Authors William Shakespeare and Vladimir Nabokov share more than a probable birthday: April 23. (The date for Shakespeare is commonly accepted but not definitively proven.) The parallels extend beyond the enduring critical reverence and popular appeal of their works as well. Interestingly, the concept of "home" is central to these towering figures, Shakespeare (1564-1616), the greatest writer of English, and Nabokov (1899-1977), the premier English prose stylist of the 20th century.
In their recurrent explorations of this theme, however, the two represent polar opposites: one deeply anchored to a home culture, the other without such moorings. Shakespeare grounds plays in his native land and references it reflexively even when they're set elsewhere. An oppressive regime uprooted Nabokov's family in his youth and he moved often throughout adulthood, and his works are often set in a type of Never Never Land. Yet through the alchemy of talent and imagination, both reach the same place: a particular habitat, whether based in actuality or built from imagination, that becomes universal, the home place for readers everywhere and forever.
"This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England."
The royal and military record of England, Shakespeare's homeland, is the subject of 10 of the Bard's 38 plays, those called the Histories, and covers some 350 years of political developments. (This list excludes ruminations on mythical history like King Lear and Cymbeline and non-British history like Julius Caesar and Pericles.) To many literary scholars, such as Christopher Fitter at Rutgers University-Camden, Shakespeare's studies of English history focus on the monarchy and in some ways the monarch of his own time: Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII. The plays depict the rise and legitimacy of the Tudor line of rulers, of whom Elizabeth was both the greatest and the last Studying themes in the reigns of earlier kings (such as divine ordination of monarchs) offered Elizabethan dramatists a relatively safe way to comment on how those issues appear in contemporary politics.
These 1 0 plays begin chronologically with King John, written most likely in 1594-96. The historical John assumed the throne in ? 99 and his reign (until 1216) was troublesome: suffering military losses to the French; falling out with the Pope; being derided by his subjects; affixing his seal to the Magna Carta to avert civil war by the nobility, which was on protecting its rights and properties. As a result, Shakespeare explores the perils of internal dissention within Britain. The last monarch Shakespeare headlines is Henry VIH, in the play of the same name (from 16 12-13), ruler from 1509 to 1547. The historical Henry is perhaps most notable for breaking with the Roman Catholic Church and for his succession of wives. Shakespeare treads the line between historical accuracy and cautious respect for Henry's daughter by Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth I, who presided from 1558 to 1603.
Eight plays address a sequence of monarchs from 1398 to 1485: Richard II (source of the quotation in the above subhead); Henry IV parts I and II; Henry V; Henry VI parts I, II and III; and Richard And, as in King John and Henry VIII, Shakespeare takes episodes from those eras to comment on the state of the nation, particularly its leaders. For instance, in Richard II ( \ 595) and Henry IV ( 1 596-98), he poses the delicate question of regal succession - an important topic as the Queen, who never married and had no children, grew older and older without a clear heir for the throne.
But Shakespeare's preoccupation with England did not end with his Histories. Even when his topic is far removed from the factual account of his native land, his plays are deeply bound in his own time and place. Thus, the romantic comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream (1595-%) is set in a mythical and classical Athens ruled by the betrothed Theseus, Duke of Athens, and …