Edited by Silvia Bigliazzi
[Shakespeare in European Culture 2] 2020
► pp. 51–94
Chapter 2. Waiting for Caesar
Caesarism is a complex category, often interpreted as synonymous with imperialism and identified with the rule of strong authoritarian figures such as Napoleon, Bismarck, and Mussolini. Adopting a Gramscian perspective, this chapter argues that Caesarism identifies a far more articulated phenomenon which should not be reduced to simplified ideas of authoritarianism or to the grotesque theatrics of Fascist power. Caesarism in the twenty years of the Fascist regime was a response to a pervasive crisis in Italy, which it did not solve, but maintained alive and contained through an institutionalised form of instability based on revolutionary and populist premises. The contradictory paradigm of Caesar as a ‘democratic dictator’, reproposed by recent criticism, was in fact first expressed by Enrico Corradini in his 1902 play Giulio Cesare, later revised in the 1920s, which in many respects dialogues with Shakespeare’s more famous play. This chapter explores the formation of regimes of expectations about ‘Caesarism’ in the first three decades of twentieth-century Italy by examining the dynamic intersection of different narratives about the ‘historical Caesar’ and what Gramsci calls the ‘myth of Caesar’, both literary and cultural at large. The discussion sets Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar against this rich mythopoietic background, investigating, on the one hand, its complex dialogue with the contemporary Italian ‘Caesar plays’, and, on the other, their implicit responses to it.