Caesar in Elsinore and elsewhere: topicality and Roman history

Johnson, Laurie (2016) Caesar in Elsinore and elsewhere: topicality and Roman history. Early Modern Literary Studies: a Journal of Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century English Literature. ISSN 1201-2459


As Lisa Hopkins argues in The Cultural Uses of the Caesars on the English Renaissance Stage, a spate of thematic correspondences between Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Hamlet lend weight to the idea that the historical narrative of the Julio-Claudian dynasty provides a frame through which English audiences would have understood the trials of the Danish court both in Shakespeare’s play and in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. This essay investigates the capacity of such thematic correspondences and the Roman history on which they are based to constitute a field of relatively stable reference points onto which Shakespeare’s plays also pin topical correspondences. While topical readings have for the most part hinged on references to Elizabeth and James and the politics of the Court, I am interested in a play’s treatment of those figures or events that may strike closer to the home for both the players and their immediate audiences. If we look to the ways in which the historical narrative of the Julio-Claudian dynasty is referenced across Shakespeare's career, we can pinpoint topical references to a significant London figure with a distinctly Julio-Claudian name: the lawyer and public servant, Julius Caesar. The plays thus pass comment on contemporary figures by reconfiguring London personalities and their factions through the lens of Roman history.

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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Permanent restricted access to ArticleFirst version, in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.
Faculty / Department / School: Current - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Arts and Communication
Date Deposited: 06 Apr 2017 05:44
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2017 05:01
Uncontrolled Keywords: William Shakespeare; Julius Caesar; Hamlet; topical reading
Fields of Research : 20 Language, Communication and Culture > 2005 Literary Studies > 200503 British and Irish Literature
21 History and Archaeology > 2103 Historical Studies > 210305 British History
Socio-Economic Objective: E Expanding Knowledge > 97 Expanding Knowledge > 970120 Expanding Knowledge in Language, Communication and Culture

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