Shakespeare’s Roman Trilogy
Paul A. Cantor first probed Shakespeare’s Roman plays—Coriolanus, Julius Caeser, and Antony and Cleopatra—in his landmark Shakespeare’s Rome (1976). With Shakespeare’s Roman Trilogy, he now argues that these plays form an integrated trilogy that portrays the tragedy not simply of their protagonists but of an entire political community.
Cantor analyzes the way Shakespeare chronicles the rise and fall of the Roman Republic and the emergence of the Roman Empire. The transformation of the ancient city into a cosmopolitan empire marks the end of the era of civic virtue in antiquity, but it also opens up new spiritual possibilities that Shakespeare correlates with the rise of Christianity and thus the first stirrings of the medieval and the modern worlds.
More broadly, Cantor places Shakespeare’s plays in a long tradition of philosophical speculation about Rome, with special emphasis on Machiavelli and Nietzsche, two thinkers who provide important clues on how to read Shakespeare’s works. In a pathbreaking chapter, he undertakes the first systematic comparison of Shakespeare and Nietzsche on Rome, exploring their central point of contention: Did Christianity corrupt the Roman Empire or was the corruption of the Empire the precondition of the rise of Christianity? Bringing Shakespeare into dialogue with other major thinkers about Rome, Shakespeare’s Roman Trilogy reveals the true profundity of the Roman Plays.