Shakespeare as Political Thinker

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

less debunking of martial nobility and romantic love. 15 But it would be more accurate to call it philosophic than modern, for its intention is not so much to dethrone the high as to show its inner workings. The overtly philosophical language and manner of many of the play's speeches have been noticed by critics. 16 They have generally not noticed the connection between its philosophicality and its deliberate repulsiveness. The play was rarely produced on stage before 1900, and since then only with mixed success. 17 It is unpopular because truth, when fully exposed, is unpopular. The letter to the reader preceding the play in the Quarto edition boasts of the distance between the play and the common understanding: "you have here a new play, never staled with the stage, never clapper- clawed with the palms of the vulgar." It also boasts of the play's "wit"--its intelligence. These two features go together. The play is Shakespeare's wittiest comedy, as the letter promises, because it is his most truthful, and being so, it must be remote from the crowd. Here poetry is strained about as far as it can go in the direction of philosophy without bursting its self-prescribed limits. If Shakespeare's poetic immortality had depended on this play alone, he might well have been long since forgotten--with some justice, for such is the truth taught by Troilus and Cressida. 18


Notes
1.
The best account of this theme in the play that I have found is David Kaula's "Will and Reason in Troilus and Cressida," Shakespeare Quarterly 12 ( Summer 1961), pp. 271-283. Other helpful treatments are Winifred M. T. Nowottny , "'Opinion' and 'Value' in Troilus and Cressida," Essays in Criticism 4 ( 1954), pp. 282-296, and L. C. Knights, "The Theme of Appearance and Reality in Troilus and Cressida," in his Some Shakespearean Themes and An Approach to Hamlet ( Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1966), pp. 55-73. John Bayley, "Time and the Trojans," Essays in Criticism 25 ( January 1975), pp. 55-73, focuses on the imagery of transience in the play. See also R. A. Yoder, "'Sons and Daughters of the Game': An Essay on Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida," Shakespeare Survey 25 ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), pp. 16, 21. Citations from Shakespeare's text are taken from the Complete Works, Pelican Text Revised, ed. Alfred Harbage ( New York: Viking, 1977). The quotations have sometimes been corrected from the New Variorum Edition of Troilus, ed. Harold N. Hillebrand ( Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1953).
2.
On Cressida's character, see Carolyn Asp, "In Defense of Cressida," Studies in Philology 74 ( October 1977), pp. 406-417; Joseph Papp, in The Festival Shakespeare: Troilus and Cressida, ed. Bernard Beckerman and Papp ( New York: Macmillan, 1967), pp. 50-52.

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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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