The Tragedy of Nero is an anonymously written play from 1624 and the subject of John Bellairs's aborted doctoral thesis, itself entitled "A Critical Edition of 'The Tragedy of Nero' (Anon. 1624)"[1].


It is unknown when or why Bellairs initially chose the play for his doctoral thesis, though the fact it involved Nero probably had precious little to do with the decision process:

[John's] field of specialization was Jacobean drama, and choosing an unedited or little-edited text and making a new and more scholarly edition of it is a time-honored Ph.D. project.  ...there may have been something about it that made it an attractive subject from John's point of view, but somehow I doubt that the title character was it.  Knowing John, I suspect it was more likely a superabundance of silly lines[2].
Whatever his interpretation of the source text or however much of his own work was completed is now lost. Once he received the letter accepting Saint Fidgeta for publication, "he burned the microfilm...he was working on and never looked back.  (That’s how he told it to me, anyway.)[3]"

Years later ("about 1974") Bellairs was asked why he never completed his work on his doctorate:

He replied that it was a long story, beginning with the sudden death of his mentor at Chicago, but mainly because he was tired of the whole academic process. I know he was also sick of teaching, and by that time in his life he knew he was never going to return to it. He also recalled a remark of Frank O'Malley's to the effect that a doctoral thesis in English consisted of finding some obscure 18th century English author and blowing him up all out of proportion.[4]
Bellairs's mentor was quite possibly Robert Cecil Bald (1901-65), whose "Seminar on Researching Elizabethan Drama" course Bellairs took in Chicago and whose death would have occurred during the time in question. Bellairs ultimately decided the dissertation, and the doctoral requirements on the whole, were not as important as they once were and, with Saint Fidgeta on the horizon, made it official: he wanted to write.


Some of the historical names from the play were later used in Bellairs's writing, the most notable being Melichus.  References to Sporus and Nero's Golden House also appear in Saint Fidgeta.


  1. University of Chicago Career Counseling and Placement booklet (Jul. 14, 1966).
  2. Correspondence with Charles Bowen.
  3. Correspondence with Priscilla Bellairs.
  4. Correspondence with Alfred Myers.