Roman Shakespeare

Intersecting Times, Spaces, Languages

by Daniela Guardamagna (Volume editor)
©2018 Edited Collection X, 240 Pages


This book addresses the memory of Rome: the dialectic between the glorious historical past of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire and its echoes, representations and interpretations in the works of Shakespeare. The essays explore multiple layers of time and place in relation to Shakespearean plays: throughout the world (from Romania to Japan) and down the centuries, in the arts (paintings, music) and in dramatic performances.
Individual essays (by Michel Dobson, Peter Holland, Richard Wilson and Piero Boitani, among others) address multiple aspects of the complex relationship between two countries (England and Italy) and two moments in time (the Ancient Roman and Early Modern periods). Essays include analyses of less studied works (e.g. Cymbeline), rewritings of Roman narratives (e.g. Titus Andronicus and The Rape of Lucrece), modern enactments of Shakespearean performances around the world, the representation of Shakespearean myths in Renaissance paintings, and the music accompanying the text of Roman plays.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Figures
  • Introduction: From Ancient Rome to Early Modern England and Beyond (Daniela Guardamagna)
  • About This Book: The Issues
  • Shakespeare’s Roman Works
  • Shakespeare between Rome and Italy
  • A Brief Note on the Critical Heritage
  • The Classics in the English Renaissance
  • The Classics in Shakespeare
  • Beyond the Tapestry of the Roman Works
  • Roman Virtus
  • Recurring Themes, Images and Structures
  • About This Book: The Essays
  • Bibliography
  • Roman Works by William Shakespeare
  • Other Primary Works
  • Secondary Works
  • 1 Nationalisms, National Theatres and the Return of Julius Caesar (Michael Dobson)
  • London, 1599
  • Paris, 1680
  • London, 1816
  • Washington, DC, 1865
  • Riga, 1900
  • Romania, 1844–2016
  • Almost Everywhere, 2017
  • 2 Seeing Shakespeare’s Rome (Peter Holland)
  • 3 Caesar Our Contemporary: Shakespeare Revisited in Rome (Marisa Sestito)
  • This Dream Is All Amiss Interpreted
  • The Republic of Words
  • The Journey
  • 4 ‘Broken Coriolanus’: T. S. Eliot’s March on Rome (Richard Wilson)
  • Aethereal Rumours
  • Mutilated Victory
  • Splitting the Air with Noise
  • Timing the Thunder
  • A Moment’s Surrender
  • 5 The Cultural Shock of Titus Andronicus (Tommaso Continisio)
  • ‘I am not what I am’
  • ‘I’ th’ city of kites and crows’
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Works
  • Secondary Works
  • 6 Peripateia and Recognition of Divineness: Cymbeline (Piero Boitani)
  • Bibliography
  • Main Editions
  • Sources
  • Criticism
  • 7 Visions of Lucrece: Shakespeare, Middleton and Renaissance Art (Daniela Guardamagna)
  • Lucretia, Lucrece, Suicide and the Concept of Rape
  • Shakespeare’s Lucrece
  • Ghostly Affinities
  • Representations of Lucrece in Renaissance and Baroque Paintings
  • Middleton’s Lucrece
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Works
  • Other Cited Works by Shakespeare
  • Primary Works Dealing with Lucrece by Other Authors
  • Secondary Works
  • Sitography for Paintings of Lucrece
  • 8 Music in Shakespeare’s Roman Plays (Giuliano Pascucci)
  • Historical Background
  • Julius Caesar
  • Come Heavy Sleep: Brutus from Vir to Man
  • Flow My Tears, Portia Is Dead
  • Antony and Cleopatra
  • The Power of Music
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Works
  • Secondary Works Cited
  • Further Reading
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

| vii →


This book originated as one of the outputs of the international conference Shakespeare 2016. The Memory of Rome, celebrating the fourth centenary of Shakespeare’s death. The conference, which was held at the Capitol (Rome) and in the three Roman universities in April 2016, was a joint venture of Sapienza University of Rome, the University of Rome Tor Vergata, and Roma Tre University. The support and collaboration of ‘Roma Capitale’ and numerous important Italian and British associations was fundamental and allowed many interesting collateral activities in the field of theatre and music. Among these associations were the English and the Roman Globe Theatres, the ‘Teatro di Roma’ and the ‘Teatro Palladio’. I feel I need to thank the representatives of those institutions, my Rector Professor Giuseppe Novelli and the director of my department, Professor Franco Salvatori, who both supported the conference. Above all, thanks are due to two colleagues from Sapienza and Roma Tre University, professors Rosy Colombo and Maria Del Sapio, for their generous, indefatigable work, which, together with their profound competence, guaranteed the success of the conference (of which, I am told, a lasting memory luckily survives). I also thank the many contributors, Shakespearean scholars of international repute, to whom that success is due.

This collection of essays does not represent the outcome of the conference: some essays will be published elsewhere and some essays by internationally renowned and young Shakespearean scholars, on the subject of Shakespeare’s Roman plays, have been added.

Finally, I thank my doctoral and MA students, who helped during the conference, and some of whom have recently assisted me in the research work a book of this sort entails.

D. G.
May 2018

| ix →


Figure 2.1 Rome in the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), fols. 57v–58r. Public domain.

Figure 2.2 Charles Witham’s sets for Edwin Booth’s production of Julius Caesar (Booth’s Theatre, New York). TCS46 Julius Caesar, Houghton Library, Harvard University. By permission of the Houghton Library.

Figure 2.3 Norman Lloyd as Cinna the Poet surrounded by the mob in Orson Welles’ production of Julius Caesar, Mercury Theatre, 1937. Photofest.

Figure 3.1 ‘Caesar’s Pride’. Piero Marietti as Julius Caesar. Copyright Gabriele Baldo, 2016.

Figure 3.2 ‘The Conspiracy’. In the centre, Flavio Capuzzo Dolcetta as Casca, Enrico Vampa as Decius. Copyright Gabriele Baldo, 2016.

Figure 3.3 ‘The Killing’. At the centre of the image, Piero Marietti as Julius Caesar and Flavio Capuzzo Dolcetta as Casca. Copyright Gabriele Baldo, 2016.

Figure 3.4 ‘The Body’. In extreme close-up, Piero Marietti as Caesar; from left to right (near or in front of the audience), Antonella Sbrocchi as Calpurnia, Massimo Guarascio as the Soothsayer, Claudio Molinari as Brutus, Enrico Vampa as Decius, Daniela Guardamagna as Cinna the Poet. Copyright Gabriele Baldo, 2016.

Figure 3.5 ‘The Shroud’. Piero Marietti as Caesar (hidden by the red carpet), Nicola Pecora as Cassius and ← ix | x → Flavio Capuzzo Dolcetta as Casca. Copyright Gabriele Baldo, 2016.

Figure 7.1 Lucrezia e Tarquinio, 1515, Tiziano Vecellio (ca. 1488–1576); Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum. Artothek/Archivi Alinari.

Figure 7.2 Lucrezia. Francesco Mazzola, detto il Parmigianino (1503–40): Napoli, Museo di Capodimonte. © 2018. Foto Scala, Firenze – su concessione Ministero Beni e Attività Culturali e del Turismo.

Figure 7.3 Lucretia. 1624, Baroque, seventeenth century, Guido Reni (1575–1642), oil/canvas. Christie’s Images/Artothek/Archivi Alinari.

Figure 7.4 Lucrezia romana, 1580–83. Paolo Caliari, detto il Veronese (1528–88). Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum. Olio su tela. © 2018. Foto Austrian Archives/Scala, Firenze
Lucretia, after 1537. Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), oil on wood. Christie’s Images/Artothek/Archivi Alinari.

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Introduction: From Ancient Rome to Early Modern England and Beyond

About This Book: The Issues

The core of this book centres on two times and two places: ancient Rome and its presence in English early modern works, in particular those of Shakespeare. In the Shakespearean works, the Italian Renaissance blends with its Roman origins to coalesce in a manifold picture. Rome is complex and multifarious in itself; it is porous, positive and negative, first Republic and later Empire. In Shakespeare’s plays, it is represented with different emphases and moods, making us aware of the rich ambiguity of the playwright’s approach. Shakespeare’s attitude towards Rome is a complex one, and centres on the concept of virtus, which informs most of his Roman plays, as will be shown later. The sources are also multifarious: mostly Roman history and poetry. Shakespeare and his contemporaries use them either in the original or in translation; they also extend to recent or contemporary enactments of the same myths, either English or continental.

This book also encompasses different times and places, to a multifa-ceted space-time continuum, dealing with productions of Shakespearean Roman plays through the centuries and in ‘states [then] unborn’. In the new context, the performances of Shakespeare’s Roman plays often have a double aim: on the one hand they represent ‘classics’ to celebrate the link of individual countries to their common past, and on the other they emphasize the power relationships described by Shakespeare to shed light on present and future threats to democracy, in a picture which is often ← 1 | 2 → dystopian. Rome can represent the fascist menace (as in Welles’ film of 1937, the first in centuries to reintroduce the crucial slaughter of Cinna the poet by the angry mob) or the communist totalitarian suppression of freedom in Romania, Hungary or Latvia; Caesar can stand for Mussolini or Ceausescu. Another place (Rome in Caesar’s epoch, for instance), echoed in another time (early modern England), is used as an effective symbol for oppression everywhere, from early modernity to the twenty-first century.

A minor strand in the book deals with the blending of different arts in the plays: the ekphrastic use of pictures (the picture of Troy in Lucrece and its evocation in Titus Andronicus) and Renaissance or Baroque European pictures illuminating the myths present in the various works, reproduced faithfully or otherwise; the presence in the plays of music is also considered, as a meaningful instrument to deepen and expand the character of the protagonists (Brutus, Antony, Cleopatra).1

Shakespeare’s Roman Works

The six Roman works by Shakespeare are Titus Andronicus, The Rape of Lucrece, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus and Cymbeline: a poem and five plays (listed here in their probable order of composition).

In this introduction, I will briefly show the interactions between the myth of Rome and the contradictory myth of Italy in these works; I will consider how the admiration Shakespeare meant his audience to feel towards Roman values is far from univocal. His attitude is a double one at least: realizing this helps to enlighten many debated cruces in the plays, giving further meaning to the author’s ambivalence towards Caesar and the conspirators, or the grotesque elements in Antony’s suicide. ← 2 | 3 →

We will also reflect on the ways in which some of the plays have been neglected as part of the ‘Roman canon’ over the decades (the consensus is not uniform where Titus Andronicus and Cymbeline are concerned, while Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus, for which I will accept the definition of ‘Plutarchan plays’, have been considered the Roman plays since the beginning of the twentieth century). This introduction will also briefly consider their Roman and European sources, analysing the dialectics between Roman history and the English Renaissance representation of it. The alienness of the concept of virtus and its representations will also be discussed. Finally, the common themes in the plays will be briefly hinted at, showing how the Roman plays, though of course linked to the rest of the canon as all Shakespearean plays are, have a specific individuality, on which light has been fruitfully shed over the last few decades. On the other hand, I will briefly show how the Roman themes reverberate from play to play in the remainder of Shakespeare’s canon,2 and how the presence of Plutarch expands beyond the Roman works.

Shakespeare between Rome and Italy

The relationship of Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights with Roman history is complex. The model of decline and fall – so fascinating to Elizabethans, expressing with plasticity events connected to the idea of the wheel of fortune and the overthrow of the powerful – is strongly embodied in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italy, once the seat of an empire ← 3 | 4 → extending all over Europe, but in Elizabethan times, divided and fragmented into a handful of little town states.3

The ancient Roman republicans, and later the emperors and their subjects, represent the Roman values which the playwrights, Shakespeare among them, propose to their audience, or represent showing their aftermath and distortion: manly fortitude, stoic acceptance of one’s fate, subordination of private interests to a higher collective interest, pietas: all virile qualities, as has been noted. They are all embodied, for instance, in Julius Caesar’s Brutus (connected with failings of his which I won’t mention here, as they are specific to the play, while his positive values are the key concepts of all the Roman works). The Roman Republic, and later the Roman Empire, are of course historically and geographically connected to Italy; on the other hand, Italy is the hated papist country, the whore of Babylon: the target of dozens of representations which oppose it to a pristinely uncorrupted British state, and a transparent shadow for the corruption of the Jacobean court.

The English do not leave the property of Roman history to Italians; they see themselves as the true heirs of the Roman Empire. From Bede and Nennius to the fictionalized accounts of Geoffrey of Monmouth, to the Roman de Brut by Wace, up to Caxton’s Legenda Aurea and arriving at Holinshed, one of the heirs of Aeneas, Brutus,4 is supposed to have founded London, with the name of Troja Nova or Troynovaunt. This idea is a long lasting one: among many other plays, the apocryphal Locrine (dated to the 1590s, and still unattributed) deals with the eponymous hero, who is the eldest son of Brutus. As late as 1846, John Stuart Mill wrote that ‘the battle of Marathon was more important than the one of Hastings in English ← 4 | 5 → history’:5 appropriating the Greek success in defending liberty against the Persians to Britain, he emphasized again the continuity of British history with classical history: a key concept in Renaissance England, and beyond.

A Brief Note on the Critical Heritage

While, in the 1980s, Miola rightly warned the reader that criticism about these works was at loss to consider them as a whole,6 the following decades, thanks in the first place to Miola’s work, and to Platt (1976), Velz (1978), Gentili (1991), Holderness-Loughrey-Murphy (1996),7 Kahn (1976, 1997 and [2003] 2005), Del Sapio Garbero (2009 and 2010), Chernaik (2011), Innes (2015), Lovascio-Hopkins (2016) and others,8 have identified the six Roman works as a group showing an internal coherence, common moods ← 5 | 6 → and recurring stylistic solutions, though presenting a multifaceted focus and being constructed from a multiple perspective and with multiple aims. Del Sapio Garbero (2009) strongly underlines the importance of Cymbeline for the concept of translatio imperii; I will come to that again.

In defining what we can call the Roman canon, there has been some difficulty in connecting Titus Andronicus and Cymbeline to the ‘Plutarch plays’, as the threesome have often been defined because of the importance of Plutarch’s Lives as sources in their composition. The early Titus Andronicus and the late Cymbeline have been pushed to the external limit of the Roman canon for decades, and sometimes still are. The seminal MacCallum (1910), Spencer (1957), Charney (1961), Traversi (1963), Simmons (1971) and the first work by Cantor (1976), for instance, in otherwise excellent books, limit their study to Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus. Geoffrey Bullough (Bullough 1957–75) gathers Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus under the title of The Roman Plays (Bullough 1964), dealing with the sources of Titus Andronicus and Cymbeline in different volumes.9

The values and the world picture in these works vary; the view of Rome changes as Rome itself changed. Shakespeare’s Roman works depict the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, at different times of their glorious and contradictory history; besides expressing different viewpoints and different moments in Shakespeare’s mind, they take into account the multifariousness of Rome itself, which grew and modified itself over the ages; but they share common themes and common values, which will be discussed in the remainder of this introduction and in this book. ← 6 | 7 →


X, 240
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (November)
Ancient Rome Shakespeare Renaissance in Europe
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2018. X, 240 pp., 12 fig. col.

Biographical notes

Daniela Guardamagna (Volume editor)

Daniela Guardamagna is Full Professor of English Literature at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, where she lectures on Shakespeare and Early Modern drama. Her main fields of study are Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, Shakespeare’s tragedies, Beckett, and dystopia. She has written extensively on Jacobean drama, on Shakespeare’s apocrypha, on some aspects of Shakespeare’s plays, on contemporary theatre and on dystopias. She has just completed a monograph on the tragedies of Middleton after the revision of his canon, forthcoming in October 2018. She organised the international conference Shakespeare 2016. Memoria di Roma, together with colleagues from the other two universities in Rome. She has adapted for Italian television the BBC versions of Othello, Macbeth and The Tempest.


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