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The Myth of Rome in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries


  • Date Published: May 2013
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107654075

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About the Authors
  • 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.

    • Includes detailed discussion of the classical historians Livy, Tacitus, Sallust and Plutarch, in contemporary Elizabethan and Jacobean translations, providing important contexts for understanding the plays
    • Represents a unique perspective on Shakespeare's Roman plays - no other book has provided this comparative treatment with plays by dramatists such as Jonson, Chapman and Massinger
    • Covers a wide range of plays, discussing the varying fortunes of such figures as Julius Caesar, Cleopatra and Augustus, both favourable and hostile, in works by classical and Renaissance authors
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    Reviews & endorsements

    '… brilliant new readings … Chernaik's readings of Shakespeare show how historicism and close reading work together … On Massinger, Chernaik is dazzling in his textual and historical precision …' N. Lukachev, Choice

    '… a rich comparative study that surveys Roman stories and motifs in many plays … Chernaik suggests that as long as the English had questions about their own society, they would continue to write about, and debate, the meaning of Rome …' Peter Parolin, Renaissance Quarterly

    'Warren Chernaik's The Myth of Rome in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries truly lives up to the breadth of material suggested by the title. … Chernaik places Shakespeare's plays and poems about Rome in full conversation with other contemporary works on the subject. … [He] lends us, the readers, his incredible expertise, so that we too can glimpse the complexity of what Rome meant for an early modern audience.' Brian J. Harries, Shakespeare Newsletter

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    Product details

    • Date Published: May 2013
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107654075
    • length: 308 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 16 mm
    • weight: 0.41kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    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

  • Author

    Warren Chernaik, University of London
    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.

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