January 17, 2023

"William Shakespeare and the Roots of Western Civilization" - Paul Cantor


Paul A. Cantor (October 25, 1945 – February 25, 2022) was an American literary and media critic. He taught for many years at the University of Virginia, where he was the Clifton Waller Barrett Professor of English.

Cantor published extensively on Shakespeare. In Shakespeare's Rome: Republic and Empire (1974), a revision of his doctoral thesis, he analyzed Shakespeare's Roman plays and contrasted the austere, republican mentality of Coriolanus with the bibulous and erotic energies of Antony and Cleopatra. He returned to the Roman plays in Shakespeare's Roman Trilogy: The Twilight of the Ancient World (2017).

In Shakespeare: Hamlet (1989), he depicted Hamlet as a man torn between pagan and Christian conceptions of heroism. In his articles on Macbeth, he analyzed "the Scottish play" using the same polarity.

A characteristic feature of Cantor's scholarship is his focus on various political regimes and their depiction in Shakespeare's plays. Cantor notes that different regimes promote different ideas about human beings, the good, and government. He compares and contrasts the early Roman regime as depicted in Coriolanus and the later Roman regime as depicted in Antony and Cleopatra, pagan values and Christian values, republican regimes and monarchical regimes.

Video Title: "William Shakespeare and the Roots of Western Civilization" - Paul Cantor. Source: Western Civilization, Texas Tech University. Date Published: May 29, 2018. Description:

In this lecture, Paul Cantor, who is the Clifton Waller Barrett Professor of English at the University of Virginia, talks about Shakespeare and his legacy. If Shakespeare's plays constitute some of the great monuments of Western civilization, one reason is that they are deeply rooted in its grand traditions. Shakespeare's imagination ranged widely in terms of both geography and history. His historical plays chronicle the evolution of the British regime, from the chaos of feudal monarchy to the order of a modern centralized kingship. In his Roman plays, Shakespeare goes back to the ancient world to uncover the contribution of the classical republican tradition to the modern world. As a figure of the Renaissance, Shakespeare was positioned to draw on both ancient and modern traditions, and his plays can help us understand how the confluence of those traditions helped create our world today.