When Cleopatra expresses a desire to die 'after the high Roman fashion', acting in accordance with 'what's brave, what's noble', Shakespeare is suggesting that there are certain values that are characteristically Roman. The use of the terms 'Rome' and 'Roman' in Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra or Jonson's Sejanus often carry the implication that most people fail to live up to this ideal of conduct, that very few Romans are worthy of the name. In this book Chernaik demonstrates how, in these plays, Roman values are held up to critical scrutiny. The plays of Shakespeare, Jonson, Massinger and Chapman often present a much darker image of Rome, as exemplifying barbarism rather than civility. Through a comparative analysis of the Roman plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and including detailed discussion of the classical historians Livy, Tacitus and Plutarch, this study examines the uses of Roman history - 'the myth of Rome' - in Shakespeare's age.
Warren Chernaik is Emeritus Professor of English, University of London and Senior Research Fellow of the Institute of English Studies. He is the author of The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare's History Plays (2007), Sexual Freedom in Restoration Literature (1995) and The Poet's Time: Literature and Politics in the Work of Andrew Marvell (1983). He has co-edited a number of books on topics as diverse as detective fiction, changes in copyright law, and Andrew Marvell, and has published essays on seventeenth-century authors such as Milton, Herbert, Rochester and Behn, as well as on Shakespeare and on Restoration drama. He was the founding director of the University of London's Institute of English Studies.
1. The Roman historians and the myth of Rome; 2. The wronged Lucretian and the early Republic; 3. Self-inflicted wounds; 4. 'Like a colossus': Julius Caesar; 5. Ben Jonson's Rome; 6. Oerflowing the measure: Antony and Cleopatra; 7. The city and the battlefield: Coriolanus; 8. Tyranny and empire; 9. Ancient Britons and Romans; Bibliography.