The Plays of Shakespeare: A Thematic Guide

By Victor L. Cahn | Go to book overview

Nationalistic Pride and Prejudice

So ageless and overwhelming is Shakespeare’s genius that we may forget that he was still very much a man of his place and time, and vulnerable to the same prejudices that were held by his countrymen. Thus Shakespeare often shows himself to be an Englishman of boundless pride, but also one with little tolerance for other cultures. The results are sometimes humorous and at other times disturbing, but always they make us aware that even so titanic an artist as Shakespeare may be susceptible to intense chauvinism.

Perhaps the nation for which Shakespeare has the least affection is France. The antagonism between the English and the French goes back at least as far as the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and Shakespeare seems to do all he can to perpetuate ill will between the two countries. In Henry VI, Part 1, for instance, the one heroic figure is the English general Talbot, whose courage in warfare distinguishes him from virtually everyone on the battlefield. As one messenger says:


More than three hours the fight continued,

Where valiant Talbot above human thought

Enacted wonders with his sword and lance:

Hundreds he sent to hell, and none durst stand him;

Here, there and every where, enrag’d he slew.

(I, i, 120–124)

Even his enemies are in awe of him:


The French exclaim’d, the devil was in arms;

All the whole army stood agaz’d on him.

(I, i, 125–126)

-245-

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The Plays of Shakespeare: A Thematic Guide
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction xi
  • Acting 1
  • Appearance versus Reality 9
  • Clerics 23
  • Commoners 35
  • Cynicism 45
  • Divine Right 53
  • Fate 63
  • Fathers and Daughters 71
  • Fidelity 81
  • Fools 89
  • Forgiveness 99
  • Gender 107
  • Generations 117
  • Honor 127
  • Innocence 135
  • Intoxication 143
  • Justice 151
  • Language 161
  • Love and Romance 171
  • Machiavels 187
  • Madness 199
  • Male Friendship 211
  • Marriage 219
  • Money 229
  • Mortality 237
  • Nationalistic Pride and Prejudice 245
  • Nature 255
  • Order 263
  • Politics 273
  • Power 285
  • Reason versus Passion 295
  • Revenge 305
  • Supernatural Phenomena 315
  • The Tragic Flaw 325
  • War 335
  • Conclusion 345
  • Further Reading 347
  • Index 349
  • About the Author 362
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