually restricting it to two categories, death by slow poison, or one which was quick acting. Not only could poison be put into food and drink, but it could also be administered externally affecting touch, smell and, in fact, every aperture of the body was considered a possible gateway for fatal poison. Dramatists often portray fatal poison on rapiers as a means of effecting immediate death. The pouring of poison in the sleeper's ear is another theatrical device, as in Christopher Marlowes Edward II, where Lighthorn boasts of the art (V.iv, 34-35). We are told, in William Shakespeares Hamlet, that Old Hamlet asleep in his orchard was poisoned by Claudius in his ear (Act I, sc.v) Ambroise Paré was himself accused of this in 1560 when he allegedly tried to kill king Francis II. Poison was a useful way of destroying an enemy, and could be distributed in so many ways: pomanders, fumes of torches, tapers, candles, letters, garments, drinks and food, to name but a few. Dramatists often reflected these various means of disposal in their dramas.
potion first appeared in English drama in 1578-1579 in the Latin play, Hymenaeus,
which was performed at
Poison, as a device for murder has to be one of the most evil, as premeditated and calculated stratagems have to be employed. Poison as an artistic device upon the stage became popular and convenient, this may also be attributed to the rise and fall of the Machiavel. In The Tragedy of Claudius Tiberius Nero, the playwright uses his knowledge of the poison device frequently, with poisoned crowns, drinks and apples, alluding to the corruption of James VI and I, in Jacobean London, the public theatres staged graphic revenge tragedies set in courts where devious poison plots seemed a staple of political activity.(1) Poison is also used as a symbol for the corruption within man himself, his incessant greed, ambition, hate and lust which infests not only his soul, but the life of others.
The political allusion within The Tragedy of Claudius Tiberius Nero focuses its attention on the corruption that exists within the Roman court, which allows the court of James VI and I to be viewed and examined more closely. Tiberius, like James, had his favourites, all classes alike resented the kings extravagance, his attachment to unworthy favourites, and the moral and financial corruption of the court circle.(6) The court of Rome, like the court of James, also had its spies and enemies, the plots against Tiberius reflect the plots and conspiracies against James, and in Jacobean political culture, popish plots against the Protestant monarch was an accepted, even predictable, occurrence.(7)
To evaluate poison
plots in early Jacobean drama and connect an association with James 1s
early years of reign, it must be understood that rumours of assassination
plots against the king were rife. Poison plot stories were convincing because
contempories were culturally predisposed to take such rumours seriously. Popish assassination plots against the monarch,
both rumoured and actual, had surfaced with regularity during
Rumours of poisoning
the monarch had extended beyond
In 1594, a Portuguese Jew called Rodrigo Lopez, was hanged, drawn and quartered for attempting to poison the queen; he was believed to have been paid by papist agents. Another would-be poisoner, Edmund Squire, was allegedly corrupted by Jesuits while a prisoner in Spain, Squire attempted to poison the queen by smearing poison onto the pommel of her saddle.
The corruption within the Roman court in the play represented the corruption of the court of James. It reflected the disorder and instability of the hierarchy within the court. The Tragedy of Claudius Tiberius Nero, through the character of Tiberius, attacks James as a monarch and a man, showing his judgement in others, especially favourites, to be unwise. As a king or father figure to the nation, he was portrayed as a failure, both iniquitous and unwise.
1660 ( .
Trying to stay close to the primary authority of the text has not been easy as the necessity to modernise the text was my first priority, but as spellings and punctuation have been changed, the text is now only a variant of the original. Distinguishing what exactly is meant by the word original is not an easy task; the text I have been given ofThe Tragedy of Claudius Tiberius Nero may have been corrupted by an indecipherable manuscript when first given to the publisher. During the printing process a number of printing errors may have taken place; misreading of the original script, setting wrong type, the omissions of words, or sections of the text put in the wrong order.
AsThe Tragedy of Claudius Tiberius Nero has no subsequent editions, it has been difficult to ascertain and evaluate textual intention; to use what W.W.Greg called accidentals (punctuation, spelling, capitalisation and typographical matters like the use of italics) made it difficult to determine intentional or just grammatical errors, which I have changed to make sense syntactically. Gregs substantives (words) have been changed to give a clearer understanding for the reader, though with reluctance.
Where it was not possible to find a modern equivalent for a word, that word has remained in its original form. I have altered and changed commas, semi-colons, colons and full-stops. Old spellings have been changed for modern equivalents, and where the playwright has used dashes ---, I have changed to the recognisable ellipsis . I have divided the play into five acts and divided each act into scenes, as the original text had none. Because the exercise was to modernise the text, I have also changed Aye for I. For the sake of clarification, I have added stage directions to make the text more lucid for the reader; these I have kept to a minimal. Where the playwright has written prose, I have left, as it is often used to indicate feigned madness and status. Obvious errors made by the playwright have been altered.
I have attempted to provide readers with a modernised edition of the text with editorial emendations. My intention was not to eliminate authorial intention but in trying to produce a text as near to the original as possible it could be argued that by editing the text, I have done so. I have included a glossary of words changed and where possible given a meaning to the words.* Because of limited time, there are important and interesting issues omitted from this introduction.
A, (2002) The Politics of
T. L., Bradford. C.W., Sondergard.
D, The Early Seventeenth Century 1600-1660 (
Magnusson. M (General ed.), (1995) Chambers Biographical Dictionary (Endinburgh: W & R Chambers Ltd.)
S. (ed.), 1980 The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians:
S. (ed.), (1980) The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians:
A. (1997) Unnatural Murder: Poison at the Court of James
Stranznicky. M, Reading the stage: Margaret Cavendish and Commonwealth closet drama http://www.geocities.com/hargrange/cavendishstranz.html
S. J. (1980) Renaissance Self-Fashioning:
From More to Shakespeare (
D. C., (1994) Textual Scholarship: An
A. (ed.), (2000) The Renaissance Text: Theory Editing Textuality
G. (1956) The Book of Poisons (
B. H. (2001) The Notorious Astrological
B, (1965) Cast of Ravens: The Strang
Case of Sir Thomas Overbury (
Tiberius Tiberius is the main protagonist in the play.
Tiberius was born in
According to Suetonius, Tiberius was strong and heavily built, with a well proportioned body; he had eyes that could see in the dark and liked to grow his hair long over the nape of his neck. He was also a handsome man. Tiberius, apparently, had an unusual talent; he could, with his left hand, poke his finger through a sound, newly plucked apple or into the skull of a boy or young man.!
Tiberius was married to Vipsania Agrippina, the daughter of Marcus Agrippa, (they had a son, Drusus). He was forced to divorce her in 12BC and quickly marry the daughter of Augustus, Julia. Julia was later banished to Pandataria in 2 BC where she starved herself to death.
most of his adulthood as a soldier in
In the play, Tiberius
is the protagonist. He is shown as
a callous, cruel, scheming murderer. Tiberius
dies at the hands of his nephew, Caligula, who succeeds him as emperor.
When Tiberius actually died on
Livia Grand-daughter of
Agrippina Married to Germanicus and mother to Drusus,
Nero and Caligula.
Germanicus Husband to Agrippina, father to Drusus, Nero and Caligula. Brave, valiant and a respected soldier. Germanicus is poisoned on the instructions of Tiberius who was jealous of him.
Macro Lieutenant to
Vonones An Armenian, killed with his son by Germanicus.
Ghost of Germanicus
Ad Lectores Latin: to the readers
Agriuarij original spelling
Briaris mythical monster
Burganetto burgonet, a piece of armour
Cassia any tree of the genus Cassia, bearing leaves from which senna is
Cato famous censor and author, idealised as the pattern of an ancient
Cog type of ship
Corslet a piece of armour
Disse the underworld
Endiapred original spelling
Fabij members of the Fabian family
Fact in its older sense of criminal deed
French-Greeks: there were Greek colonies in southern
Habergeon a piece of armour
Had-iwist had I known
a relation of
Iustest justice? most just?
Leach old word for doctor
Lucullus a Roman
Manet Latin: he stays
Martichora some species of monster
Maugre in spite
Nune changed to arm
Omnes Latin: everybody
Ouertoylde over toiled
Palphraies type of horse
Panomphea just gossip
Pharsalie a big battle
Pigmy original spelling
Quire meaning a ream of paper / choir
an order of minor
Quoined original spelling
Royaliize original spelling
Scaevola a Roman who had his hand cut off
Scipio a Roman general
Sithian Sythian: a person from Sythia
Sophonisba Carthaginian women
Syphax a general
Veruice very nice?
Vtican like Cato, a censor
The Jew of
1592 Edward II C. Marlowe
1592 Roxanna W. Alabaster
The Massacre at
1597 Romeo and Juliet W. Shakespeare
1600 Grim the Collier of Croydon W. Haughton
1602 How a Man May Choose a Good Wife T. Heywood
1602 Satiromastix T. Dekker
1603 Hamlet W. Shakespeare
1604 The Honest Whore (The Converted Courtesan) T. Dekker
1605 The Fair Maid of Bristow Anon.
1607 The Tragedy of Claudius Tiberius Nero Anon.
1607 Nero M. Gwinne
1607 The Puritan Anon. (T. Middleton?)
1607 The RevengersTragedy T. Middleton
1607 The Devils Charter B. Barnes
1607 The Fleer E. Sharpham
1608 Law Tricks J. Day (G. Wilkins?)
1609 Every Woman in Her Humour Anon.
1609 The Two Maids of Moreclacke R. Armin
1609 The Turk (Muleassees the Turk) J. Mason
1609 Cymbeline W. Shakespeare
1612 The White Devil J. Webster
1613 The Knight of the Burning Pestle F. Beaumont (J. Fletcher?)
Four Prentices of
1616 Four Plays in One J. Fletcher
A Chaste Maid in
The Knight of
1620 The Costly Whore Anon.
1621 Women Beware Women T. Middleton
The Duke of
1623 The Duchess of Malfi J. Webster
1626 The Maids Revenge J. Shirley
1628 Lodovick Sforza R. Gomersall
1628 Julia Agrippina T. May
1631 The Traitor J. Shirley
1634 The Shepherds Holiday J. Rutter
1639 The Lovesick Court R. Brome