Senior Honors (Shakespeare’s Rome)

The course will explore the complicated relationship between Shakespeare and the history and culture of ancient Rome. That connection is pervasive and important for Shakespeare, beginning with early plays, like TheComedy of Errors, based on Plautus, and narrative poems like Venus andAdonis, based on Ovid’s Metamorphosis, one of Shakespeare’s favorite books.  Roman history, especially as recounted by Plutarch in the contemporary North translation, provided plots and ideas for several “Roman” plays, and Virgil is a constant presence in the background of The Tempest.


Since Shakespeare was sometimes written off as unlearned, it is valuable to look at his reading in the classics. Looking at Shakespeare’s Roman writings should allow students to see the “humanistic” side of Shakespeare’s learning, as he related ancient Roman history, politics, and culture to those of his own day. The process will allow for some explorations of Shakespeare’s attitudes to some controversial features of Roman history, such as the ethical and political judgments made about Mark Antony, Octavius Caesar, and the ideals of Roman stoicism, civic duty, honor, and republicanism. It also allows for some investigations into what Shakespeare found in Roman literature, particularly in Plutarch and Ovid. It is also valuable to see what he rejected. The course is essentially comparative and analytical in nature, allowing for the study of Shakespeare’s works in one particular and multifaceted light.


Requirements include several short papers, presentations in class, a book review and a final paper based on research. Revision and oral presentation of this project are also part of the assignment.


Reading List


Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, The Comedy of Errors, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, and The Tempest.

Plautus, The Menaechmi

Plutarch, Makers Of Rome, trans. Ian Schott-Kilvert. NewYork: Penguin Books, 1965

Ovid, Metamorphosis

Seneca, Thyestes and selections from his essays

Baker, Simon. Ancient Rome: The Rise And Fall Of An Empire.BBC Books, 2006.

Seneca.Six Tragedies. Oxford World Classics. trans. Emily Wilson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.