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The complete works of William Shakespeare (v. 11)

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Pages: 118

Book format: An electronic version of a printed book that can be read on a computer or handheld device designed specifically for this purpose.

Publisher: Date:8/5/2009 - General Books LLC

By: William Shakespeare

Excerpt from book: INTRODUCTION HE national epic of England has been well said to be written in Shakespeare's historical plays. It was but a natural development of this thought when Schlegel pronounced the first and the last of these dramas — " King John " and "King Henry VIII" —to stand to the rest in the relation of Prologue and Epilogue. This may be accepted if the character is not attributed to them in virtue of any supposed deliberate intention on the author's part. " King Henry VIII," which is not wholly or principally Shakespeare's, is clearly an occasional piece called forth by the public joy upon the Protestant marriage of the Princess Elizabetn, for whom a Roman Catholic bridegroom had been apprehended. The undramatic subject of Henry V, ofwhich Shakespeare has nevertheless made so much, was manifestly chosen to idealise Essex's expedition to Ireland in the year of its representation. When, therefore, Shakespeare wrote King John, hi or about 1595, he can have had no prevision of a connected epic in dramatic form. " King John " may nevertheless be regarded as in some measure a prologue, not merely or chiefly because the action precedes that of the other plays in order of time, but because it embodies in the most concentrated form the patriotic idea by which the entire series is animated. Not more than seven or eight of Shakespeare's plays betray a direct purpose, and whenever this purpose exists it has reference to public affairs. We have seen the drift of " King Henry V" and King Henry VIII." The purpose of " King John " is much more profound. The play is a veiled exhibition of Queen Elizabeth's conflict with the Pope and the Spaniard, and its moral is the impotence of the foreign foe but for domestic treason. The exaltation of the unpromising John as a representative of the na...  


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