Let Rome in Tiber Melt and the Wide Arch of the Ranged Empire Fall! – The Role of the Egyptian Other in the Transition from Roman Republic to Empire in Shakespeare’s Antony & Cleopatra

Clara Berger, University College Freiburg

William Shakespeare’s history play Antony & Cleopatra is often considered, together with the plays Coriolanus and Julius Caesar, as one of his three Roman history plays. Together, the three tragedies construct a history of the transformation of the Roman system of government, from early republic to the advent of empire. This paper will consider the role of Egypt and its prime representative Cleopatra in the demise of the Roman Republic in Antony & Cleopatra. In the first part, the play is considered in comparison to Shakespeare’s other Roman plays to establish the transformation of Roman institutions and virtues culminating in Antony & Cleopatra. In the second part, I analyse the construction of the Egyptian sphere. During the play, the Egyptian realm is constructed as a virtuously inferior Oriental Other. The influence of the Egyptian Other determines the decline of the institutions and virtues of the Roman Republic, giving way to the autocratic Roman Empire.

Keywords: William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, Roman Republic, Roman Empire, Othering


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