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Graham Holderness

Shakespeare’s interest in ancient Rome spans the whole of his dramatic career, from Titus Andronicus to Cymbeline, while Roman history and Latin culture permeate the whole of his work, well beyond the explicitly ‘Roman’ plays and poems. Critical interest has to some extent shifted from the historicist Roman plays based on Plutarch, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, and the pseudo-historical Coriolanus, to the outlying Roman plays that evidence greater generic diversity and stylistic innovation, the early Senecan tragedy Titus Andronicus and the late ‘British’ romance Cymbeline. In these latter plays, the complex interactions between past and present, that are the main subject of the formal histories, are presented with even more aesthetic flexibility and creative improvisation than the ‘Roman plays’ proper.

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Illness, Metaphor, and Bells

Campanology under COVID-19

Remi Chiu

Throughout 2020 and 2021, bells have rung in a variety of COVID-related rituals in the West, ranging from large-scale religious and civic rites, to ad hoc neighborhood and hospital initiatives, to anti-racist memorials that simultaneously spoke to the health crisis at hand. Taking stock of how these COVID bell-ringing rituals were formalized, their structures and actions, and the historical precedents from which they drew their meanings, this article investigates what the sounds of bells and the rituals of bell-ringing communicated about COVID, how they shaped our personal and collective experiences of the crisis, and what functions they were expected to serve during this liminal period. It reveals how, owing to the historical polysemy of bells on the one hand and the social uncertainties of living with COVID on the other, those rituals generated vivid symbolisms and mobilized powerful emotions that sometimes brought about unintended consequences.

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A Kingdom for a Mirth

Shakespeare’s ‘Fatal Cleopatra’ and the Worm’s Turn

Roger Stritmatter and Shelly Maycock

This article offers a reading of the famously problematic scene 5.2 of Antony and Cleopatra, in which Cleopatra prepares to meet her death by the bite of the ‘worm’ (5.2.233–290). In this scene, and this scene alone, the Egyptian asp is called by the Anglo-Saxon term ‘worm’ nine times. Repetition, suggests Frankie Rubinstein, may in Shakespeare be a sign of a pun. Samuel Johnson characterised the homophonic resonance of punning as ‘Shakespeare’s Fatal Cleopatra’, but Rubinstein insists that for Shakespeare ‘“reason, propriety, and truth” were not sacrificed by the Shakespearean “quibble” but emerge from it’. In Antony and Cleopatra, punning is one key linguistic expression of the play’s entwinement with the principles of alchemical transmutation and preference for ‘becoming’ in the ancient dichotomy between being and becoming. As Richard Whalen first proposed in 1991, the ninefold iteration of ‘worm’ in the scene may be a pun on an Aristocratic French name, since the word ‘worm’ in French is Ver.

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Ian Ward

This article revisits one of Shakespeare’s later, often rather neglected, plays. Shakespeare is thought to have written Cymbeline in 1609 or 1610, at much the same moment, it is commonly surmised, as other so-called ‘problem’ plays such as Pericles and The Winter’s Tale. Critics have rarely enthused over Cymbeline, lacking an obvious lead character, the action moving unsettlingly between Roman Britain and Renaissance Italy. Cymbeline has, though, something important to say about the constitutional politics of Jacobean England. King James I liked to style himself as the ‘new Augustus’. He also liked the absolutist idea of kingship which he discovered in his reading of the ‘old’ Augustus. In writing Cymbeline, Shakespeare sought a delicate balance, paying homage to the affinity, whilst also cautioning against uncritical reliance on Roman conceptions of magistracy.

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Aspasia Velissariou

This article explores the chaotic violence in Nathaniel Lee’s tragedies, which, while clearly originating in the sovereign, by its sheer excess and blindness, is hypostasised as a motor of history. In Lee, violence is a reflection of the political anxieties surrounding the Exclusion Crisis but it is also intrinsic to the way he understands the nature of political life; in reality, it is constitutive of the very exercise of power. Drawing on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer I argue that sovereign violence is inscribed in a most savage form as the very foundation of the civil community, and, therefore, its autonomisation, as in Lee’s early plays, is only apparent. In Lucius Junius Brutus: Father of His Country (1680) the extreme sovereign assault on human life fully discloses its politically defined character because it is emblematically performed in the name of the institution of a new body politic, the Republic.

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Daniel Gallimore

The Japanese director Ninagawa Yukio, who directed all four of the Roman plays between 2004 and 2014, noted the challenge he faced in making Shakespeare’s Roman settings accessible for native audiences, his typical strategy being Japanisation. Ninagawa’s Brechtian strategy works two ways in offering audiences a helpful perspective on cultural difference while harnessing Shakespeare’s humanism to the anti-rational energies of his theatre that modernity had earlier suppressed. This article explores the mythopoeic aspect of Ninagawa’s project first in the context of comparative religion and then with an analysis of his Antony and Cleopatra (2011), which was innovative in casting a Japanese-Korean actress from the western Kansai region as Cleopatra against an established Tokyo actor. The polytheism that native Shinto has in common with ancient Roman religion is a significant subtext.

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‘Our Troy, our Rome’

Classical Intertextuality in Titus Andronicus

Graham Holderness

In Titus Andronicus, the many classical literary sources of the play function as templates for its events, as if the tragedy had already been anachronistically pre-written by poets of the Augustan era. The literature of the past, like history, serves, in Titus’s own words, as ‘a pattern, precedent and lively warrant’ (5.3.57) for present action and behaviour. When literature and drama appear to become the basis and precedent for human experience, then there is a two-way process of consolidation and de-realisation. Dramatic and poetic literature can start to look more like history; but at the same time real events can take on the complexion of a mere fantasy repetition, in Hamlet’s words ‘a fiction, a dream of passion’ (3.2.179). Pieced together, this continual evocation of literary, dramatic and poetic precedent constitutes a vision of Rome which is explicitly identified as an aesthetically crafted fantasy for oral narration and dramatisation on the early modern stage.

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Sali Said

‘Is Antony or we in fault for this?’ Cleopatra asks Enobarbus, who is responsible for the loss at the Battle of Actium. Critics who find Cleopatra guilty take her supposed involvement in decision-making about the battlefield and escape from Actium as evidence of her culpability. Taking into consideration Antony’s strong belief in Fate, this article proposes that Antony tacitly exculpates Cleopatra for his vanquishment in Actium and that Cleopatra’s ‘flight’ is actually a tactical retreat rather than an action performed out of fear. This article also focuses on Cleopatra’s relationship with her servants, which has received almost no critical attention. Drawing on the politeness and the speech act theories, I demonstrate how democratic, humble and grateful Cleopatra is in her treatment of her attendants.

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Maryamossadat Mousavi and Pyeaam Abbasi

This study applies Tarasti’s existential semiotics, arguing that the protagonist of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus (c. 1608) develops into a becoming subject through transcendental acts of negation and affirmation. First, Coriolanus discovers himself amidst Dasein’s objective signs. Coriolanus is then thrown into negation as experiencing humiliation, when his already-established ascendency to consulship is destroyed by conspiracy. His movement, however, persists and follows affirmation, whereby he finds a supra-individual signification. Furthermore, the study portrays, through Z-model, subjectivity phases leading Coriolanus from M1 to S1. It reasons that Coriolanus’s mother, Volumnia, as a transcendental idea or pre-sign, intrudes into the Dasein of the whole of Rome, becoming ‘actualised’ as an act-sign, precluding Coriolanus’s war against Rome through her speech and prostration. Besides, Volumnia’s impact as a post-sign pertains to Coriolanus’s noble embrace of his death. The article concludes that Coriolanus, through acknowledgement of M(Other)’s opinions, validating his genuine self, eventually emerges as a geno-sign.

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Titus and Coriolanus in Tehran

Shakespeare’s Roman Plays and Iran’s Politics

Mohammadreza Hassanzadeh Javanian

Adaptations of Shakespeare’s Roman plays have frequently addressed political topics at the time of their production. As a result, Shakespeare’s Rome, already a site of political conflict and power struggle, has found different and at times opposing significations in its new contexts. The present study is set to explore how two recent adaptations of the Roman plays in Iran, There Will Be Blood (2019, based on Titus Andronicus) and Coriolanus (2019 and 2020), have situated Shakespeare’s texts in Iran’s contemporary political context. The study argues that Shakespeare’s Roman plays have created a platform for Iranian theatre directors to address the political issues and debates in Iran, a country in which it is extremely difficult to produce a political play. Jürgen Habermas’s idea of legitimation crisis and Ernesto Laclau’s concept of the empty signifier underpin the analysis of the adaptations.