Article Title

"No innocence is safe, When power contests": The Factional Worlds of Caesar and Sejanus


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Ben Jonson's first Roman tragedy, Sejanus His Fall, and William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, which preceded it by about four years, are very different plays. Whether Anne Barton is correct in arguing that Jonson's play is "in some ways a reply to Shakespeare's more intuitive, free-flowing treatment of Roman history," critics have tended to focus on the differences between the visions of Rome and its politics offered in the two plays. J. W. Lever, for example, sees Jonson as writing in a tradition that was "less preoccupied than Shakespeare with character as such": Jonson was "more concerned with the political forces at work in history than with virtuous or vicious individuals." And Anthony Miller argues that the two plays "offer strikingly different readings of the workings and destiny of the Roman state": "Sejanus in effect depicts the consequences of the transition from republic to empire which was the subject of Julius Caesar, and in doing so it overturns the [pro-monarchical] assumptions which govern Shakespeare's play."1

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