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Shakespeare's Historicism: Visions and Revisions

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Paola Pugliatti, University of Florence

Paul Valéry said that history is "the most dangerous compound that the mind's chemistry has ever produced," because "it can justify whatever one wishes."1 This article is an attempt to deal with several aspects of this dangerous compound: that of Shakespeare's historical plays themselves and the things they seem and have seemed to justify; that of the interpreters and their histories and the things they have justified through their readings of Shakespeare's historical plays; and finally the things that our revised perception of history, of historiography, and of historicism may still justify as regards Shakespeare's historical writings.

The debate about Shakespeare's English history plays has been in many ways peculiar. What makes the difference, of course, is the conviction that when dealing with political texts one has direct access to "reality"—indeed, to several levels of reality and even of "truth": on the one hand we have the impression—or conceive the illusion—that tackling Shakespeare's re-creation of English history may provide a key to "his" evaluation of both past and contemporary political issues, and that Shakespeare's reading of past events may shed light on the political "self-image" of Elizabethan England; on the other hand those texts have been used, more or less consciously and more or less explicitly, in order to extrapolate from them those "vibrations" that may serve as a comment on the interpreter's own historical and political context. The two perspectives are often inextricably entwined, for it is certainly impossible, and maybe not even desirable, for the. interpreter to ignore those vibrations. But there is probably a feeling, looming behind all criticism of the history plays, that dealing with history means not merely interpreting but also restoring and reviving, a feeling deriving from the fact that history is not simply knowledge; for "memory," as Jacques Le Goff says, "is the locus of power."2

It is perhaps this sense of power that has marked the debate with rhetorical features that are not to be encountered in other areas of Shakespeare criticism. The debate has been cohesive, dialogic, and highly controversial. Refuting, confuting, disproving have been and still are its privileged procedures and have been employed throughout the century: initially to demolish the theories of the disintegrators; then, following this, but also as a consequence of it, to prove that those plays were worth the effort of reading and writing about; then to dismantle the prejudice that negated their political relevance; then to argue opposing views as regards Shakespeare's attitude toward a number of crucial political issues; and finally to challenge the "orthodox" representations established by the "old historicism."

The controversial character of the debate has also determined the need for frequent assessments: Shakespeare Survey published the first one, by Harold Jenkins, in 19533 and a sequel by Dennis Burden in 1987.4 That the eighties was a decade in which the need was felt for new recapitulations of the "state of the art" is shown by at least two other essays: one by Graham Holderness, entitled "Agincourt 1944: Readings in the Shakespeare Myth," published in 1984,5 and the other by Robin Headlam Wells, entitled "The Fortunes of Tillyard: Twentieth-Century Critical Debate on Shakespeare's History Plays," published in 1985.6 Reading these assessments, one has the distinct impression that their aim is less that of reviewing a fragment of critical history than that of revising the various different contexts that determined those readings. The last link in the chain of recapitulations is, to my knowledge, a chapter entitled "Appropriations" in Shakespeare Recycled by Holderness, published in 1992.7

The liquidation of previous views...

(This entire section contains 5947 words.)

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established as "orthodoxies" led to the discovery of certain "prophet-critics," some of whom had long remained unheard. The most frequently quoted of those prophets is Richard Simpson who, as early as 1874, wrote an essay entitled "The Politics of Shakespeare's Historical Plays,"8 confuting Pollard's view that Shakespeare's plays had nothing to do with politics thirty years before Pollard formulated it.9 But not all of these prophets are universally recognized. Certain critics of the sixties and seventies, more or less organically connected with New Criticism, like Wilbur Sanders, Norman Rabkin, A. P. Rossiter,10 and others, who formulated the first substantial corrective to Tillyard's vision, are considered anticipators by Headlam Wells, who argues that they were the first "to re-examine the dramaturgy of the histories in the light of the conflicts and paradoxes of Renaissance intellectual life",11 while Holderness reads their rejection of Tillyard's method (which he believes was "in its cultural moment radical and controversial") as a backward step, in that it was founded on "a more traditional notion of art as free from the constructions of ideology or the determinants of history."12 Their "prophetic" credentials are thus only in part recognized today, although their idea of "duplicity" and "ambivalence," which is, with variations, at the root of their cultural and textual readings, has been resumed in a number of essays13 in the wake of Puttenham's definition of "Amphibology" as a figure conveying distinct political implications.

Another of the features that have characterized the debate is the fact that it has focused on the elaboration of a number of sharp oppositions that have been argued for or against in the light of new theses, of new historical inquiry, of new intertextual findings, of new critical attitudes, of new ideological requirements, of new sociological stipulations. These are the most important of these oppositions: Shakespeare did/did not celebrate the Tudor myth: he was/was not affirming the "natural" necessity of order and degree; his plays mirror the official political doctrines of his time/his plays, by showing contradictions and conflicts, undermine the official political doctrines of his time/his plays, albeit showing contradictions and conflicts, are functional to the diffusion of the official political doctrines of his time and therefore to a legitimation of power; Shakespeare's vision is providential/Shakespeare's vision is secular; the view of time represented is cyclical and recursive/the view of time represented is linear and progressive (this last statement has the advantage of a possible mediation in the following form: the view of time represented is both cyclical and linear, for it reproduces the Christian view, which is both liturgical and teleological). One or the other of the two poles of these oppositions is obviously argued for to support a more general prior conviction, namely: Shakespeare was a conservative/Shakespeare was a radical.

Despite the antithetical nature of the positions argued—or maybe precisely because of it and of the necessity to liquidate once and for all the contrasting position—one encounters in this area of Shakespeare criticism, with a frequency that is unequaled elsewhere, the use of certain simple rhetorical devices aimed at producing the impression that what the critic is saying is the very final word on the matter. Ironically, the ideas these expressions aim to naturalize are precisely those that have subsequently been most radically dismantled. It is possible to cite a whole series of such rhetorical gestures:

It is not likely that anyone will question my conclusion that Shakespeare's Histories with their constant pictures of disorder cannot be understood without assuming a larger principle of order. (Tillyard, 1944)

Surely Shakespeare was voicing the prayer of the men of good will in all England when he was writing the words with which Richmond closed [Richard III]. (Campbell, 1947)

What can be no longer doubted is that . . . the history plays have a collective unity. (Jenkins, 1953)

There can be no doubt that Shakespeare believed in this almost universally-accepted concept of degree, and that he accepted the Tudor doctrines of absolutism and passive obedience. (Ribner, 1957)

It is beyond doubt that Shakespeare was acquainted with the "Tudor myth." (Riggs, 1971)

I find no compulsion to doubt that Shakespeare intended to show his audience .. . the control of Providence . . . over the world of the plays, (Reed, 1984)14

The debate has also had some paradoxical aspects: these have concerned mainly the treatment of Tillyard's book. No work has been so vehemently confuted, none has been more radically demolished; nevertheless, all readings of the history plays take us back to Tillyard as a necessary starting point. As a consequence, the book's detractors have made its fortune much more than its admirers.

All those who have produced assessments of the debate have been aware of its epochal character; and it is obvious that, by reading their reconstructions, one may recover the views, urgencies, and interests that have prevailed in certain periods of our history. Writing in 1953, Harold Jenkins remarked that "the nineteenth century's conception [of the history plays] was in some measure the result of its predilections," and that "for an age of industrial and commercial progress, of growing nationalisms and imperialist expansion, the most obvious thing about Shakespeare's history plays was their expression of a national spirit." Jenkins was writing in a moment when the influence of Tillyard was still pervasive; he therefore does not remark what in due time would become a commonplace, namely, that although there are neither any open declarations of patriotism nor any explicit praise of the ideology of order, Tillyard's book is as much a creature of the postwar national spirit as Wilson Knight's drum-beating essay "The Olive and the Sword," which Jenkins defines as "an exploitation [of the history plays] to provide a 'gospel' for Britain at war."15 More recently, Graham Holderness has brilliantly shown how, in the atmosphere of patriotism, national unity, and the pride deriving from victory—a post-Agincourt or maybe rather a post-Armada atmosphere—the Shakespeare myth coherently produced the apparently cool and historically detached study of Tillyard, Wilson Knight's "The Olive and the Sword," and Olivier's film Henry V; in other words, how "Shakespeare" was put, in those years, "at the service of the national war effort."16

There was no victory to celebrate in the sixties and in the seventies. In the cold war years the tendency was towards "duplicity," "ambivalence," "undecidability"; the politics of our readings were determined by the influence of the absurd, the methods of "New Criticism," and the "vertical" readings generated by various kinds of formalism, together with interest in the metatheatrical self-exposure of the dramatic mechanisms.17 In sharp contrast to Tillyard's view, what Shakespeare communicated in those years to the critical mind was mainly his plays' recalcitrance, their unwillingness to fit into an imposed pattern, their resistance to one-sided interpretations. In the words of Graham Holderness, Shakespeare was, in those years, "a free-thinking liberal judiciously suspicious of all ideology."18

What follows is recent history. The suggestions of the last two decades have mainly concerned new ways in which the representation of the past should be constructed. The kind of image we now have of the English Renaissance is not, in itself, entirely new: as I said before, the monolithic image that had been constructed by the "old historicism" à la Tillyard had already been dismantled by certain books published in the sixties and in the seventies. What is comparatively new are the means and procedures we now opt for, the kind of broadly intertextual connections we establish, and, of course, the kind of standpoint from which all textual and contextual stipulations derive, which implies a redrawing of the boundaries between the literary and the nonliterary. But although the kind of negotiations we are now engaged in are certainly more fascinating and stimulating than those suggested either by the monologic visions imposed by the "old historicism" or by the self-explanatory and self-contained analyses of the new critics, the revised kind of historicism on which they are grounded is not necessarily or not always more convincing.

What has remained unchanged, however, is the (explicit or implicit) evaluation of Shakespeare's own political stance. As Annabel Patterson has remarked:

Since the early nineteenth century, conservative critics from Coleridge to Tillyard, democrats like Hazlitt or Whitman, and even contemporary Marxist critics like Terry Eagleton, if they agree in nothing else, have converged in believing that Shakespeare accepted without question contemporary social hierarchy and its self-justification.19

The substance of Coleridge's and Tillyard's view has been repeated again and again, although in different, less straightforward, and therefore more intriguing and captivating ways. In order to account for the discrepancies or ambivalence that neither Coleridge nor Tillyard remarked—or wanted to remark—but that were one of the leitmotivs of the new critics, the recent evaluations provided by the neo-Marxist schools20 tend to subsume all discrepancies and contradictions under the category of legitimating strategies, readable only as supportive of order. In short, as Holderness says,

Old and new historicism, . . . despite their obvious antagonisms, appear to be in agreement that the relationship between dominant and subversive ideologies within the plays is implicitly an orthodox or conservative one.21

There are few exceptions to the tendency to argue, albeit in new ways, the traditional view of Shakespeare as conservative patriarch and as champion of the status quo. These have all been accompanied by a revival of interest in a series of traditional categories. The most important of these revivals is a return to various forms of author retrieval, which have been suggested in different contexts.22 Writing in favor of a new form of biographism, Stanley Fish affirms that "we have not done away with intention and biography, but merely relocated them." He adds that reading is always biographical reading, and that only the "sources and agencies" may have different specifications.23 Leah Marcus suggests that we should recuperate certain tools of the "old historicism," and primarily "an idea called the Author's intent or putative intentionality," although in the revised form of a construct.24 Other critics have shown uneasiness regarding the disappearance of the author, although they reveal at the same time a certain embarrassment regarding a new definition of this encumbering substance. Graham Holderness declares that it would be unwise "completely to surrender . . . the genuine possibility that some kind of authorial 'mastery' shaped those texts and shaped them deliberately to particular ends."25 More recently, Richard Wilson has affirmed that "the logical end of historicism is the nature of the author .. . as a cultural construct determined by the representational practices of a particular historical era."26

In some cases, although the issue of the author's opinions remains in the background, conclusions about some features of the plays' stance are drawn: the aspect which has most frequently been argued is the absence, in the history plays, of a providential design.27 What is discussed in other cases are issues halfway between politics and historiography, such as Shakespeare's consciousness of the "pastness of the past" (Holderness) or his "perspectivism" (Hattaway).

In a few works, the return to the author has again led to an attempt to capture directly in the texts Shakespeare's personal political stance and opinions. Surprisingly, in this attempt "old" and "new" historicisms coincide. Patterson plainly states that she will ignore "the avant-garde proscriptions against talking about authors and intentions,"28 and she develops arguments to redeem Shakespeare from the old charge of anti-populism. Patterson was writing in 1989, and she was then right in mentioning as "proscriptions" things that now seem to have regained a right of citizenship. Even more explicit is Michael Hattaway who, in an article entitled "Rebellion, Class-Consciousness, and Shakespeare's 2 Henry VI" has claimed that "at the beginning of his career Shakespeare was not a pillar of the establishment . . . but [was] himself a radical."29 Both Patterson and Hattaway, in arguing their ideas of Shakespeare's populism, take as a test case the representation of Cade's rebellion, and both examine the Cade scenes on the basis of their "duplicity," thus revisiting in a political perspective the category of "purposeful ambiguity" that was one of the lines more intensely explored by critics in the sixties and seventies.

However, where the retrieval of the authorial principle can lead us is not clear; nor is there any agreement about what we mean when we speak of the author as "cultural construct," or about the way in which we should envisage the historicity of this construct and represent it. In theoretical statements, the author is "a locus of contingent intentions and desires" (Wilson); "a volatile, flexible, changing construction, engendered, and constantly reborn and rewritten, by the plays" (Holderness); it is "the product of collective exchange" (Greenblatt); it is "a writer whose intentions, if never fully recoverable, are certainly worth debating" (Patterson); it is a useful construct "when it is demoted from its traditionally privileged position as the overriding determinant of meaning" (Marcus); it is "a set of circumstances of enunciation" (Eco); and it is even William Shakespeare, a radical (Hattaway).30

One of the best argued and most captivating treatments of the issue of authorial intentions has come from Richard Wilson. Metaphorizing the long-fabled stories connected with the unearthing of Shakespeare's tomb, Wilson identifies the "illusions and discontents of old historicism" with the tourist's feeling when visiting Trinity Church that the Bard's material body is "unfathomable yet proximate, a tantalising presence-in-absence." He suggests that a new kind of historicism "can set to work on a different kind of excavation of the space occupied by the body beside the altar at Stratford, and like archaeology, it can start with the desire, if not to speak with the dead, at least to localise a subject in time and place."31

Wilson is a severe critic not only of "old historicism" but also of the American "new historicist" positions, and he discusses what he considers to be sharp differences between new historicism and cultural materialism, which he reduces to the formula that "where New Historicism aestheticises history, . . . Cultural Materialism historicizes the aesthetic." The "Death of the Author" and the "Intentional Fallacy" are read by Wilson as "the highest wall erected by modernism to defend the canon"; while the logical end of historicism is the revival of authorial intention as "the socially and legally sanctioned effect of a specific discursive formation."32

It seems to be a far cry from the idea of the author as "the socially and legally sanctioned effect of a specific discursive formation" to a view of Shakespeare, the man, as simply a "radical." However, when we examine the analytical fragments that follow the various theoretical statements explaining what a "cultural construct" should be, we find not only that the critical tools are more or less the same, whatever kind of historicism has been adopted or implicitly embraced; but also that the author as cultural construct is neither "volatile" nor "flexible," but is, in the final analysis, a "person" very much like the person of traditional biographism. Thus, Wilson's author as "a cultural construct determined by the representational practices of a particular historical era"33 is described, at one point in his book, as "Shakespeare, who seems to have discriminated between even his own daughters, educating his favourite to write and leaving the other illiterate."34

Wilson then examines Jack Cade's insurrection in 2 Henry VI to show that Shakespeare "used his professional debut to signal scorn for popular culture."35 He therefore embraces the traditional view of a Shakespeare possessed by a deep loathing of the "populace" and the Bondean (fictional) view of Shakespeare as a tyrannical father and an unflinching capitalist oppressor; Hattaway uses the Cade scenes to pursue his idea of a "radical" Shakespeare; and Patterson, to argue for Shakespeare's consciousness of, and sympathy with, the cultural tradition of popular protest. There can be little doubt that from Wilson's perspective Patterson's (and even more Hattaway's) essay would appear as a specimen of "old style" historicism. For her part, Patterson explicitly criticizes Wilson's reading of the 1592 feltmakers' demonstration as "a summer solstice festival"36 as an instance of suspicious historicism, based less on evidence than on bias. Despite their apparently irreconcilable differences, however, they both start from the same premises and the same correlation of events in constructing their hypotheses, and both rely on the kind of "local" reading that Wilson advocates as an essential tool of cultural materialism in his 1994 introduction to Will Power, where the essay on Cade was reprinted.37 As for the relationship between Wilson and Hattaway, their main point of disagreement is in what Wilson sees as the "myth of a democratic Globe,"38 which, on the contrary, Hattaway considers, albeit with many prudent question marks, a "popular" phenomenon. In this divergence, they simply rely on two different critical traditions, both arguable and both lacking conclusive evidence. Otherwise, their opposing claims evoke in equal measure the argument of source manipulation, although obviously to different ends. We might add a gloss to this dialogue. Wilson's argument that the Cade scenes are the immediate reaction to the feltmakers' revolt, which took place in June 1592, is based on the assumption that "the venomous fourth act of Henry VI, Part Two" was "written during July, 1592." The chain of reasoning is the following: in June 1592 the London clothiers rose against the expansion of the export of fabric dressed in the provinces; when the revolt broke out, Shakespeare was writing 2 Henry VI (or he began to write it the following month), and he found a way to reflect in the Cade scenes his aversion toward the clothiers; Jack Cade himself is a clothier, and a number of clothing images are used in those scenes. Six years after the revolt, in 1598, Shakespeare invested £30 in a consignment of "knitted stockings" from the Cotswold wool manufacturers, thereby proving that he took part in these capitalist developments: he, therefore, could never have been in sympathy with the clothier Cade, whom he depicted six years before.39 When Wilson republished his essay in 1994, the date of composition of 2 Henry VI had been questioned by Hattaway in his New Cambridge edition of the play (Hattaway argues for an earlier dating, between 1589 and 1591, which, if accepted, would disrupt Wilson's argument). Wilson was thus obliged to add a footnote where he liquidates the problem, simply saying that the date of composition of 2 Henry VI was "conclusively established by H. R. Born" in 1974, and that "though rival theories are sifted by M. Hattaway, . . . Born's dating remains unchallenged."40

I wish to make clear that the kind of historicism practiced by Wilson seems to me always to be suggestive and often revealing; I am not convinced, however, that it is the "definitive" kind of historicism, or that it is the most reliable kind of historicism, or even that it is the most progressive, or the only progressive, kind. Quite the opposite. Luckily, although the challenges it poses cannot be ignored, it leaves all the questions open: in particular, it does not invalidate the traditional view of historical reliability.

Going back to the author's intentionality seemed to be, only a few years ago, a crucial step; but while the theory elaborated convincingly on the "different kind of excavation" of the author's spoils we should be engaging in, the practice has not responded adequately. There is, I believe, no substantial difference between arguing that Shakespeare was a radical and arguing that he was a capitalist oppressor, or praising him as a supporter of order, no matter how those conclusions are reached: such statements are all suspicious because, however far we may have got away from any notions of objectivity, we must acknowledge that the plays—and the scanty extratextual evidence we have—are mute on the issue of the author's political opinions.41

But if any hypotheses about Shakespeare's evaluation of past and present political issues are bound to remain a matter for speculation, there are other things concerning their author that these plays can tell us, for they are explicit in revealing his methods of reading and writing and the various transactions he made with contemporary historical sources: in short, the intentions and directions of his historiographical practice.

Shakespeare may have subscribed to some of the political biases divulged by the chronicles, but all we can say is that he made some of his characters subscribe to them.42 What we can say with more certainty, however, is that from the very start he abandoned the undifferentiated, monologic, chronological, cumulative, unmarked presentation of events, focusing in each play on a specific political problem; his main contribution to the historiography of his time may be seen in the way he practiced a problem-oriented, multivocal kind of historiography, creating a series of structures where history could be seen by a multiplicity of points of view and evaluated by a multiplicity of voices, in a number of languages and styles; constructing, in other words, an arena for social, political, and cultural conflict.43

Suggesting a more fertile version of the idea of "purposeful ambiguity," Leah Marcus has claimed that "if Shakespeare avoided the appearance of intentionality, it was at least part of the time by design. We must try to distinguish between a lack of intentionality and the avoidance of intentionality, which may be a radically different thing."44 It is possible, I believe, to read the "avoidance of intentionality" in the history plays as the focal point of Shakespeare's historical discourse; and if we consider that one of the prescriptions for historians was that they should establish clear connections between past events and the present (Puttenham says that the moral value of history is in its "examining and comparing the times past with the present"45), then the refusal to make clear one's intentions becomes a much more critical and radical gesture than one might think at first. The plays' instability of meaning, their perspectivism, their irresolution, their dialogism, and their heteroglossia constitute, I believe, a significant breach with the orthodox practice of contemporary historians. They may be read as a mark of discontinuity, a break with tradition, and as a radical revision of the normal procedures of contemporary historical discourse. It is in his historiographical practice and only in it that Shakespeare's subversiveness is readable; and it is to his formal ruptures with the chronicle tradition (which are obviously not simply formal) that criticism engaged in the identification of dissonances should look in order to discuss his attitude toward dominant historiographical (and political) ideologies.

Introducing a fascinating "local" reading of 1 Henry VI, in which there is an extremely plausible and convincing description of a cluster of disquieting analogies between Shakespeare's pucelle and Elizabeth, Marcus makes clear the limits of such a reading, going back to the issue of intentionality. Those elements that might generate subversive thoughts, Marcus says, are integrated into an unstable structure, so that in the end the play refuses to be read on the basis of a single set of political implications. The play, Marcus concludes, creates "such an open field for speculation that the audience response is scattered as a prism scatters colors. What might have been taken even at this early date as the Author's Intent is unreadable because it can be read in too many different ways."46

Marcus's self-undermining statement, coming at the end of a tightly argued topical reading, is, I believe, not simply a local comment on the undecidability and ambiguity of certain texts; rather, it signals the acknowledgment of the indirect, presumptive, and circumstancial nature of the historical paradigm.47 By signaling the limits that even rigorous topical research should acknowledge, it tends to reinstate the strict discipline of doubt.


1 Paul Valéry, Regards sur le monde actuel (Paris: Gallimard, 1931), 63-64.

2 Jacques Le Goff, "Storia," in Enciclopedia (Torino: Einaudi, 1981), 13: 576.

3 "Shakespeare's History Plays: 1900-1951," Shakespeare Survey 6 (1953): 1-15.

4 "Shakespeare's History Plays: 1952-1983," Shakespeare Survey 38 (1987): 1-18.

5Literature and History 10 (1984): 24-45.

6English Studies 66 (1985): 391-403.

7 Graham Holderness, "Appropriations," in Shakespeare Recycled (London: Harvester, 1992), 21-50.

8 In The New Shakespeare Society Transactions (1874): 396-441.

9 A. F. Pollard, The History of England from the Accession of Edward VI to the Death of Elizabeth, 1547-1603 (London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1905): 440.

10 A. P. Rossiter, Angel with Horns (London: Longman, 1961); Ernest Talbert, The Problem of Order: Elizabethan Political Commonplaces and an Example of Shakespeare's Art (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1962); G. R. Elton, "King Lear" and the Gods (San Marino, Calif.: The Huntington Library, 1966); Norman Rabkin, Shakespeare and the Common Understanding (New York and London: The Free Press and Collier-Macmillan, 1967); Wilbur Sanders, The Dramatist and the Received Idea (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968); Robert Grudin, Mighty Opposites: Shakespeare and Renaissance Contrariety (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1979).

11 Wells, "The Fortunes of Tillyard," 398.

12 Holderness, Shakespeare Recycled, 29.

13See, for example, Catherine Belsey, "Love in Venice," Shakespeare Survey 44 (1991): 41-53; Stephen Mullaney, "Lying Like Truth: Riddle, Representation and Treason in Renaissance England," English Literary History 47 (1980): 32-47.

14 E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's History Plays (London: Chatto and Windus, 1944), 319; Lily B. Campbell, Shakespeare's Histories: Mirrors of Elizabethan Policy (San Marino, Calif.: The Huntington Library, 1947), 334; Irving Ribner, The English History Play in the Age of Shakespeare (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957), 154; David Riggs, Shakespeare's Heroical Histories: "Henry VI" and its LiteraryTradition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), 30; R. R. Reed, Crime and God's Judgment in Shakespeare (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1984), 6. In all quotations, the italics are mine.

15 Jenkins, "Shakespeare's History Plays," 1, 9.

16 Holderness, "Agincourt 1944," 27.

17See J. L. Calderwood, Shakespearean Metadrama: The Argument of the Play in "Titus Andronicus," "Love's Labour's Lost," "Romeo and Juliet," "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Richard II" (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969).

18 Holderness, Shakespeare Recycled, 30.

19 Annabel Patterson, Shakespeare and the Popular Voice (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 5.

20See, in particular, Stephen Greenblatt, "Invisible Bullets: Renaissance Authority and Its Subversion," in Political Shakespeare, eds. Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985), 18-47; "Murdering Peasants," in Representing the English Renaissance, ed. Stephen Greenblatt (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), 1-29; Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, "History and Ideology: The Instance of Henry V," in Alternative Shakespeares, ed. John Drakakis (London: Routledge, 1985), 206-27; Leonard Tennenhouse, Power on Display: The Politics of Shakespeare's Genres (New York and London: Methuen, 1986).

21 Holderness, Shakespeare Recycled, 34.

22 Even arguments concerning form have been revived: see the open-ended structure for D. S. Kastan, Shakespeare and the Shapes of Time (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1982); the "variety of styles" and the device of the "interrupted ceremony" for Michael Hattaway, introduction to TheSecond Part of King Henry VI (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

23 Stanley Fish, "Biography and Intention," in Contesting the Author, ed. W. H. Epstein (West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1991), 9-16; 13, 14.

24 Leah Marcus, Puzzling Shakespeare: Local Reading and Its Discontents (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 42.

25 Graham Holderness, "Prologue: 'The Histories' and History," in Graham Holderness, Nick Potter and John Turner, Shakespeare: The Play of History (London: Macmillan, 1988), 16.

26 Richard Wilson, Will Power (London: Harvester, 1994), 18.

27 J. D. Cox, Shakespeare and the Dramaturgy of Power (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989); Kastan, Shakespeare and the Shapes of Time; Holderness, Shakespeare Recycled; Hattaway, introduction.

28 Patterson, Shakespeare and the Popular Voice, 4.

29Cahiers Elizabéthains 33 (1988): 13-22, 15.

30 Wilson, Will Power, ix; Holderness, "Prologue," 16; Greenblatt, "The Circulation of Social Energy," in Shakespearean Negotiations (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 1-20, 12; Patterson, Shakespeare and the Popular Voice, 4-5; Marcus, Puzzling Shakespeare, 42; Umberto Eco, Lector in fabula (Milano: Bompiani, 1979), trans. The Role of the Reader (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979), chap. 3.5; Hattaway, "Rebellion," 15.

31 Wilson, Will Power, 2.

32 Ibid., 18.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid., 29.

35 Ibid.

36Shakespeare and the Popular Voice, 35.

37 "A Mingled Yarn: Shakespeare and the Cloth Workers" was originally published in Literature and History 12 (1986): 164-84.

38 Wilson, Will Power, 23.

39 Wilson's reading seems to imply that hostility toward a popular protest means invariably to show scorn for popular culture, even though the motives of that protest are narrowly monopolistic and protectionist (or even xenophobic). Besides, the "documents" he quotes do not seem to bear evidence that "in 1598 [Shakespeare] invested £30 in a consignment of 'knitted stockings' at Evesham" (Will Power, 32), and cannot therefore support his interpretation of the Cade episode. It is perhaps worthwhile to spend a few words on those documents. The first is a letter dated 24 January 1598 from Abraham Sturley to Richard Quiney. Sturley says that he has heard from Richard's father "that our countriman, Mr Shaksper, is willinge to disburse some monei vpon some od yardeland or other at Shottri or neare about vs." In the second, dated 25 October 1598, Richard Quiney is asking Shakespeare for £30 to help him "out of all the debettes I owe in London"; the third, dated ca. 30 October 1598, is a letter in which Adrian Quiney mentions to his son, Richard, the possibility of investing money in "knite stockynges" sold at Evesham. In this, Adrian simply hints at the possibility of getting money from Shakespeare to further this scheme ("Yff yow bargen with Mr Sha . . or receve money therfor, brynge your money home yf yow maye, I see howe knite stockynges be sold, ther ys gret byinge of them at Evysshome."); the fourth, dated 24 November 1598, is again from Abraham Sturley to Richard Quiney. Here it is stated "that our countriman Mr Wm. Shak. would procure vs monej," and the sum of £ "30 or 40" is mentioned as a help to make an investment "towardes sutch a match." The match was probably the buying of "knite stockynges" at Evesham, but on whose behalf the investment was being planned is not stated. Apart from the fact that there is no evidence that Shakespeare actually disbursed the money, what Richard Quiney's letter to him shows is that the sum of £30 was asked as a loan to the same Richard who, if he ever got it, may have used it for his own investment. Indeed, Richard's letter, if read in the context of the whole dossier, allows one to speculate that he insisted on his economic difficulties only to exert stronger pressure on the addressee. The letters are reproduced in E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930), 2: 101-3. William Carroll rightly argues that in those documents Shakespeare is mentioned only "as a possible source of money, but the investment ideas are all Quiney's," and concludes that Wilson misreads the documents conflating two different letters (Fat King Lean Beggar [Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1966], 143). If read carefully, however, the sequence of letters does not seem to allow misunderstanding.

40 Wilson, Will Power, 245.

41 Again commenting on the treatment of Cade's rebellion, Derek Cohen unhistorically complains that Cade "is not given the chance to seem the revolutionary hero that many of his followers would have celebrated"; and above all he uses the fact that "At no time do the pretenders to the throne offer a redistribution of wealth" (!) as an argument which shows Shakespeare's antipopulist attitude (The Politics of Shakespeare [London: Macmillan, 1993], 60, 66).

42 As Raymond Williams has observed, criticism often makes the mistake of isolating "speeches by particular characters as Shakespeare's essential beliefs" (afterword in Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, eds., Political Shakespeare, 231-39, 231).

43 When I say that Shakespeare's historiography is problem-oriented, I certainly consider, in the background of my assertion, the formula of histoire-problème versus histoire-récit, which was divulged and developed by the École des Annales. More realistically, however, I tend to refer to the fact that "classical" Western drama is always centered on a crisis (which is precisely the idea that, to a certain extent, was dispersed by the absurdists). It is therefore true to say that the problem-oriented effect of Shakespeare's texts was largely determined by the dramatic medium, its tradition and conventions. However, while the dramatic form is based on a crisis, history is conceptualized as a continuum. In the case of historical drama, therefore, the focalization on a crisis implies a segmentation and problematization of that continuum.

44 Marcus, Puzzling Shakespeare, 42.

45 George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, ed. G. D. Willcock and Alice Walker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1936), 39.

46 Marcus, Puzzling Shakespeare, 70. Discussing the instability of meaning in Shakespeare's plays, Angela Locatelli has interestingly developed the notion of "double enunciation" in an essay entitled "Shakespearean Enunciation and the Textual Subject of Ethics," forthcoming in Mnema. Per Lino Falzon Santucci, ed. P. Pugliatti (Messina: Armando Siciliano).

47See, on the circumstantial nature of the historiographical paradigm, Carlo Ginzburg, "Spie. Radici di un paradigma indiziario," in Miti emblemi spie (Torino: Einaudi, 1979); English trans., "Morelli, Freud and Sherlock Holmes," History Workshop 9 (1980): 5-36.

Source: "Shakespeare's Historicism: Visions and Revisions," in Shakespeare and the Twentieth Century: The Selected Proceedings of the International Shakespeare Association World Congress, Los Angeles, 1996, edited by Jonathan Bate, Jill L. Levenson, and Dieter Mehl, University of Delaware Press, 1998, pp. 336-49.


Shakespeare's Clowns and Fools


Shakespeare's Representation of History