Britannicus: (original name Claudius Tiberius Germanicus, c AD 41-55) Son of Messalina and the emperor Claudius I, heir apparent to the throne. Through the scheming of his mother, Agrippina, he was denied succession to the throne. It is believed that Nero, his half brother, poisoned Britannicus at a banquet. The name Britannicus was given to him by the senate because the conquest of Britain took place at about the time of his birth. He is the subject of a tragedy (1669) by Racine.”

Britannicus: A tragedy by Racine. The material of the play is derived from Tacitus. Smitten with Junia, the beloved of his half brother Britannicus, the emperor Nero attempts to win her; unsuccessful, he causes Britannicus to be arrested and poisons him. Junia escapes from the palace and becomes a vestal virgin. The play abounds in political subplots and marks Racine’s first challenge of Corneille on the older playwright’s home ground: political drama.

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

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