John Fletcher’s Rome

Questioning the Classics

John Fletcher’s Rome is the first book to explore Fletcher’s engagement with classical antiquity. Fletcher was the most influential playwright of the Jacobean era, whose canon amounts to around 10 per cent of the extant plays of the early modern commercial theatre. Like his more celebrated contemporaries Shakespeare and Jonson, Fletcher wrote, alone or in collaboration, a number of Roman plays: Bonduca, Valentinian, The False One, and The Prophetess. Unlike Shakespeare’s or Jonson’s plays, however, Fletcher’s Roman plays have seldom been the subject of sustained critical discussion. This groundbreaking study examines these plays as a group for the first time, identifying disorientation as the unifying principle of Fletcher’s portrayal of imperial Rome. John Fletcher’s Rome argues that Fletcher’s dramatization of ancient Rome exudes a sense of scepticism regarding the authority of ancient models that is connected to his irreverent approach to classical texts. In doing so, the book sheds new light on Fletcher’s intellectual life, provides fresh insights into his vision of history, illuminates the interconnections between the Roman plays and the rest of his canon, and offers a corrective to dominant narratives that equate Shakespeare’s Rome with ancient Rome as perceived in the early modern imagination in general. As we approach the quatercentenary of Fletcher’s death in 2025, John Fletcher’s Rome offers a worthwhile reappraisal of a playwright who produced a dispirited yet vibrant dramatization of the ancient Roman world that shines as a uniquely gripping instance of the reception of the classical past on the early modern stage.

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