Majesty and the Masses in Shakespeare and Marlowe: Western Anti-Monarchism, The Earl of Essex Challenge, and Political Stagecraf

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This book is a landmark study of Shakespeare's politics as revealed in his later History Plays. It offers the first ever survey of anti-monarchism in Western literature, history and philosophy, tracked from Hesiod and Homer through to contemporaries of Shakespeare such as George Buchanan and the authors of the Mirror for Magistrates , thus demonstrating that anxiety over monarchic power, and contemptuous demolitions of kingship as a disastrously irrational institution, formed an important and irremovable body of reflection in prestigious Western writing. Overturning the widespread assumption that "Elizabethans believed in divine right monarchy", it exposits the anti-monarchic critique built into Shakespeare's Histories and Marlowe's Massacre at Paris , in five chapters of close literary critical readings, paying innovative attention to performance values.

Part Two focuses Queen Elizabeth's principal challenger for national rule: the Earl of Essex, England's most popular man. It demonstrates from detailed readings that, far from being an admirer of the war-crazed, unstable, bi-polar Essex, as is regularly asserted, Shakespeare launched in Richard II and Henry IV a campaign to puncture the reputation of the great earl, exposing him as a Machiavel seeking Elizabeth's throne. Shakespeare emerges as a humane and clear-sighted critic of the follies intrinsic to dynastic monarchy: yet hostile, likewise, to the rash militarist, Essex, who would fling England into permanent war against Spain.

Founded on an unprecedented and wide-ranging study of anti-monarchist thought, this book presents a significant contribution to Shakespeare and Marlowe criticism, studies of Tudor England, and the history of ideas.

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Taylor & Francis Ltd
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