Imperialism and Nationalism in Early Modernity: The 'Cosmopolitan' and the 'Provincial' in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline
Journal of Social and Legal Studies, Vol. 18, No. 3, 2009
41 Pages Posted: 4 May 2009
Date Written: May 4, 2009
The discourses of conquering empire and vassal nation are varied, often internally contradictory. The empire may represent openness and diversity, or militarist brutality. The underling nation may represent autonomy and self-determination, or narrow provincialism. Those discourses spawn ideologies of liberation (‘the empire liberates the nation’; ‘the nation must be liberated from the empire’) and counter-ideologies of oppression (‘the empire oppresses the nation from without’; ‘the empire prevents oppression by dominant national groups of subordinate national groups’). Such concepts are central to Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. Bound to pay tribute to Caesar Augustus, Britain’s King Cymbeline contemplates a national rebellion against pax romana, whilst at the same time exercising its own dominance over Wales and other conquered territory in the Isles. Parallels to the reign of James I are apparent, where England is embarking upon its ascent to empire, its pax britannica, in the face of Welsh, Scottish or Irish resistance. Several discourses emerge as hallmarks of power politics in early modernity: cosmopolitan empire, oppressive empire, cosmopolitan nation, oppressive nation.
Keywords: Cymbeline, colonialism, imperialism, law and literature, nationalism, post-colonialism, Racine, Shakespeare
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