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Shakespeare and the Fall of the Roman Republic

Selfhood, Stoicism and Civil War

Patrick Gray

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Explores Shakespeare's representation of the failure of democracy in ancient Rome

Shakespeare and the Fall of the Roman Republic introduces Shakespeare as a historian of ancient Rome alongside figures such as Sallust, Cicero, St Augustine, Machiavelli, Gibbon, Hegel and Nietzsche. In Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare shows Rome’s transition from Republic to Empire. Why did Rome degenerate into an autocracy? Alternating between ruthless competition, Stoicism, Epicureanism and self-indulgent fantasies, Rome as Shakespeare sees it is inevitably bound for civil war. Shakespeare and the Fall of the Roman Republic considers Shakespeare’s place in the history of concepts of selfhood and reflects on his sympathy for Christianity, in light of his reception of medieval Biblical drama, as well as his allusions to the New Testament. Shakespeare’s critique of Romanitas anticipates concerns about secularisation, individualism and liberalism shared by philosophers such as Hannah Arendt, Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, Michael Sandel and Patrick Deneen.

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Introduction: Shakespeare and the vulnerable self
Part I. Julius Caesar
1. "A beast without a heart": Pietas and pity in Julius Caesar
2. "The northern star": Constancy and passibility in Julius Caesar
Conclusion to Part 1: Shakespeare’s Passion play
Part II. Antony and Cleopatra
3. "The high Roman fashion": Suicide and Stoicism in Antony and Cleopatra
4. "A spacious mirror": Interpellation and the other in Antony and Cleopatra
Conclusion to Part II: The last interpellation
Conclusion: Between humanism and antihumanism

About the Author

Patrick Gray is Associate Professor of English Studies at Durham University. He is co-editor of Shakespeare and Renaissance Ethics (Cambridge UP, 2014), guest editor of a special issue of Critical Survey on Shakespeare and war, and currently co-editing a collection of essays on Shakespeare and Montaigne. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Textual Practice, Shakespeare Survey, Shakespeare Jahrbuch, Comparative Drama, and The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies.


Patrick Gray's new book pulls together a wealth of up-to-date Shakespeare criticism, classical literature, theology, philosophy and theory into a fluent argument which bears on the deepest possibilities of self and society. The lucid case it makes is still relevant today: Shakespeare's Roman plays point over the horizon towards a more sympathetic and communal culture.

- Ewan Fernie, The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham Stratford-upon-Avon

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