Is Shakespeare History? The Romans

In the second of two programmes marking In Our Time’s 20th anniversary on 15th October, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare’s versions of history, continuing with the Roman plays. Rome was the setting for Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and parts of Antony and Cleopatra and these plays gave Shakespeare the chance to explore ideas too controversial for English histories. How was Shakespeare reimagining Roman history, and what impact has that had on how we see Rome today? The image above is of Marlon Brando playing Mark Antony in a scene from the film version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, 1953

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Sir Jonathan Bate 16 episodes
    Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford
  • Catherine Steel 5 episodes
    Professor of Classics and Dean of Research in the College of Arts at the University of Glasgow
  • Patrick Gray No other episodes
    Associate Professor of English Studies at Durham University

Reading list

  • Shakespeare's Roman Trilogy: The Twilight of Antiquity
    Paul A. Cantor (University of Chicago Press, 2017) Google Books →
  • Shakespeare's Rome: Republic and Empire
    Paul A. Cantor (University of Chicago Press, 2017) Google Books →
  • Shakespeare and the Fall of the Roman Republic: Selfhood, Stoicism, and Civil War
    Patrick Gray (Edinburgh University Press, 2018) Google Books →
  • Shakespeare and Republicanism
    Andrew Hadfield (Cambridge University Press, 2008) Google Books →
  • The Early History of Rome: Books 1-5
    Livy (trans. Aubrey De Selincourt) (Penguin, 2002) Google Books →
  • The Rise of Rome: Books 1-5
    Livy (ed. T. J. Luce) (Oxford University Press, 2008) Google Books →
  • Shakespeare and the Constant Romans
    Geoffrey Miles (Oxford University Press, 1996) Google Books →
  • Shakespeare's Rome
    Robert S. Miola (Cambridge University Press, 1983) Google Books →
  • Roman Lives: A Selection of Eight Lives
    Plutarch (trans. Robin Waterfield) (Oxford University Press, 2008) Google Books →
  • Fall of the Roman Republic
    Plutarch (trans. Rex Warner) (Penguin, 2006) Google Books →
  • Rome in Crisis
    Plutarch (trans. Ian Scott-Kilvert) (Penguin, 2010) Google Books →
  • The Rise of Rome
    Plutarch (trans. Ian Scott-Kilvert) (Penguin, 2013) Google Books →
  • Cleopatra: A Biography
    Duane W. Roller (Oxford University Press, 2010) Google Books →
  • From the Gracchi to Nero: A History of Rome 133 B.C. to A.D. 68
    H. H. Scullard (Routledge, 2011) Google Books →
  • Brutus: The Noble Conspirator
    Kathryn Tempest (Yale University Press, 2017) Google Books →
  • Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny
    Edward J. Watts (Basic Books, 2018) Google Books →
  • Et Tu, Brute?: A Short History of Political Murder
    Greg Woolf (Harvard University Press, 2008)

Related episodes

Programme ID: m0000qnh

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Auto-category: 822.33 (Shakespeare’s plays and poetry)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, it's almost impossible to imagine Antony and Cleopatra or Julius Caesar and ignore Shakespeare's versions of their histories.