Shakespeare’s Rome: Republic and Empire

Paul A. Cantor, Shakespeare’s Rome: Republic and Empire (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017)

Summary from the Publisher:

This innovative work examines the political and historical settings of Shakespeare’s Roman plays Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra, with frequent references to Julius Caesar. The author believes that in these plays Shakespeare not only presented fully realized portraits of individuals but also provided a convincing portrait of Rome itself in different eras of its history.

Where many critics have assumed that Shakespeare was not interested in Rome or knew little about the subject, Professor Cantor takes seriously the Romanness of the Roman plays. In giving a full picture of Shakespeare’s Rome he contrasts the austere Republic of Coriolanus, with its narrow horizons and martial virtues, and the cosmopolitan Empire of Antony and Cleopatra, with its “immortal longings” and its sophistication bordering on decadence. He treats the two plays as companion pieces, studying them against the background of Rome as it emerges in the works of such ancient historians as Polybius and such Renaissance thinkers as Machiavelli. Keeping his discussion firmly anchored in the texts of the plays, he offers challenging new interpretations of familiar passages and calls attention to passages often overlooked.

Readers of his book are likely to include not only students of Shakespeare, but also those interested in the ancient world, in political philosophy, and in the history of ideas.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: Romanness in Shakespeare

Part One: Coriolanus

1)The Republican Regime
2)The City without a Ruler
3)The Man without a City

Part Two: Antony and Cleopatra

4)The Politics of Empire
5)The Liberation of Eros
6)Love and Tyranny