Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Rome. Center of the ancient Roman Empire, which is under the rule of the emperor Tiberius at the time in which the play is set. The sense of intrigue that surrounds the machinations of Sejanus to discredit the legitimate heirs to the throne of the Roman Empire is captured in the careful juxtaposition of settings within the capital city. Factions supporting Sejanus and those opposed to him meet in the chambers of the emperor’s palace, at Sejanus’s home, in various gardens, on city streets, and at the home of his principal rival, the widow Agrippina, mother to three sons who stand in line to inherit the throne. In a key scene at the center of the play, the parties clash inside the Senate.

*Temple of Apollo

*Temple of Apollo. Roman temple dedicated to the god of wisdom, where Tiberius calls the Senate into session in order to humiliate and discredit Sejanus publicly. Tiberius’s choice of a temple dedicated to the god of wisdom can be seen as an act of wisdom on his part, although many readers may see a certain irony in having such a politically calculated decision masked as a move that is officially declared to be in the best interests of the empire.

Sejanus His Fall Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Barrish, Jonas A. Introduction to Sejanus, by Ben Jonson. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1965. Argues that Jonson moves between closet drama and popular theater but shows a departure from other contemporary playwrights by remaining faithful to his sources. Also shows how Jonson coats his history in a morality play format and reduces his characters to moral types.

Engel, Wilson F. “The Iron World of Sejanus.” Renaissance Drama 11 (1980): 95-114. Shows how Jonson used a diverse collection of classical sources but wove them into a dynamic and coherent plot, producing a drama that vividly depicts the viciousness of a political age.

Lever, J. W. The Tragedy of State. New York: Methuen, 1971. Devotes a chapter to Roman tragedy, covering Jonson’s Sejanus His Fall. Jonson is seen as different from other playwrights of his time in his concern for the political instead of a concentration on heroic personalities.

Platz, Norbert. “‘By Oblique Glance of His Licentious Pen’: Ben Jonson’s Christian Humanist Protest Against the Counter-Renaissance Conception of the State in Sejanus.” In Recent Research on Ben Jonson. Salzburg, Austria: Institut für Englische Sprache und Literatur, Universität Salzburg, 1978. Shows how Jonson used Roman source material to present an analysis of Elizabethan government. The play also shows how the failure to follow Christian humanist principles adversely affects the state.

Sweeney, John G., III. “Sejanus and the People’s Beastly Rage.” English Literary History 48 (1981): 61-82. Shows how Jonson wrote a play that distances itself from the audience and does not give the viewers any characters with whom they may identify.