My discussion turns on two terms which, to this point at least, I have refrained from either defining with any precision or relating to each other: ‘mass culture’ and ‘public sphere’. The latter term in particular has become associated with the name of Jürgen Habermas. His book The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1989), addresses the crisis of ‘public opinion’ in post-liberal capitalism. It also constructs a distinctive historical narrative about the decay of the public sphere and the rise of mass culture which has become the focus of considerable debate.1 Habermas’s views on mass culture are clearly influenced by Frankfurt School figures such as Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, but in a general way they also echo the views of more conservative English modernists such as Eliot and Leavis. I want to treat Habermas as an exemplary modernist here, and to test his narrative of the rise and decline of public culture against the case of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
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