Voltaire’s "La Mort de César"

A Play "Entirely in the English Taste"?

by Helena Agarez Medeiros (Author)
©2014 Monographs 344 Pages


In the preface to La Mort de César (1736), Voltaire claimed to have written a tragedy inspired by Julius Caesar that, while not resembling Shakespeare’s play, was «entirely in the English taste». Such a claim has so far gone virtually unnoticed in scholarly circles, despite its intriguing nature. Furthermore, La Mort de César is commonly referred to as a cornerstone in the European reception of Shakespeare’s drama even though, according to Voltaire, his play was far removed from the barbaric, tasteless and therefore «untranslatable» Julius Caesar. If, for Voltaire, Shakespeare’s dramatic «taste(lessness)» was not representative of the taste of his nation, what was «English taste» for Voltaire and for his educated French contemporaries, and how did this stereotype take form? Why would Voltaire, a strong advocate of French neoclassical tragedy and a severe critic of English drama, allegedly imitate «English taste» in the first place?
This book examines Voltaire’s tragedy and analyses the extent to which La Mort de César may indeed be labelled as a play «in the English taste» from the point of view of contemporary Frenchmen. But what about contemporary Englishmen? What was England’s reaction to Voltaire’s representation of her taste? Might The Roman Revenge, Aaron Hill’s retaliatory adaptation of La Mort de César, be said to convey «English taste»? The author of this book explores the elusive concept of «national taste» and reveals how it was put to the service of hidden agendas and claims regarding cultural supremacy, on both sides of the Channel.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2013 (November)
tragedy drama barbaric cultural supremacy stereotype
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 344 pp.

Biographical notes

Helena Agarez Medeiros (Author)

Helena Agarez Medeiros graduated in French and English Literatures from the University of Lisbon. Her MA degree was obtained with a dissertation on a Portuguese translation of Hamlet written by Don Luís, King of Portugal, in the early 1870s. She holds a PhD in Translation Studies from the Catholic University of Leuven, where she also carried out her post-doctoral research on the genesis and development of French autobiographical texts. Her main topic of research is the reception of Shakespearean drama in France and Portugal. She is currently Invited Assistant Professor at the Nova University in Lisbon.


Title: Voltaire’s "La Mort de César"