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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.65, No.1, 49 ~ 71, 2019
Auctoritas and Sovereignty in Julius Caesar
Jaecheol Kim
This essay surveys the Roman concept of “auctoritas” as a supra-juridical power in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Critics have contextualized the play within Shakespeare’s contemporary regicidal discourses, but, historically, Caesar’s official position before his death was as a dictator perpetuo, who could monopolize or silence the auctoritas of the Senate. In republican Rome, auctoritas signified the power of the Senate as fathers of the nation that could claim a justitium, the Roman version of the state of exception. The Senate’s declaration of senatus consultum ultimum suspended existing political powers (potestas) by creating a juridical vacuum. This basic premise allows us to read the play as a conflict between two supra-juridical powers―the Senate’s auctoritas and the singular sovereignty Caesar might claim. Seen from the perspective of sovereignty, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is a peculiar narrative as it shows a series of sovereign acts of violence and exceptional states that can hardly be contained within juridical norms. The Lupercalia that foregrounds the main action of the play―the assassination of Caesar―demonstrates that Caesar is a wargus, a banned wolf. This is due to his sovereignty, a position located outside the legal body. The following Forum scene and the Roman deaths that fill the stage show that the clash between the Senate’s auctoritas and singular sovereignty can cause extended constitutional vacuums and anomie states. However, the result of the clash is more than an anomie as it generates a new political order by ultimately forming the very foundation of a new nomos, Augustus’s sovereign Empire.
Key Words
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, political theology, auctoritas, justititum, senatus consultum ultimum
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