Shakespeare's Arguments with History

Shakespeare's Arguments with History

Shakespeare's Arguments with History

Shakespeare's Arguments with History

Synopsis

Argument was the basis of Renaissance education; both rhetoric and dialectic permeated early modern humanist culture, including drama. This study approaches Shakespeare's history plays by analyzing the use of argument in the plays and examining the importance of argument in Renaissance culture. Knowles shows how analysis of arguments of speech and action take us to the core of the plays, in which Shakespeare interrogates the nature of political morality and truth as grounded in the history of what men do and say.

Excerpt

The role of argument played a considerable part in the development of the western world. Arguments over Christian belief which were to establish religious practice were determining factors in the history of Europe. In turn, government of peoples and countries took shape over arguments concerning the relationship of secular and ecclesiastical powers. Legal right was determined by accommodating classical equity and Teutonic custom with faith. Thus religion, politics and law developed in the arguments of parliament and conclave, court and convocation. When words could no longer persuade, argument turned to action and finally, for some, to the suffering of martyrdom or the shame of execution. Such was the inheritance of the Tudor world of the Renaissance and the Reformation and it is reflected in Shakespeare's preoccupation with history.

This book is not a study of Shakespeare's use of historical sources. Investigation of that kind is found elsewhere, particularly in the now completed work of Geoffrey Bullough and in the scholarly, single-volume editions of Shakespeare's plays which provide learned commentary, notes and appendices. Reference to use of historical materials will be made, however, in the wider purpose of this study which is to demonstrate the significance of argument in Shakespeare's dramatic art. Argument generates conflict and conflict generates action in the ensuing disjunction between words and deeds. Shakespeare's implicit theory and explicit practice as playwright draw on the centrality of argument in Renaissance culture and education and on the actuality of argument in the everyday world of human encounter, whether in council chamber or kitchen.

Shakespeare's characters speak and they act, they say things and they do things. Much of the speech is concerned with persuasion or dissuasion

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