Thomas Nabbes's Hannibal and Scipio: Sources and Theme
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The question of the sources for Hannibal and Scipio is intimately related to the question of the play's theme. Nabbes's reference to 'a former play' has proved a barren lead, since it is impossible to determine the identity of the play to which he was referring. A comparison of the possible non-dramatic sources with the play suggests that Livy was the playwright's principal source, although North's Plutarch was probably used as well. Perhaps of most interest is the likelihood that the phrase in the prefatory matter to the play, 'The singer of the Punic warr,' refers not, as Bullen suggested, to Silius Italicus, but to Petrarch. For although, like Hannibal and Scipio, both the Africa and the Punica are based on Livy, Nabbes's play has more in common thematically with Petrarch's epic than with that of Silius. Both Nabbes and Petrarch maintain the Ciceronian distinction between political and contemplative virtues, and Nabbes differentiates his two heroes on the basis of this distinction. The result is that Scipio is revealed as an epic hero, Hannibal as a tragic hero, and the play as an attempt at a kind of 'epic-tragedy.'
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