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Reviewed by:
  • Shakespeare and Republicanism
  • Thomas Fulton
Andrew Hadfield . Shakespeare and Republicanism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. xiv + 364 pp. index. bibl. $80. ISBN: 0-521-81607-6.

The argument of Shakespeare and Republicanism begins with a well-chosen jacket cover: Botticelli's Rape of Lucrece, a painting long understood as an expression of Renaissance Florence's culture of civic humanism. If we are to see Botticelli's painting as a homage to republicanism's origins, the jacket suggests, then why not Shakespeare's Rape of Lucrece? Was republicanism excluded from other intellectual movements associated with the Renaissance as it slowly migrated north?

Hadfield proposes that we have long overlooked a rich republican culture in Tudor England from which writers like Shakespeare drew. His book begins by outlining the nature of republican discourse in sixteenth-century England and then moves to a consideration of the ways in which Shakespeare and some contemporaries "interacted with the republican culture" (13) outlined in the first part of the book. An unintended consequence of this ordering is the suggestion that writers such as Richard Beacon had a more formative role in forging the political culture than a poet like Shakespeare, who merely "interacted" with an established set of ideas. Although Hadfield later states that "it is a mistake to argue that historical documents and evidence precede literary evidence" (54), the structure of his discussion suggests otherwise. The book might have benefited from greater consideration of these assumed generic differences, and greater self-consciousness about its own prioritizing, particularly when artistic or literary expression seems, in fact, to precede nonliterary discourse with a stronger and more widespread interest in republicanism.

Political thought of the Northern Renaissance is profoundly theological, and when republicanism appears, it often does so in a bizarre combination of loud but limited expressions of republican energy. In the case of the "predominantly biblical" (32) Huguenot treatise Vindiciae contra tyrannos, for example, republicanism appears almost exclusively in the author's pseudonym ("Stephanus Junius Brutus") and in lapidary capitals at the end, which translate from the Latin as "O BRUTUS, YOU WERE MY TEACHER" (32). (Significantly, this particular secular expression is removed from later editions.) This treatise is one of several classics of resistance theory which Hadfield explores in this first section, which also includes writers such as George Buchanan and the English Catholic, William Allen. But apart from the suggestive example of Vindiciae contra tyrannos, it is not always clear how the political theology of resistance theory intersects with republican ideology. Some of the strongest instances of republican thinking are not, at least ostensibly, related to resistance theory. Sir Thomas Smith and other parliamentary writers see the English monarchy as having a mixed constitution like the Roman republic, and thus use the nebulous concept of republicanism to affirm what they hope to preserve in the monarchy.

Hadfield then moves to a consideration of literary representations of republicanism, including the works of Christopher Marlowe — among others his partial [End Page 1317] translation of Lucan's Pharsalia — and Thomas Lodge, whose Wounds of Civil War, Hadfield argues, "positions itself as a republican play" and "had a major influence on the development of Shakespeare's early theatrical career" (70). Lucan's influence on English republican culture in the decades before the Civil War is now well-established. Hadfield traces an earlier presence of the Pharsalia in English political literature, and this structures his consideration of Shakespeare's early career.

The book's last section focuses on several Shakespearean works: the first tetralogy, which Hadfield calls "Shakespeare's Pharsalia" (103); Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece; Titus Andronicus and Julius Caesar; "The radical Hamlet" (184), a chapter containing a valuable discussion of the republicanism in Hamlet's French source; and, finally, in a chapter rather surprisingly entitled "After the Republican Moment" (205), Measure for Measure and Othello. Hadfield argues that Shakespeare "fashion[ed] himself as a republican author" (100) quite early in his career, having "Lucan in mind when trying to forge a literary identity" (107). This republican model of Shakespeare's career seems viable only if we understand the author to be exercising a great deal of self-censorship, a possibility that Hadfield might...


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pp. 1317-1318
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