The Interplay Between Aeschylus and Seneca in James Thomson’s Agamemnon
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James Thomson (1700–1748) is usually remembered as the author of the cycle of poems The Seasons. Yet Thomson’s legacy also comprises no fewer than five tragedies and a masque, all of which are set in a historically distant scenario mirroring contemporary political issues. Three of his tragedies, Sophonisba (1730), Agamemnon (1738) and the later work Coriolanus (1746), all derive their subject matter from classical antiquity. I focus here on Thomson’s only extant play engaging with an ancient Greek myth1 with a view to analysing how the author makes use of the classical sources at his disposal, notably Aeschylus’s Agamemnon and Seneca’s version of this same tragedy.
The play’s sustained dialogue with Greek and Latin texts represents a much neglected aspect of its significance within the history of eighteenth-century drama: a significance which has usually been identified by critics with the text’s allusions to contemporary politics.2And yet the recourse to classical sources is the...