Friends of Antiquity Sunday Series seminar

Presenter: Dr Shushma Malik

Mary Stocks’ 1933 play Hail Nero!: A Reinterpretation of History in Three Acts offers a very different portrait of the emperor Nero to that of the ancient sources. He is not, Stocks posits, a tyrannical murder and arsonist, but a kind, dedicated emperor, and a champion of the urban poor. Taking the growth of revisionist historiography in the late-nineteenth century as a cue to spread an alternative vision of Nero to a wider audience, Stocks’ Nero mirrors her own desire to champion the underdog and achieve progressive change in society. As Stocks campaigned for the rights of women and helped to establish the first birth control clinic outside of London in the UK (1926), her Nero too wished to promote the role of women in his own society, and made it his life’s work to improve the living conditions of the urban poor with schemes including a holiday camp in Antium and state-funded vaccinations against disease. Given the fairly recent resurrection of Nero’s association with the Antichrist in literature and popular culture, e.g. F.W. Farrar’s Darkness and Dawn or Scenes in the Days of Nero (1891), which inspired Sienkiewicz’s Quo Vadis (1895), and Barrett’s Sign of the Cross (1895), I will consider what Stocks hoped to achieve from her vindication of Nero, and how its interbellum context facilitated its creation and moderate success.


Forgan Smith Building (1),
St Lucia campus