The earliest Roman tragedies only survive in fragmentary form and are, therefore, a difficult body of evidence to analyse. This aside, Mario Erasmo attempts to trace the evolution of Roman tragedy from its earliest proponents to Seneca in the mid-1st century AD.
Extracts from writers such as Livius, Naevius, Ennius, Pacuvius and Accius are given in English translation as Erasmo examines how tragedy became metatragedy and how off-stage theatricality competed with the theatre. Arguing that tragedy predated theatricality, he explores how tragedy became theatricalised, how this permeated into society, and vice versa, how the theatricality of the cultural context influenced what was performed on stage. What he reveals is a system of coexisting and competing realities off and on stage and, as Roman life became more theatrical, how this sought to undermine the theatre.