Shakespeare as Political Thinker

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

position of a heroic warrior whose ambitions have been redefined and redirected along lines suggested to him by the Christian influences in his world. Faced with the Christian critique of the transitoriness of pagan values, Macbeth can no longer settle for the kind of glory that satisfied Achilles and all those Roman fools. In particular, under the influence of the Christian idea of eternity, Macbeth feels a need for something absolute in his life, something absolutely secure and absolutely lasting. Transposed into a world with the expanded horizons of Christianity, he finds a desire for the infinite awakening within his soul, which Shakespeare links with Macbeth's new form of tyranny and his new attitude toward nature as subject to human will. If one were to analyze fully Shakespeare's portrait of the transformation of the pagan hero into the tyrant of infinite desire, one would see that he was prophetically looking to the future; the tragedy of the Scottish warrior prefigures the tragedy of modernity. Indeed, if Macbeth could have found a way to translate his personal hopes for heaven on earth into a political program, into what we would call an ideology, he might well have served as the prototype of the distinctively modern tyrant.


Notes
1.
All quotations from Shakespeare are taken from G. Blakemore Evans, ed., The Riverside Shakespeare ( Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974). The original version of this essay was given as a lecture at the Carl Friedrich von Siemens Foundation in Munich on November 28,1991. An expanded version was published in German translation under the title "Macbeth" und die Evangelisierung von Schottland by the Siemens Foundation in 1993 (translated by Anke Heimann and edited by Heinrich Meier). I want to thank Dr. Meier for the opportunity to lecture in Munich and for the original publication of this Macbeth essay in book form. A significantly revised version of this text appeared in English in Interpretation, 24 ( 1997): 287-318. I have revised the essay further for republication in this volume.
2.
According to the concordances, this is the only appearance of the word gospell'd in all of Shakespeare.
3.
For an insightful discussion of the concept of manliness in Macbeth, see José A. Benardete, "Macbeth's Last Words," Interpretation, 1 ( 1970): 63-75. For another good discussion of manliness in Macbeth, see Matthew N. Proser, The Heroic Image in Five Shakespearean Tragedies ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965), pp. 51-91.
4.
On this distinction, see Seth Benardete, "Achilles and the Iliad," Hermes, 91 ( 1963): 1-5.
5.
On this point, see Michael Davis, "Courage and Impotence inShakespeare's Macbeth"

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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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