Is Shakespeare History? The Romans

Is Shakespeare History? The Romans

18/10/2018 by BBC Radio 4

Web player:

In the second of two programmes marking In Our Time’s 20th anniversary on 15th October, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare’s versions of history, continuing with the Roman plays. Rome was the setting for Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and parts of Antony and Cleopatra and these plays gave Shakespeare the chance to explore ideas too controversial for English histories. How was Shakespeare reimagining Roman history, and what impact has that had on how we see Rome today?

The image above is of Marlon Brando playing Mark Antony in a scene from the film version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, 1953


Sir Jonathan Bate
Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford

Catherine Steel
Professor of Classics and Dean of Research in the College of Arts at the University of Glasgow


Patrick Gray
Associate Professor of English Studies at Durham University

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: last week of October

Major takeaways: none really. This was one of the annoying episodes which is just so British focused that a non-Brit gets very little out of it. All that was new and interesting for me (and really it was a continuation of a point made in the previous episode) was that Shakespeare had probably taken up plays about Romans to make political points that would have been censored in plays about kings of England.

Another minor takeaway: that Shakespeare would have studied Latin in school; but relied on an English history to base his Roman plays upon.

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