1st Edition

Shakespeare’s Ruins and Myth of Rome

By Maria Del Sapio Garbero Copyright 2022
    404 Pages 15 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    404 Pages 15 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Rome was tantamount to its ruins, a dismembered body, to the eyes of those – Italians and foreigners – who visited the city in the years prior to or encompassing the lengthy span of the Renaissance. Drawing on the double movement of archaeological exploration and creative reconstruction entailed in the humanist endeavour to ‘resurrect’ the past, ‘ruins’ are seen as taking precedence over ‘myth’, in Shakespeare’s Rome. They are assigned the role of a heuristic model, and discovered in all their epistemic relevance in Shakespeare’s dramatic vision of history and his negotiation of modernity. This is the first book of its kind to address Shakespeare’s relationship with Rome’s authoritative myth, archaeologically, by taking as a point of departure a chronological reversal, namely the vision of the ‘eternal’ city as a ruinous scenario and hence the ways in which such a layered, ‘silent’, and aporetic scenario allows for an archaeo-anatomical approach to Shakespeare’s Roman works.


    Part 1. Ruins

    Part 2. The ruins of England


    Chap. 1. Starting with the debris of finis imperii: Titus Andronicus

    Chap. 2. Lucrece’s pictorial anatomy of ruin

    Chap. 3. Anatomizing the body of a king: knowledge, conspiracy,

    and memory in Julius Caesar

    Chap. 4. ‘My memory is tired’: Coriolanus’s forgetful Humanism

    Chap.5. ‘Caesar’s wing’: negotiating the myth of Rome in Cymbeline

    Chap.6. World and ruin in Antony and Cleopatra. A conclusion


    Maria Del Sapio Garbero is Professor Emerita of English Literature in the Department of Foreign Languages, Literatures and Cultures at Roma Tre University (Italy).

    "Maria Del Sapio Garbero’s concern with ruins is profoundly scholarly, blending as it does an impressive knowledge of Shakespeare with an intimate knowledge of Rome, its ruins and Renaissance humanism. Yet the project resonates beyond itself with the postmodern aesthetic of an artist such as Anselm Kiefer whose style might be characterized as a destructive gouging or shattering or alternatively a thick impasting or palimpesting of the artwork’s surface. Though refraining from so explicit a link, Del Sapio treats the text of Shakespeare’s Roman works in much this way. The ruin (in Benjamin’s words, ‘the form which things assume in oblivion’) interrupts the narrative of history, threatening to smother it at birth. If historical narrative is called forth by what Benjamin called the ‘heliotropism’ of the present, then the ruin threatens to return history to its tumbled ground, where in Nietzsche’s words, ‘with an excess of history man again ceases to exist’. The process is announced in Titus Andronicus, where tropes of ruin – burial, mourning, dismembering, remembering, palimpsesting – threaten to collapse the present to a traumatic heap. Yet ruins also beget the Humanist idea of rebirth and the project of modernity; it is the threat of ruin that translates desire into a language and artistry capable of inheriting the future." John Gillies, University of Essex, UK


    "Shakespeare did not have to leave England to know that he was living amid the ruins of Rome. He and his contemporaries constantly encountered the physical remains of the ancient conquerors, their still-standing bridges, uncannily straight roads, baths, walls, and half-broken battlements; their fragmented statues and coins, perfume bottles and monumental inscriptions routinely unearthed from the loam. Still more, anyone with a grammar school education was steeped in the cultural remains of Rome, the language, history, stories, and underlying beliefs that had once ruled much of the world. Maria Del Sapio Garbero’s book focuses on the remarkable succession of plays, along with the narrative poem "The Rape of Lucrece", in which Shakespeare directly engaged with Roman themes. Richly learned, probing, and intellectually generous, Shakespeare’s Ruins and Myth of Rome is an essential guide to these works. But it is also a brilliant guide to what it means here and now to think creatively with the traces of the shattered past. This book itself is what it says of its great subject: ‘A field of possibilities springing out of a field of ruins.’"

    Stephen Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard