Tuesday, July 30, 2013

See Thy Nero Shine

We’re a bit slow in our spring cleaning this year. Only recently did we undertake some minor website clean-up as well as some cleaning out the email account’s inbox. One item we found was a September 2003 email from Ms. Tracey Siddle who at the time was working toward an MA at Sheffield Hallam University.
For one of my units, we are doing ‘Editing a Renaissance Play’ and my choice is the anonymous Tragedy of Nero (1624.) Whilst scrolling around I noticed that this is the same topic that Mr Bellairs did his Doctoral Thesis on. I would subsequently be extremely grateful for any information proferred or if you could even direct me to a copy of the thesis so that I might glean what insight I can.

Being somewhat interested ourselves in the ambiguous nature of the play, we asked Siddle at the time how prominent the play was.
I haven't come across any other theses or interest. In fact, although it is mentioned on databases occasionally, and a few copies still exist in various world-wide libraries, nobody else seems particularly informative when it comes to the unfortunate Nero. Still, this bodes well when it comes to an original contribution to the field of literary criticism for me, but it does make research somewhat difficult. I have not yet truly begun to research this topic, but my deadline is in January, and shall be published on the Early Modern Literary Studies (EMLS) Journal website.

We had to laugh a bit at the idea of her being only the second person to ever show an interest in the play, especially since it was some forty years after John tried. 

Little has changed in the last ten years in regard to what we know. John began work on this endeavour during his days at the University Chicago but how much research he did or how much was ever written is presumably lost – as we had to tell Ms. Siddle at the time. Blame it on a fidgettine miracle, of sorts. We were told that with the publication of Saint Fidgeta that John burnt the dissertation and "never looked back."

Well...in a way we are looking back, somewhat curious if anything ever happened with Ms. Siddle’s research. This took us to the EMLS website and a search of past journal contents.

We found a page containing “edited modern-spelling etexts of Renaissance plays, prepared in connection with the Editing a Renaissance Play module of Sheffield Hallam University's MA in English Studies” and third on the list we find the names Nero and Siddle, and a date (2004).

The etext of the play is fairly lengthy, coming in about 180 pages if we were to print the bloody thing. What we presume was Siddle’s work are the copious footnotes, 109 separate comments explaining the text of the play – everything from making sense of similarly-named characters to annotating historical names.  For example, Lucius Mummius was one of the first to race horses at the Games, some two centuries before Nero.  Consider that as you mull over your breakfast this morning.  It’s an interesting read and we have to belatedly congratulate Ms. Siddle on her work.  We can only imagine the time it took to find and make sense of presumably what were numerous references.

Since we've gotten this far we might as well look up something about the play. According to notes we found at a University of Victoria English Renaissance Drama class, The Tragedy of Nero begins with Rome celebrating Nero's victory over the Greeks:
The Romans criticize Nero for his theatrics and his "unmanly" ways. Eventually, because of Nero's cruelty and extravagance, several prominent Roman citizens decide to plot a coup, led by Piso. Nymphidius plans his own plot to overthrow Nero. Piso's plan is overheard by Milichus, Scevinus' freed man, who tells Nero. The conspirators are executed or commit suicide. Soon, a rebel from France, Galba, threatens to come to Rome. As Galba nears, Nero decides to commit suicide. The play ends with Galba seeing Nero's dead body and killing Nymphidius.

These notes also purport The Tragedy of Nero of being a closet drama – one not intended for performance – and was possibly adapted and released in 1675 as Piso's Conspiracy.  (For what it’s worth we touched upon Nero’s best-remembered habit – that is, fiddling - in a post from a few years ago.)

One last thing ... we mentioned how Siddle provided commentary about the characters and their importance. Even for John to not have completed his dissertation, having been immersed in Nero’s world for as long as he was made for some interesting references later on. Chiefly, Milichus (or Melichus) was a servant whose name was later used as Prospero’s chief enemy in The Face in the Frost. Sporus, the name of Nero's castrated he-bride, was the papal name taken by a priest in chapter five’s history of some of the seedier parts of the Catholic church as found in Saint Fidgeta and Other Parodies.

And that’s your history lesson for today.  Back to cleaning out the inbox.

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