Seneca and Nero by Thomas Cole
This Play is the copyright of the Author and must NOT be Performed without the Author's PRIOR consent
Place: Rome, primarily
Time: First Century AD
At stage right is the emperor’s quarters: a couch and achair
At upstage center is a guidepost with a street sign on it: "Via Lata"
At stage left is Seneca’s study: a table and two chairs
Downstage is bare
CITIZEN ONE and CITIZEN TWO address the audience
We two are citizens of Rome.
We are thoughtful. We are curious. We are sociable.
We are opinionated. We are well informed.
We are ignorant. We are gossips.
We are your guides.
Here, where the two of us usually meet, is an ancient throroughfare of Rome, Via Lata. A
A broad way.
CITIZEN ONE and CITIZEN TWO move to Seneca’s study.
This is the study of Seneca. His full name is Lucius Annaeus Seneca. Philosopher,
A very rich man.
Seneca’s study is a room in the emperor’s palace. The furnishing is simple, consisting of a table and two chairs.
CITIZEN ONE and CITIZEN TWO move to the emperor’s quarters.
Here are the emperor’s quarters.
Rather just a tiny part of the emperor’s lavish quarters. A sofa and a chair.
CITIZEN ONE and CITIZEN TWO move to downstage.
And now we are downstage.
The action of the play occurs not just at Via Lata, Seneca’s study and the emperor’s
But also here, downstage, which is bare. Downstage left, downstage right, and center.
Downstage is where the dramatis personae of this play go to speak to you, the audience,
You will play different roles. Sometimes you will just be the audience. At other times
you will be addressed as if you were a particular person, a Roman mob, or the City of
So be flexible.
Don’t worry. There are no lines for you to memorize.
The time of our drama is in what you call the First Century AD, during the reigns of the
Emperor Claudius and the Emperor Nero.
The location of the action of the play is the City of Rome, primarily.
Let us begin.
CITIZEN ONE and CITIZEN TWO go to Via Lata.
This scene takes place at Via Lata and downstage.
CITIZEN ONE and CITIZEN TWO
Seneca, the proud philosopher! The rich philosopher!
His wealth rivals the emperor’s!
He is a hypocrite!
He praises courage with his pen and tongue, but does he act courageously?
No. He bows like a slave to his superiors.
The great Stoic! Divine Reason should rule over the animal passions, he proclaims.
Never let your emotions get the better of you, he says.
But I’ve never seen a man weep more than Seneca at a friend’s misfortune. So much for
Have you ever seen anyone more careful of his reputation than Seneca?
He says, “Follow nature.” But his life style exceeds the needs of nature. Why does he
live and entertain so lavishly? His furniture is the finest. He serves the tastiest food.
His delicious wines are older than the guests who drink them. The numerous slaves who
wait on his guests are richly adorned. Each plate served is a work of art.
Have you seen the earrings that Seneca gave to his friend, Paulina? They are dazzling and
worth a fortune!
I have heard that Seneca owns magnificent estates across the seas.
He has so many slaves that he doesn’t know the names of most of them.
CITIZEN ONE, CITIZEN TWO
(addressing the audience)
How do I, Seneca, defend myself against their charges? I am not cured, and will never be
cured, of my maladies. I am in the company of Plato, Epicurus and Zeno, who were
accused of not living according to their philosophies.
I am not a wise man and never claimed to be. I am not among the worst of men but I am
better than most. I am not the fastest runner, but I stay in training. I make war upon
vices, my own first. I make a little progress every day by observing and correcting my
own errors. I fail to reach the summit, but the struggle itself gives me a taste of happiness.
Critics, I advise you: Tend to your own failings and thereby earn a little happiness. Your
taunts are less than useless and you poison yourselves with malice. You will never
prevent me from leading the life I should lead.
Everyone knows he was banished to Corsica.
Eight years in exile.
Emperor Claudius b-b-b-b banished him.
For committing adultery with Julia Livilla, the sister of Caligula and Agrippina.
Yes. Eight years in exile on the craggy island of Corsica, an excellent place to practice
Stoicism. And I did. I studied, I wrote. I consoled others. I consoled my mother with a
letter. I consoled myself by reminding myself that every adversity I face is a God-given
opportunity to make myself stronger. Nevertheless, I yearned to return to Rome to be in
the thick of things.
Emperor Claudius had banished me, but after six years of exile I attempted to obtain his
mercy through flattery. My plea was a waste of ink and parchment and so I stayed on
Perhaps that was for the best. I am happy enough on Corsica. I am making progress as a
philosopher and writer. Better to be hidden far from the troubles of Rome, far from
spitefulness and envy. Wiser to remain on Corsica and continue my studies in peace.
For me as a philosopher, whether I stay on Corsica or return to Rome is a matter of
indifference. Still, I am an ambitious man, ambitious to do good, to be beneficial to the
empire. Of what use is the philosopher who stands to the side and does no more than
observe, write and prattle?
Dear Agrippina, mistress of Emperor Claudius, you come to my rescue during the eighth
year of my exile. But is this salvation or damnation?
[End of Extract]