The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1953 Tuesay, 24 September 2002
From: Clifford Stetner <
Date: Saturday, 21 Sep 2002 01:15:03 -0400
Subject: 13.1800 Re: James and Superstitions
Comment: Re: SHK 13.1800 Re: James and Superstitions
John W. Kennedy wrote that
>James is explicitly (some would say fulsomely) flattered in
>both "Macbeth" and "Henry VIII".
That's probably what the censor said. Any dramatist wanting to give the
king bad press, especially when he was his patron, would have had to be
subtle enough about it and secure enough in his political status to
evade the terrible hand of justice visited on Edmund Peacham, the
Marprelate printers, and William Prynne.
It's possible to read the series of plays: Antony and Cleopatra,
Coriolanus, Timon, Pericles, Cymbeline, Winter's Tale, Tempest as
expressions of profound resentment towards a corrupt and degenerate
political state doomed to impending destruction (reserving perhaps the
possibility of a future redemption).
In AC, a new regime devolves into civil war between Machiavellian
politicians and degenerate hedonists. In Coriolanus, short sighted
Machiavellian politicians bring the state to the brink of destruction
from inside and out. In Timon, the state is overthrown because of the
parasites, flatterers, sycophants, and the arrogance of power that has
replaced its wonted nobility, virtue and magnanimity. In Pericles, the
moral corruption of the state brings about the long exile of nobility
and virtue from royal power. In Cymbeline, Machiavellian politicans
bring about the long exile of nobility and virtue from royal power. In
The Tempest, Machiavellian politicians bring about the long exile of
nobility and virtue from royal power.
Those of us who read the plays as allegorical of current events might
interpret the common themes running through this series as identifying
the Jacobean regime with those of Rome, Athens, Antioch/Tyre, Britain,
Sicily/Bohemia, and Naples/Milan from which the nobility of the former
regime is currently exiled making tragedy and destruction the only means
to its resurrection.
If Prynne could have had his face branded and his ears cut off for
insulting James's queen simply by calling women who act in stage plays
whores, any obvious insults to James would have been suicidal, and we
can't interpret their absence from Shakespeare's work according to
modern standards of freedom of expression.
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