Divided Men: Shakespeare's Portrayal of Honor in His Roman Plays

Open Access
Hesney, Joshua David
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • John Warner Moore Jr., Thesis Supervisor
  • Lisa Ruth Sternlieb, Honors Advisor
  • Paul Haspel, Faculty Reader
  • Shakespeare
  • Honor
  • Coriolanus
  • Antony
  • Cleopatra
  • Rome
  • Roman
The aim of this paper is to explore the way in which Shakespeare portrays Roman honor in the plays The Tragedy of Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra. Honor is a dominating, driving force in the Roman plays. Both Coriolanus and Antony are defined as well as divided by honor. Inside Coriolanus, there is a tension between the two halves of the concept of honor. Roman honor is something that is bestowed by others, but it is also self-imposed. Throughout the play, Coriolanus struggles to reconcile these two opposing and incompatible ideas, and his tragic conflict unfolds primarily in four major episodes in the play. From the way in which he reacts concerning the plebeians, his rival, his family and his fate, I conclude that he is unable to unite his personal honor with Rome’s concept of honor. Antony, like Coriolanus, struggles to reconcile two opposing forces within him. He is caught between Rome and Egypt and must decide whether to live within the confines of Roman honor or to abide by his own personal code of honor defined by his love for Cleopatra. Due to his fidelity for Cleopatra, Antony is ultimately unable to maintain a full grasp on his Roman identity. Antony’s death confirms his abandonment of Roman honor in favor of his own. Both Coriolanus and Antony are unfit for the worlds in which they are forced to live, and by analyzing Shakespeare’s definitions of honor much of the complexity and depth of his characters is revealed.