Shakespeare as Political Thinker

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

I should maintain even more: in this second tetralogy Shakespeare has envisioned the story of mankind, as repeated in the history of the English people. We are not meant to be dismayed by the loss of royalty or by Hal's democratic pragmatism. No man is able to perform his task perfectly; in the Biblical tradition within which Shakespeare's imagination works, all earthly things are flawed and yet all are carriers of something flawless. Shakespeare sees the human enterprise as a series of catastrophes, brought about by the clash of human wills; yet within this turbulent and painful chronicle he testifies to the gradual mysterious growth of the kingdom.

Shakespeare shows us that human communities and political regimes exist in order to further what Allen Tate has called the "one lost truth that must be perpetually recovered--the supratemporal destiny of man. 18 It is in the constant rediscovery of shared love--between all sorts and conditions of men--that the true meaning of human history lies concealed. In Richard II it is in John of Gaunt's suffering and his love for his land, in Richard's Queen's love and loyalty, in the gardener's compassion for the tears of a queen, in the Bishop of Carlisle's courageous defense of a monarch, in the Duchess of York's impassioned plea for her son, in Bolingbroke's kindness to the Duchess and his respect for Carlisle. Between the interstices of events, so to speak, men perform virtuous actions in a creative response to each other and so do not merely discover but augment blessedness among men. It is Shakespeare's genius as dramatist to depict the invisible "by the things that are seen." He demonstrates in the brief shared moment of love and loyalty between the dispossessed monarch and the groom the re-establishment, on another level, of Richard's kingdom.


Notes
1.
William Shakespeare, Richard II, Arden Edition, ed. Peter Ure ( London and Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1956). Citations will be indicated in the text by act, scene, and line.
2.
The most influential study of Richard II in the context of the other history plays is of course E. M.W. Tillyard Shakespearean History Plays ( London: Macmillan, 1944). This, along with Lily B. Campbell Shakespearean Histories:Mirrors of Elizabethan Policy ( San Marino, Calif.: Huntington, 1947), established the relation of the history plays to Elizabethan providential theories of history. More recent studies of importance considering the same issues are Henry Kelly, Divine Providence in the England of Shakespeare's Histories ( Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970), Robert Pierce, Shakespeare's History Plays:The Family and the State ( Columbus: Ohio

-89-

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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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