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The classics not only gave Shakespeare the images of war that he drew on in plays based on classical subjects, they also shaped his representation of war more generally. His knowledge of the place of war in the ancient world influenced his view of the ways in which that past informed his own present. Topics in this chapter include the relation of the classical past to the English present, the relation between foreign and domestic war, and the relation between war and peace. What happens when the hero comes home (the subject of Greek and Senecan tragedy): when Titus finishes killing, Antony lets his hair down, Hector relaxes with his family, Achilles withdraws into his tent, Tarquin takes a night off, or Coriolanus tries to turn politician. How also does war inform peace and, further, what is the relation between the “arts” of war and the arts of peace, especially literature?
As other essays in this volume have already indicated, the contours of the Virgilian rota, once considered the dominant career pattern for any serious Renaissance poet, do not seem as clear as they once did. Despite the trope of the wheel, critics have often focused on the linear, teleological thrust of the Virgilian model, which has been seen to give a progressive, developmental shape to the poet's life that reflected simultaneously the movement of civilization. As Michael Putnam's essay reminds us, Virgil's model is also a rota in a truer sense, as it comes full circle to trace a movement back to its earlier origins. Virgil's career ends where it began, in the dubious land of shades, umbrae. This return to origins reveals the unity of the works as a whole and brings them to a close in a final self-gathering of climactic fulfilment and resolution. But it also creates a counter, centrifugal pressure to the linear thrust of Virgil's career that resists closure. The unresolved tension between the two movements mirrors the conflict now frequently noted in the Aeneid itself. While Aeneas' career involves progression, his transformation from defeated Trojan into the Roman whose climactic victory over Turnus suggests the triumph of civilization over barbarism, the final moments of the text seem to suggest that the hero is relapsing into barbarism. The abrupt ending of the poem – which focuses on the slaying of the defeated Turnus – calls the progress of Rome into question.