Chapter

<i>The First Tetralogy and</i> King John

Howard Erskine-Hill

in Poetry and the Realm of Politics

Published in print June 1996 | ISBN: 9780198117315
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191670916 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198117315.003.0003
The First Tetralogy and King John

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When Shakespeare chose to produce a sequence of plays on the reign of King Henry VI he was choosing material of traditional and orthodox significance, of relatively recent relevance, and of current topical interest. Traditionally, the reign was a terrible example of misrule, political and military failure, and escalating civil war. Like Gorboduc, nearly thirty years earlier, the Henry VI plays made their immediate impact by the kind of telling contrast with the present which carried a grim warning. That the reign displayed features ‘for the which God is often angry with princes’, as Wentworth had recently argued, was clear to all, though opinions might divide as to why these appalling developments had occurred. Despite the obvious theme of order and disorder to which Tillyard most notably drew attention, no clear providential explanation is prominently advanced in the text. The great providential scheme of Hall, showing how England suffered for the deposition of Richard II, is nowhere explicit. Those who comment upon England's woes attribute them firmly to evident short-term causes, for example the unscrupulous ambition of the great nobles and the weakness of the inexperienced young king.

Keywords: Shakespeare; Henry VI; King John; Gorboduc; Wentworth; Tillyard

Chapter.  9974 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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