‘The Name of King will light upon a Tarquin’
Republicanism,exclusion, and the name of king in Nathaniel Lee’s Lucius Junius Brutus
in From Republic to Restoration
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After Titus Oates’s ‘popish forgeries’, which prompted a crisis in the succession, the production of Nathaniel Lee’s Lucius Junius Brutus was undoubtedly provocative. The play ostensibly celebrates the birth of a republic. This essay questions the conventional Whig reading of the play as one of republican heroism. As was the case with many anti-monarchical writings of the 1640s and 1650s, the play pivots on the distinction between ‘king’ and ‘tyrant’. But, in fact, Brutus expels the ‘name’ and retains the ‘thing’, the substance of kingship, investing his consulship with the power which was once Tarquin’s. Eventually he is seen as ‘more Tyrannical than any Tarquin’ (5.1.114). Nevertheless, the representation of Brutus apparently proved too subtle (or maybe too cryptic) an interpretation for contemporaries and the play was (safely) consigned to censure, lest it stir the bugbear of a new ‘Commonwealth without a king’.

From Republic to Restoration

Legacies and departures

Editor: Janet Clare


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