Shakespeare as Political Thinker

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

Shakespeare suggests a more perfect resolution of the tension between the royal office and the royal person. A king who could maintain respect for ceremony but who could understand its prescriptions as imposing upon himself ethical obligations rather than as conferring providential assurances of his personal privileges might protect himself from the presumptuousness of a Richard while binding himself to the task of rule. A monarch who could see in royal usages a public trust necessary to right order would not be tempted to equate ceremony with personal revenue. Such a monarch might discover in promoting justice the recompense which Henry demands and fails to find in the perquisites of office. Shakespeare's portrayals of rulers capable of this distinction may suggest an answer to Henry's indictment of the "idol, Ceremony." It seems clear that such rulers fail to appear in the histories. To appreciate Shakespeare's inquiry into a more complete statesmanship, we should have to compare his reflections on the unmoved mover of Sonnet 94 with his portrayals of statesmen on the order of Theseus, Duke Vincentio, and Prospero. 23


Notes
1.
See the translation of the Hiero by Marvin Kendrick in Leo Strauss, On Tyranny ( New York: Free Press, 1963), especially pp. 2-6.
2.
Henry V, IV.i.237. My text throughout is the Penguin Complete Shakespeare, general editor Alfred Harbage ( Baltimore: Penguin, 1969).
3.
Shakespeare read Plutarch's account of Caesar's rise by popular arts. Considering that Julius Caesar was probably his next play after Henry V Shakespeare may well have know this aspect of Caesar's career while he was writing his version of Hal's populism.
4.
Bolingbroke describes Richard's appearance on the walls of Flint Castle in the standard solar terms (III.iii.62-67) which include the sun's rebuking "envious clouds." The imagery is precisely parallel to that which Hal employs in his soliloquy, but opposite in meaning.
5.
See E. M.W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's History Plays ( London: Chatto and Windus, 1944), p. 271.
6.
M. M. Reese accepts Warwick's unfounded hypothesis that the prince "puts on a kind of moral disguise, in order to know his people better." The Cease of Majesty: A Study of Shakespeare's History Plays ( New York: St. Martin's Press, 1961). p. 297.
7.
See C. L. Barber, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959), pp. 195-213.
8.
Neither Holinshed, Hall, Fabyan, nor The Famous Victories of Henry V suggests that Henry's early wildness was anything but genuine. Shakespeare thus departed from every known source in making the prodigality an elaborate pretense on Henry's part.

-138-

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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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