Thomas May?
{May's interest in similar subject matter such as Cleopatra (1626) and Julia Agrippina (1628) make him a possible candidate, but the style of Nero and focus on a male main character make the ascription uncertain.)


Published 1624
Part of Nero is quoted in The Little French Lawyer of 1619

a synoptic, alphabetical character list


A "ghost character." Nero's late mother and victim, still the subject of gossip that her relationship with her son was incestuous. Nero, recalling his performance of Orestes, confuses her name with that of Clytemnestra; at the point of his suicide, he fears her vengeful ghost will be waiting for him.


Gentleman, and friend of Petronius who has fallen in love with Poppaea. Petronius arranges an encounter with the Empress, whom he fails to impress. When she rejects him in favor of her current lover, Nimphidius, he forswears love. He brings the news to Seneca and Petronius of the worsening fire in Rome. Not implicated in the conspiracy, he survives to recognize the likely success of Nimphidius after Nero's fall, and offers to support him. Nimphidius names him Tribune, not realizing Antonius plans to betray him to Galba's agents. Both are captured by Galba's friends and condemned to death.


A "ghost character." Listed by Melichus as one of the conspirators against Nero.


A "ghost character." Reported by Tigellinus to Nero for frowning at the Emperor's performance as Orestes.


A wise man, and stoic philosopher, who fails to flatter Nero's verse-history of Rome. He is sent into exile by Tigellinus on Nero's orders. He learns that he has been reprieved from death for criticizing the Emperor, and he is heartily glad to escape from Rome. (Known to history, and possibly the audience, as former tutor to Lucan, and probable author of "Seneca's" Octavia.)


A "ghost character." A minstrel in Nero's favor, he is described riding alongside the Emperor in his chariot.


Petronius's "wench." Present with Antonius when the Emperor's death sentence is brought to Petronius; she debates the pleasures of death with him, and is reluctant to join him in his Epicurean afterlife.


Nero's secretary, one of the sycophants who indulge his excesses. He deserts him in the final crisis.


One of the conspirators against Nero. After the conspiracy is discovered, he dares to denounce Nero's crimes to his face and is condemned to death. See "SCEVINUS."


A "ghost character." His rebellion against Nero in Spain leads to his becoming Emperor at the end of the play. His agents take Rome, to popular support, and in the final scene, his unnamed friends condemn Nimphidius and Antonius to death.


Galba's agents are described as active in Rome to prepare for his succession to popular acclaim. In the final scene, his unnamed friends take power on his behalf and condemn Nimphidius and Antonius to death, the former for treachery to Nero, and the latter for treachery to the former.


A "ghost character." Reported by Tigellinus to Nero for laughing at the Emperor's performance as Orestes.


Non-speaking character. Friend to Petronius, named only in the opening scene where Petronius discourses on hedonism and Antonius reveals his passion for Poppaea.


Poet of the Pharsalia, nephew to Seneca and hostile to Nero. He laments the passing of the Roman republic and is one of the conspirators to dethrone the Emperor. He personally resents his own poetry being suppressed by Nero's jealousy. He falls into the conspiracy and is taken into custody with Scevinus by Nimphidius. The play does not depict his historical suicide.


A freedman and still servant to Scevinus. Ungrateful and disloyal to a good master, he spies on the conspirators to advance his own career. He decides to betray them directly to Nero after the fire and when the momentum of revolt gains pace. The conspiracy is seen to fail because of his treachery.


A "ghost character." Listed by Melichus as one of the conspirators against Nero.


One of Nero's servants and sycophants. During the fire, he brings Nero the news that his own palace is aflame.


An egotistical Emperor and an exhibitionist. His self-indulgence and cruelty make him the worst of tyrants. He has already murdered his first wife and his mother Agrippina amongst others. The play begins after Nero's return to Rome after a wasteful vacation in Greece. His obsessive love of sports, the performing arts, greed and sexual depravity encourage a conspiracy against his rule, led by Piso and Scevinus. Nero brags about his achievements and demands flattery from his followers. Critics are executed or banished. Rivals, as Lucan, are suppressed. He is petulant and oblivious to the growing hostility towards him. His blood lust grows beyond single deaths, and he fantasizes about the mass destruction of Rome itself. Rome burns. He plays the timbrell as he watches, growing delusional that he is watching his own Troy. Bereaved victims of the fire entertain him with their suffering. He later quarrels with his wife, who has discovered his effeminate marriage to the eunuch Sporus; he resents her jealousy. Melichus's betrayal of the conspiracy first makes him aware how vulnerable he is, and he afterwards becomes more paranoid. He kills his wife in a sudden rage when she tries to intercede on behalf of a Young Man he has condemned. His grief for her takes the shape of threatening a massacre to accompany her in death. He becomes complacent after the conspiracy is frustrated and is scornful at the news of the uprising of Vindex in Gaul. When later news of Galba's uprising in Spain reaches him, he has a tantrum (offstage). He is deserted by his flatterers and accompanied in his flight by Tigellinus. He blames Tigellinus for his unpopularity; an ambiguous stage direction suggests that at this point Tigellinus also abandons him. Two unnamed Romans bring him news of the gruesome death sentence passed on him by Galba and leave him to die alone. He ends his life dreading the revenge of his mother's ghost and the waiting Furies.


The lowborn son of a freedwoman, Nimphidius has risen to become current court favorite and lover of Poppaea. But he is using her to gain political influence. He relishes Nero's excesses, especially the fire, and his lusts will cause his own destruction without a plotter's intervention. After the conspiracy is discovered, he is sent to arrest Lucan and Scevinus. In a long debate with Scevinus, his rehearsal of the emperor's great achievements contrasts with Scevinus's political idealism. Nero ignores his warning against complacency after the conspiracy is put down. Still, he plans to take power when Nero panics at the news of Galba's revolt and his inevitable defeat. He names Antonius Tribune during the anarchy following Nero's flight and believes the Emperor has escaped to Egypt. Captured by Galba's friends and, with Antonius, he is condemned to death at play's end.


A "ghost character." Poppaea's former husband, forced to divorce her in Nero's favor, and sent to govern Lucitania by way of exile. Recalled by Poppaea as her true love after a chance encounter with the Young Man who resembles him. Historically, he became Emperor himself after Galba.


Pleasure-loving poet of the Satyricon, now out of favor and living away from Nero's court. He upholds his Epicurean standards throughout the play and contrives a meeting with Poppaea for his lovesick friend Antonius. He deplores Nero's bad taste and denounces his bad acting, but he also defends the theatre on principal to Seneca. He laments for Rome during the fire. Not actively involved in plotting the conspiracy against Nero, he is nevertheless implicated by his enemy, Tigellinus, and forced to commit suicide. With his Physician's assistance, he plans to make his death as leisurely and civilized as possible, to defy the Emperor's malice.


Physician to Petronius, who instructs him how best to commit suicide.


The conspirators invite him to head their plot to dethrone Nero and succeed him as head of state. Piso embraces the values of earlier republican Rome. When the conspiracy is discovered, he commits suicide in the noble tradition.


Nero's Empress, formerly his mistress during her marriage to Otho, and most recently unfaithful to him with the upstart Nimphidius. Her marriage is unhappy, and she frequently provokes Nero with criticism. Poppaea has no illusions about her husband's previous crimes, including incest, or current excesses, but she does not realize that her lover is merely manipulating her in pursuit of power. She has attracted the love of Antonius, but she rejects his advances in favor of her current lover Nimphidius. She is struck by the chance resemblance of a condemned Young Man to her true love, Otho, and in attempting to intercede for him, is killed by Nero in a sudden rage that he immediately regrets.


A "ghost character." Listed by Melichus as one of the conspirators against Nero.


Unnamed Romans meet early in the play and denigrate Nero's behavior. They scorn his exhibitionism and compare him unfavorably to his noble predecessor, Augustus. Other unnamed Romans grieve over the bodies of their relations, which Nero observes and relishes as part of the entertainment the fire affords him. Two other unnamed Romans bring Nero news of the death sentence passed on him by Galba, and quickly escape, to let him die alone.


A "ghost character." Captain of the Guard, said by Piso to be in support of their conspiracy against Nero.


A "ghost character." Listed by Melichus as one of the conspirators against Nero.


An outspoken critic of the Emperor and one of the leaders of the conspiracy to remove him. A republican by temperament, he recalls Nero's previous bloody deeds and current shamelessness in his many laughable attempts at artistic and sporting glory. The fire prompts his change from future plotting to immediate action. When his freedman, Melichus, betrays the conspiracy, he is arrested by Nimphidius and lectures him at length on his idealistic political philosophy. He defends his loyalty to the state and suggests that his opposition to Nero and his cronies is an example of pure patriotism. He is sentenced to death. (The historical character's full name was Flavius Scaevinus. It seems likely that the playwright has derived the sketchy character of "Flavius" from this; the more probable given the combination of circumstances that Scevinus is not seen again after his arrest, and that Flavius's defiance of the Emperor to his face, leading to his death sentence, is uncharacteristically eloquent of the minor character, typical of Scevinus.)


Statesman and stoic philosopher, formerly Nero's tutor. He recalls the better days of Nero's youth and laments the decline of his character into tyranny. Not directly involved in the conspirators' plotting initially, he is sympathetic to their political ideals. Implicated in the conspiracy only after its defeat, he is an exemplary figure of stoic resignation in his death.


Two unnamed friends who lament Seneca's fate. They are true disciples of his stoicism, mourning their loss of him while agreeing with him that his death will take him to greater enlightenment.


A "ghost character." Nero's castrated male "wife," Sporus is greatly resented by Poppaea. She learns of Nero's flamboyant "wedding" to the eunuch and jealously challenges him to deny a detailed description. Nero turns his anger on her: the occasion is a turning point in the collapse of their partnership.


Loyal and ruthless commander of Nero's Praetorian Guard. He is responsible for tracking down and eliminating the conspirators, a duty he turns into an extensive witch-hunt. He takes a personal delight in incriminating the innocent Petronius, amongst others. When Nero flees Rome, he accompanies him after other "friends" desert him. Nero blames the people's hatred on his advancement of Tigellinus; an ambiguous stage direction suggests that he too deserts Nero at this point, leaving the Emperor to die alone.


A "ghost character." Reported by Tigellinus to Nero for sleeping through his performance as Orestes. The future emperor escapes punishment however.


A "ghost character." Leader of the first rebellion against Nero in Gaul. Nero complacently dismisses news of his uprising.


His uncanny resemblance to her former husband, Otho, now exiled to Lusitania, amazes Poppaea and forces her to contemplate her lost love. He has been brought before the Emperor after the conspiracy, charged with lamenting the death of Piso. Nero condemns him; Poppaea intercedes but her intervention throws the emperor into a sudden rage during which Nero kills her.