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Poetry and the Realm of PoliticsShakespeare to Dryden$
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Howard Erskine-Hill

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780198117315

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198117315.001.0001

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The First Tetralogy and King John

The First Tetralogy and King John

(p.46) 2 The First Tetralogy and King John
Poetry and the Realm of Politics

Howard Erskine-Hill

Oxford University Press

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

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