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  • The Cultural Uses of the Caesars on the English Renaissance Stage
  • Barbara L. Parker
Lisa Hopkins . The Cultural Uses of the Caesars on the English Renaissance Stage. Studies in Performance and Early Modern Drama. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008. Pp. vi + 161. $99.95.

This study is premised on the contention that "Caesarean authority had become so closely identified with supreme power that its attributes were . . . appropriated by a wide variety of competing rulers in the Renaissance" (2). Focusing on the Caesars, and on the Julio-Claudians in particular, Lisa Hopkins seeks to show how English playwrights from the 1580s to the 1630s appropriated the cultural centrality of Rome and her emperors to comment on contemporary issues and critique contemporary kings.

The book consists of three sections, each addressing one of the three principal uses of Rome on the English Renaissance stage. The first section, entitled "The Whore of Babylon," explores the alteration in Rome's identity attendant on her shift from imperial to papal preeminence. The second ("Caesar and the Czar") considers the foreign repercussions of Caesarism on English drama: the spread of Caesarean authority to Turkey and Russia, and the impact of the Caesars on England's overseas exploration and colonization. The third section ("The Romans in Britain") examines various plays deploying England's "increasingly embattled claim to be the only true inheritor of the cultural authority of Rome via the Brutus myth and the idea of the translatio imperii" (3), and these plays' use of this claim to impugn the legitimacy and efficacy of the early Stuart kings.

In chapter 1, Titus Andronicus is seen as centrally concerned with subverting Rome's greatness, through such devices as characters who are diminished versions of their Virgilian prototypes and repeated references to the fall of Troy. Prominent also is the motif of religious tension as the play explores Rome's contemporary significance through pervasive allusions to Reformation issues. Saturninus's claim to the throne, for instance, evokes the concept of apostolic succession, while [End Page 279] Bassianus's opposing claim based on election evokes the language of Calvinism. Hopkins contends that Titus reflects the religious confusion in Shakespeare's England but that the play's attitude toward this confusion "and to what Rome now means is as unclear as its characters' and indeed as its author's" (29).

Chapter 2 explores the relationship of Hamlet to the Julio-Claudians (the imperial descendants of Julius Caesar)—a relationship signaled by Claudius's name, by multiple references to Caesar, and by allusions to such other dynastically related personages as Marcellus and Nero. Much of the remainder of the chapter, which bears little discernible relevance to this valuable background, is devoted to what Hopkins deems the opposition between seeing and hearing that pervades the play.

In the second section, chapter 3 considers how various Renaissance plays imaginatively connect Julius Caesar and Marlowe's Tamburlaine. The two figures fuse, for example, in Shakespeare's Henry V, who (in 1 Henry VI, 1.1.51) is compared to Julius Caesar and whose rhetoric (in Henry V) is "distinctly Tamburlainian" (64). More central is the concern regarding the shift in locus of power. The Turks considered themselves the legitimate inheritors of the Roman Empire, which led, for instance, Süleyman the Magnificent to style himself after Caesar. Marlowe's two Tamburlaine plays illustrate the uncertainty and tenuousness about where Caesarean power now resided. Other plays similarly associate Tamburlaine with shifts in power; in Caesar's Revenge, Caesar initially manifests Tamburlainian attributes, which are transferred away from him as his fortune ebbs. Hopkins concludes, "The close association between the two figures in so many early modern texts thus powerfully underlines the extent to which the values of the classical are seen as giving away [sic] to a newly configured and distinctly alarming world," as "power gravitated increasingly in the threatening direction of the Ottoman Turks" (77, 10).

The next chapter alleges a parallel between events in The Winter's Tale and those surrounding the London visit of Pocahontas. Conceding that the play was probably written before Shakespeare could have heard of Pocahontas, Hopkins grounds her argument on James I's identification with Augustus and on the...