Seneca’s Medea in Republican Spain
: precedents, creation and impact of its 1933 production

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


On the 18th of June 1933, the Roman Theatre in Mérida, once the Roman Emerita Augusta, witnessed the performance of Seneca‘s Medea by Spain‘s leading theatrical company, the Xirgu-Borràs Company. This crucial event was attended by the Prime Minister of the Second Spanish Republic alongside two ministers, the Ambassador of Italy, many MPs and a great number of intellectuals. At the Roman Theatre they joined many men and women of Mérida and the surrounding region of Extremadura to witness a performance and cultural republican ritual that has remained inscribed in Spain‘s cultural and social memory. 
This production of Seneca's Medea in republican Spain stood at the centre of pivotal discussions on issues such as national identity, national reconfiguration, regime building, socialist, liberal and fascist ideologies, secularism, Women's Rights and new European aesthetics of theatre making. This thesis intends to explore, analyse, clarify and understand this. 
It is divided into five chapters. The first reconstructs what took place in Mérida on the 18th of June 1933, the day of the performance of Seneca's Medea, its genesis and impact. It is the most detailed reconstruction of the performance of Seneca's Medea in 1933 Spain to date. Chapter II answers the integral question of the contemporary Spanish understanding of Seneca. This is explored by assessing the previous knowledge and reception of Seneca until 1933, its shift in perception towards a reappraisal of Seneca's tragic credentials and its role within a broader discourse of republican national identity. Chapter III analyses how Seneca's Medea fits into the active development of such a republican identity: the national reconfiguration in the building of the republican regime. It does this by reassessing the production of Seneca's Medea within the frame of the Republic's cultural and educational agenda, its promotion of republican citizenship and the creation of a National Theatre. Chapter IV discusses the implications and responses provoked by the performance on the republican secularisation of Spain and the development of constitutional rights for women. Finally, Chapter V establishes the 1933 production of Seneca's Medea in Spain as an essential example of the broader aesthetic movement of theatrical renewal that had spread throughout Europe and revolutionised the stage. This thesis demonstrates that the ancient tragedy Medea, by Lucius Annaeus Seneca, served as an essential tool to reassess, redress and reconfigure fundamental ideological, national, cultural, political, civic and aesthetic questions of the Second Spanish Republic.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorEdith Hall (Supervisor) & Ismene Lada-Richards (Supervisor)

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