The English theatrical repertoire in the eighteenth century was dominated by plays that appealed to the audience’s sympathies, showing characters experiencing everyday dilemmas rather than debating the fate of mythical kingdoms. Seneca was therefore a less popular choice for translators, and those playwrights who did make use of his works transformed them into sentimental dramas. The increasing prevalence of stage naturalism in combination with the philhellenic movement ultimately led A. W. Schlegel to denounce Seneca as untheatrical: ‘frigid and bombastic’, his characters ‘colossal, misshapen marionettes’. For Schlegel’s contemporary Heinrich von Kleist, however, the marionette represented artistic perfection. Kleist’s hyper-tragedy Penthesilea challenged prevailing views of both classical antiquity and dramaturgical propriety.
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