"Rome and Rhetoric" by Garry Wills

Rome and Rhetoric Shakespeare's Julius Caesar Garry Wills

The Anthony Hecht Lectures in the Humanities Series
Publication date:
29 Jan 2013
Yale University Press
200 pages: 197 x 127mm
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Renaissance plays and poetry in England were saturated with the formal rhetorical twists that a Latin education made familiar to audiences and readers. Yet a formally educated man like Ben Jonson was unable to make these ornaments come to life in his two classical Roman plays. Garry Wills, focusing his attention on Julius Caesar, here demonstrates how Shakespeare so wonderfully made these ancient devices vivid, giving his characters their own personal styles of Roman speech. In four chapters, devoted to four of the play's main characters, Wills shows how Caesar, Brutus, Antony, and Cassius each has his own take on the rhetorical ornaments that Elizabethans learned in school.

Shakespeare also makes Rome present and animate by casting his troupe of experienced players to make their strengths shine through the historical facts that Plutarch supplied him with. The result is that the Rome English-speaking people carry about in their minds is the Rome that Shakespeare created for them. And that is even true, Wills affirms, for today's classical scholars with access to the original Roman sources.

Garry Wills is professor of history emeritus at Northwestern University. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, Wills is a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and other publications.

"Rome and Rhetoric is as entertainingly readable as it is broadly informative."--John Simon, New York Times Book Review

"[Wills] takes a creative approach to helping both novice and fluent readers of Shakespeare's plays understand particular cultural contexts and social mores of the Elizabethan period. . . . This book will be of particular value to those interested in immersing themselves in the traditions and values depicted in Julius Caesar."--T.J. Haskell, Choice