‘I am no roman, / nor what I am do I know’
Fletcher's Roman plays as trauerspeile
in John Fletcher’s Rome
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This chapter describes and examines at length the ways in which Fletcher portrays Rome as a corrupted political reality facing irreversible decay, and how he depicts a Rome in crisis and profoundly unsettled by the lack of adequate political leaders and the apparent lack of interest on the part of the gods in human affairs. The only area left to Roman men to prove their virtus is the battlefield, but this emerges as insufficient to offset the violence, the opportunism, and the dejection that exude from the plays, which chimes with the wider scepticism as to the dependability of Roman models and exempla that pervades his canon. In general terms, Fletcher’s Roman plays depict a dissolving Rome that is prey to a deep sense of disorientation; in doing so, they express a pessimistic vision of history and human life, which makes them resemble in some respects the seventeenth-century German Trauerspiel, or mourning play (as opposed to Tragödie), as famously examined by Walter Benjamin. A fresh examination of Fletcher’s depiction of classical history reveals him as a much sharper observer of reality than is usually recognized, not only in the immediacy of the here and now but also in terms of the larger changes and tendencies that are continually at work in history and politics.

John Fletcher’s Rome

Questioning the Classics

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