Shakespeare Among the Ruins

G. Holderness

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


When Mussolini’s fascist government took power in Italy, the ruins of Rome were effaced, occluded, hidden from view. The fascists brought them into the light of day in order to restore visibility to the ancient empire they adopted as their mythical charter. They staged Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar among those ruins as an imperial tragedy endorsed and affirmed by the contextual remnants of fallen majesty and vanished greatness. In his Julius Caesar Shakespeare embedded a comparable visual excavation of the Rome that lay ruined in his own present. By poetic means he interpolated those contemporary ruins into his reconstructed vision of ancient Rome. Just as the fascists dramatized Julius Caesar before the backdrop of the Forum, so Shakespeare ensured that his spectators would be able to see, in a double or triple vision, the ruined city whose futurity lay housed in the re-imagined monuments that constitute the play’s mis-en-scene.
The fascists adapted and presented the play to glorify the imperial leader, and to warn of the inevitable devastation that would follow his demise. Shakespeare takes neither side in his dramatization of Rome, affirming only that devastation and ruin flowed historically from this sequence of events. ‘Rotta e l’alta colonna’: the Colossus always falls, imperial and republican alike. ‘The ruins of the noblest man’, Caesar, lie fallen among the ruins that provide a metaphor for his collapse. His successor Octavian pays tribute to Brutus as ‘the noblest Roman of them all’, thus ironically undermining the Augustan empire he established, and history celebrated, but which was known to the Renaissance as the ruined roots of a lost civilization.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationShakespeare and the Visual Arts in Italy
EditorsMichele Marrapodi
Place of PublicationAldershot
PublisherAshgate Publishing
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2017

Publication series

NameAnglo_Italian Renaissance Studies


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