Shakespeare as Political Thinker

By John E. Alvis; Thomas G. West | Go to book overview

GOD WILL SAVE THE KING:
SHAKESPEARE'S RICHARD II

Louise Cowan

God save the king! will no man say amen?
Am I both priest and clerk? well then, amen.
God save the king! although I be not he;
And yet, amen, if heaven do think him me
. 1
(IV.i.172-175)

Despite the attention given to Richard II in recent years, it remains a puzzling and enigmatic work. Careful studies by political and historical scholars have established its importance in Shakespeare's canon, along with that of the other histories. 2 Even so, granting the intellectual seriousness of the play, the reader is none the less hard pressed-- if he relies on either of the views of it now dominant--to account for its haunting and unforgettable power. One tendency is to see Richard as a kind of exemplum demonstrating the misuse of kingly office. The successive plays of the second tetralogy, according to this view, work through the resultant upheaval in the realm until finally Henry V, Richard's conqueror's son, learns sufficient prudence to handle the intricacies of royal authority. The other tendency is to interpret Woodstock's and Richard's assassinations as crimes against the commonwealth, their expiation requiring centuries and several different regimes--and hence the placement of the other nine history plays in the order of their sequence in time rather than composition. In this accounting, the moral disorder ends with the triumphant founding of the Tudor dynasty.

Yet neither of these readings, for the most part sound and even illuminating in their close attention to the text, can account for the disturbing element of the drama: Shakespeare's portrayal of Richard's interior-

-71-

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Shakespeare as Political Thinker
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Title Page vii
  • Foreword ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Note on the Revised Edition xiii
  • The Editors and Authors xv
  • Introductory- Shakespearean Poetry and Politics 1
  • Notes 24
  • The Unity of Tragedy, Comedy, and History- An Interpretation of the Shakespearean Universe 29
  • Notes 58
  • Richard II 59
  • Notes 69
  • God Will Save the King- Shakespeare''s Richard II 71
  • Notes 89
  • Shakespeare''s Henry IV- A New Prince in a New Principality 93
  • Notes 104
  • Spectacle Supplanting Ceremony- Shakespeare''s Henry Monmouth 107
  • Notes 138
  • The Two Truths of Troilus and Cressida 143
  • Notes 160
  • Troilus and Cressida- Poetry or Philosophy? 163
  • Notes 175
  • Nature and the City- Timon of Athens 177
  • Notes 201
  • Chastity as a Political Principle- An Interpretation of Shakespeare''s Measure for Measure 203
  • Notes 240
  • Prospero''s Republic- The Politics of Shakespeare''s the Tempest 241
  • Notes 258
  • The Golden Casket- An Interpretation of the Merchant of Venice 261
  • Notes 285
  • Shakespeare''s Hamlet and Machiavelli- How Not to Kill a Despot 289
  • Notes 312
  • Macbeth and the Gospelling of Scotland 315
  • Notes 344
  • Shakespearean Wisdom? 353
  • Notes 375
  • Shakespearean Comedy and Tragedy- Implicit Political Analogies 381
  • Note 395
  • Transcendence and Equivocation- Some Political, Theological, and Philosophical Themes in Shakespeare 397
  • Notes 405
  • Index 407
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