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The Third Citizen

Shakespeare's Theater and the Early Modern House of Commons

Oliver Arnold

Publication Year: 2007

The new practices and theories of parliamentary representation that emerged during Elizabeth's and James' reigns shattered the unity of human agency, redefined the nature of power, transformed the image of the body politic, and unsettled constructs and concepts as fundamental as the relation between presence and absence. In The Third Citizen, Oliver Arnold argues that recovering the formation of political representation as an effective ideology should radically change our understanding of early modern political culture, Shakespeare's political art, and the way Anglo-American critics, for whom representative democracy is second nature, construe both. In magisterial readings of Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus, and the First Tetralogy, Arnold discovers a new Shakespeare who was neither a conservative apologist for monarchy nor a prescient, liberal champion of the House of Commons but instead a radical thinker and artist who demystified the ideology of political representation in the moment of its first flowering. Shakespeare believed that political representation produced (and required for its reproduction) a new kind of subject and a new kind of subjectivity, and he fashioned a new kind of tragedy to represent the loss of power, the fall from dignity, the false consciousness, and the grief peculiar to the experiences of representing and of being represented. Representationalism and its subject mark the beginning of political modernity; Shakespeare’s tragedies greet political representationalism with skepticism, bleakness, and despair.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society


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Title Page

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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

I am grateful to Princeton University for several grants and fellowships that allowed me to pursue research in England; the kind and helpful librarians and staff at the British Library, the Print Room of the British Museum, the Society of Antiquaries, and the John Rylands University Library of Manchester helped me make the most of my time. The Johns Hopkins University Press has been a generous and supportive ...

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Note on References and Abbreviations

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pp. xi-xii

Citations from manuscripts and early printed books generally follow the original spelling, but I have modernized in the cases of u/v, i/j, and f /s and silently amended early modern spellings, contractions, and punctuation that might cause confusion. References to and quotations from Julius Caesar follow T. S. Dorsch’s Arden edition; unless otherwise noted, all other references to ...

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pp. 1-44

Yelverton’s “most sacred” queen would seem an unlikely audience for an encomium to legal codes established by popular consent: before he began his oration, after all, the speaker had “made . . . 3 reverences” to his sovereign, who claimed to rule by divine right (PPE 3:241); he ended it by begging Elizabeth “to geve full life and essence” to the bills that had passed both the House of ...

Part One. Parliament in Shakespeare’s England

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1. “An epitome of the whole realme”: Absorption and Representation in the Elizabethan and Jacobean House of Commons

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pp. 47-75

The House of Commons did not have a permanent meeting place until 1549, when Edward VI granted the knights and burgesses the use of St. Stephen’s Chapel in Westminster. One of the earliest descriptions of the Commons in St. Stephen’s comes to us from John Hooker’s The Order and usage of the keeping of a Parlement in England (1572): the Commons’ chamber, according to ...

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2. Cade’s Mouth: Swallowing Parliament in the First Tetralogy

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pp. 76-98

Henry VI’s reign was so crowded with cruel misfortunes and gross miscalculations that it would seem impossible to identify any particular event or royal shortcoming as the cause of the king’s downfall. In the first Henriad, however, Shakespeare makes Henry’s mismanagement of Parliament the positive condition of the Yorkist triumph over the House of Lancaster: in the Parliament ...

Part Two. Political Representation in Shakespeare’s Rome

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3. “Their tribune and their trust”: Political Representation, Property, and Rape in Titus Andronicus and The Rape of Lucrece

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pp. 101-139

Shakespeare framed the lurid revenge plot of Titus Andronicus (1594)—the rape and maiming of Lavinia and her father Titus’s subsequent destruction of Rome’s imperial family—with two popular elections: at the beginning of the play, the people’s “voices . . . create / Lord Saturninus Rome’s great emperor” (1.1.230–32); the play ends when “the common voice” hails Lucius Andronicus ...

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4. “Caesar is turn’d to hear”: Theater, Popular Dictatorship, and the Conspiracy of Republicanism in Julius Caesar

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pp. 140-178

Gnaeus Pompey’s conquests in Asia were so vast that even “the stateliness and magnificence” of a Roman triumph proved to be an inadequate showcase for the spoils and prisoners he brought back to the city in 61 b.c.: “although he had two dayes space to shew [them],” Plutarch marvels, “yet he lacked tyme: for there were many things prepared for the shew that were not seen which ...

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5. “Worshipful mutineers”: From Demos to Electorate in Coriolanus

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pp. 179-214

In the corporation records of Elizabethan Warwick, the big town just eight miles up the road from Stratford-upon-Avon, the name Richard Brookes is a talismanic sign of subversion and disorder. Brookes’s early career in Warwick did not promise Marlovian rebellion: a well-connected man of some substance, he became a principal burgess in 1565 (BB 7).1 But in 1582, Brookes’s ...

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Epilogue: Losing Power, Losing Oneself: The Third Citizen and Tragedy

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pp. 215-222

... mechanicals must have electrified at least some of the garlic-eaters in Shakespeare’s audience. When we next see our band of citizens, they are preparing to enjoy the fruits of their rebellion: armed now with voices rather than weapons, the newly enfranchised people await the arrival of Coriolanus, who must solicit their suffrages for the consulship. They are changed men: the same citizens who ...


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pp. 223-276

Works Cited

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pp. 277-294


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pp. 295-308

Image Plates

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E-ISBN-13: 9780801893278
E-ISBN-10: 0801893275
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801885044
Print-ISBN-10: 0801885043

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 9 halftones
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society
Series Editor Byline: Stephen G. Nichols, Gerald Prince, and Wendy Steiner, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 647866930
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Third Citizen

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Political plays, English -- History and criticism.
  • Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 -- Knowledge -- Rome.
  • Rome -- In literature.
  • Shakespeare, William, -- 1564-1616 -- Political and social views.
  • Politics and literature -- Great Britain -- History -- 16th century.
  • Politics and literature -- Great Britain -- History -- 17th century.
  • Great Britain -- In literature
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