New Historicism: reviewing Shakespeare

Representations of Monarchy:  (Part. 3)


The leisure market thrived in earnest, as Nagler’s visitor from Switzerland testified:

[E]very day at two o’ clock in the afternoon in the city

of London, two sometimes three plays are performed,

at separate places, wherewith folk make merry together,

and which does best gets the greatest audience.

(Nagler.  A, M.  1952.  p.  117.)


We witness a thriving, competitive, leisure and arts industry (leisure creating the demand), systematically determined by a group of capital conscious men.  Shakespeare was a key member of these early entrepreneurs; they became highly influential business men, wielding significant power.  ‘…[A]s he prospered his purchases of Stratford properties are recorded … some of his London lodgings … have retired to his fine Stratford house … New Place …’  (Brookes. J.  1986. p. 1.)

The court was the ‘obvious seat of power,’ so ‘repositories of its instruction’: the Empress’ minions, when appearing at court, would melt away into inconsequentiality.  Shakespeare ‘held his own,’ his productivity alone demanded status and attention, and, his plays were invariably performed at court.  Whilst enjoying, no doubt, celebrity status accorded to those permitted, close proximity to the throne.  He would also have been target for hierarchical manipulation.  Equally, at times, he may have regretted being so close to ‘The Virgin Queen.’  ‘… Essex returned, not bringing rebellion broached ‘… but himself to perish …’  (Shakespeare.  W.  1968.  p7.) A well touted suggestion: Essex may have ‘fallen foul’ of Royal favour because of his much publicised failure.  (Shakespeare wasn’t himself connected to Essex, although his patron Southampton was).

Shakespeare was an important function in The Empress’ propaganda machine.  This position will, no doubt, have influenced his work, ‘… immediately changing it so that it no longer represents a foreign body within …’ (Williams.  R.  1968.  p.  320.)  Shakespeare’s commercial habitat [the surroundings where he promulgated his business enterprises] – at court and along the raucous uncensored banks of the Thames – allowed him to keep a very high public profile.  The public renditions, in contrast to the very private royal performances, may have offered sites of potential resistance: one has to bear in mind, the fact that, state apparatus had already changed and continued to do so.    It was now a fully functioning administrative machine, offering sites of discipline and control [see Foucault] – as Henry’s [v111] ‘primitive model demonstrates in appropriate texts – within forces of ideological coercion, combined with religio-hegemonic oppression. 

Elizabeth can be forgiven, for employing many ‘agents’ who performed covert enterprises of surveillance; she employed, what has been termed, ‘an economy of visibility.’  The population ‘at large’ harboured grand illusions of what royalty may, or may not, have been.  Elizabeth, in employing this particular strategy, developed a mystique.  She created a social ‘hunger’, developing a public need for information pertaining to ‘their’ monarch.  To fulfill those social illusions, Shakespeare skilfully attempted to ‘conjure up’ state manufactured images, alluding to royalty.  They became ‘post-hypnotic’ signifiers of subservience.’  Shakespeare’s wilful, sometimes utterly false representation of monarchy, and monarchical rule.  



Doting ewes pick real

Rooted grass; lambs

Flicker, fleck, bounding

En masse. Throes!

April’s promise; foregoing

Joy’s gracious purchase

Bulging, pregnant trees

Distill favour: verdant

Leaves, wearing crowns

A’glow, instinctively

signal voyeurs to order!


Nature’s annual picture show

Complimentary vision

Poet’s wordflow















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