Shakespeare and Rome

Shakespeare and Rome August 17, 2003

Researching for a commentary on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar , I came across the intriguing theory that Shakespeare’s Roman plays are as concerned about 16th-century Rome as ancient Rome. In Shakespeare’s day, of course, Rome was the center of Roman Catholicism, which was seen by Elizabethan Englishmen as the great global threat to their way of life. Julius Caesar gestures toward Papal Rome by talking about relics, but making Caesar’s death Christlike in several respects (or Antichristlike), by setting up Caesar’s opponents (especially Cassius) as a “Puritan” opponent of games and music.

It has been suggested that the same thing can be applied to Hamlet. Though king of Denmark, Claudius bears the name of a Roman Emperor, and it’s perhaps no accident that his nephew has just been studying at the University of Wittenberg.

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