Alisa Manninen

Speech and Spectacle as Political Participation for Shakespeare's Roman Women

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Keywords: Antony and Cleopatra; Coriolanus; Julius Caesar.

The public spectacle is central to ancient Rome in the Western imagination. Through spoken rhetoric and acted performances, spectacle offers a means for political participation that can be accessible even to women. Shakespeare explores these opportunities in his Roman plays. In "Julius Caesar", the unease over corruption extends to Portia's failure to transform her claim to Roman virtue into a meaningful role in the republic. "Coriolanus" gives its concluding triumph to Volumnia: she is the play's most emphatic, successful performer of Romanness. Though Cleopatra claims control over noble suicide in "Antony and Cleopatra", the sense of diminishment that is created by Caesar's victory is echoed in Octavia's irrelevance to the performances of the Roman Empire: stripped of the roles that women and citizens could play, spectacle will serve the emperor alone.

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