Almost four hundred years after his death, Shakespeare remains a dominant figure in world literature and theatre, far moreso than any other early modern playwright. To what degree is this seemingly everlasting impact created through a reshaping and reimagining of his works from modern perspectives? How do Renaissance viewpoints relevant to Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra compare to modern ones?
This thesis approaches these questions by looking at how different modern critics perceive themes in these two history-based Roman tragedies compared to how they were seen in the Renaissance, including the perspective of Shakespeare himself. The topics being looked at include: the tyranny debate surrounding Julius Caesar and Octavius/Augustus as representatives of empire, divine ‘kingship’ and autocracy, a discussion of how Shakespeare presents rebellion and democracy in Julius Caesar and an exploration of Shakespeare’s racial presentation of Cleopatra. In addition, this thesis also features an extensive analysis of the relationship between Shakespeare and his main source for the two plays, Plutarch. These questions are presented from multiple angles and perspectives, including different views found among writers of classical antiquity, Renaissance authors, modern scholars and, of course, my own personal views formed from taking all these different perspectives into consideration.