Shakespeare on the city and its outcasts : a study on tragedy and political philosophy

  • Yu LIU

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


The present thesis aims to analyze the eternal tension between the city and its outcasts in Shakespeare’s three Roman tragedies, i.e. Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra with political philosophy as its frame of reference. Great tragedies embody the universal tension that transcends the specific person; thus, I depart from the long tradition of Shakespeare criticism that often attributes the tragic cause to the personalities of the protagonists, by exploring this tension on a larger historical canvas. In these three plays, Shakespeare discusses important issues of “Being and Time,” “Natural and Artificial Virtue,” “the community and its outstanding individuals” etc., and forges the tragic cores in the paradoxes of these questions. As an exemplar of Aristotle’s “magnanimous man,” Coriolanus is moulded by the old value system of aristocracy, while his exile and revenge suggest he cannot live with or without the city. The tragedy of Brutus and Cassius is that every choice they make is a struggle between pragmatic politics and their moral beliefs, as well as their limited understanding of the present and the ever-changing status of Being. Antony’s love for Cleopatra represents the city’s longing for conquest and appreciation for heterogeneous cultures, but the city, or the Augustan discourse, will not admit the latter for it will threaten the independence of its Roman self. The last chapter of my thesis studies Antony’s antagonist, Octavius, from the perspective of Machiavelli’s “New Prince,” to articulate the possible relation between Shakespeare and Machiavelli and explore more deeply Shakespeare’s reflections about Jacobean England and their corresponding resonances in the modern era. Since the stagecraft and the statecraft of Shakespeare’s world and Ancient Rome penetrate each other through these three tragedies, the aim of my thesis is to assess how the tensions between the city and its outcasts have been filtered through interdependent but independent stages and states of different time and space.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of English
SupervisorMichael Anthony INGHAM (Supervisor) & Ersu DING (Supervisor)

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