A thing most Brutish: depicting Shakespear's multi-nation state

Maley, W. (2007) A thing most Brutish: depicting Shakespear's multi-nation state. Shakespeare, 3(1), pp. 79-101. (doi: 10.1080/17450910701252164)

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Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17450910701252164


In recent years, anglocentric and royalist readings of Shakespeare have yielded to colonial and republican perspectives. The placing of the plays within a problematic early modern British context has been a distinctive feature of this criticism. This essay surveys recent work on the British and Irish dimensions, addressing the broad issues entailed in situating Stuart Shakespeare: succession, union, plantation, the reinvention of Britain, and the expansion of England. This criticism, concerned with questions of colonialism and nationalism in the context of British state formation, focuses on the Nine Years War in Ireland (1594-1603), the succession crisis that led to the Union of Crowns (1603), the Flight of the Earls (1607), and the Ulster Plantation (1609). Although this work touches on all of Shakespeare's corpus, it tends to centre on a group of plays, namely the “British tetralogy”-Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth and Cymbeline-book-ended by Henry V and The Tempest. This work, part of the “new contextualism”, a revised and enlarged version of new historicism and cultural materialism, mixes the empirical methods of the old historicism with the theoretical insights of the new, and adds the urgency, the “very now” of Presentism. Four related features emerge: the rethinking of genre, in the extending of the category of history play to include tragedies such as Macbeth and King Lear, and romances like Cymbeline and The Tempest; the rethinking of history, in a concomitant extension of the terms “Jacobean” and “Stuart” to all of Shakespeare's late and post-Elizabethan work; the rethinking of the relation between new historicism and cultural materialism in the twinning of topicality and presentism as critical approaches; and the reorientation of the field in the recollection of, and reconnecting to, an earlier tradition of (old) historicist criticism preoccupied by geography and place. By going beyond the histories and reorienting the tragedies and romances, this new criticism is challenging genre boundaries as well as national borders.

Item Type:Articles
Keywords:Borders, Britain, colonization, conquest, cultural materialism, Elizabethan, empire, England, geography, historicism, Ireland, Jacobean, new historicism, plantation, presentism, Rome, Scotland, sovereignty, Stuart, succession, topicality, Tudor, Ulster, union, Wales
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Maley, Professor Willy
Authors: Maley, W.
Subjects:P Language and Literature > PR English literature
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater
College/School:College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Journal Name:Shakespeare

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