The desire to trace a connection between the ancient Greek tragedians and the playwrights of the Elizabethan and Jacobean theater in England, especially Shakespeare, has been a durable one, though one that has met with comparably durable skepticism. Older efforts to assert that Shakespeare was intimately familiar with Greek tragedy have long been discredited. Some more recent critics have honorably affirmed the value of comparing Athenian and Shakespearean drama on a level independent of any claim of actual influence; but for most of the 20th century, the consensus has been that insofar as Shakespeare and his colleagues had any meaningful contact with ancient tragedy, it was through Seneca. Since the 1970s, though, there has been a small but persistent, sophisticated, and tightly argued series of cases made for the specific influence of the ancient Greek dramatic texts on specific Renaissance plays. This paper assesses the strongest of these, and proposes a more systematic study of a largely neglected dimension to that topic: the numerous direct quotations from Greek tragedy in non-dramatic Renaissance texts which Renaissance dramatists (and members of their audience) would have been likely to read.

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