Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Shakespeare - Love of Politics and History - Henry VIII

Opinions, attitudes and interests of Shake-Speare and Bacon.

Interest in Politics

Shake-Speare was profoundly interested in politics. It is obvious that he had read widely and thought deeply on the subject. As A.L. Rowse comments in his William Shakespeare, p. 76: "Shakespeare's concern with the importance of unity and good government...is unique with him". But Bacon shared it. He believed himself born for the helm of State, and was immersed in politics all his life. He was a member of Parliament from the age of 20 and was usually active in it. In 1616 he became a Privy Councilor. His writings show the sort of political wisdom displayed by Shake-Speare. Would Shakspere of Stratford have been such a political animal? He certainly had no occasion to exercise any political interests since he was not a member of the ruling class.

Love of History

Rowse continues at p. 437: "One of the chief features distinguishing his [Shake-Speare's] work had been the appeal of history to his imagination". There were "no less than 10 plays inspired by England's past. And this in addition to the Roman plays, further evidence of the appeal of history to this most historical mind".  Bacon's love of history pervades all his work. On 22 April 1605 he wrote to the Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, commenting on the need for a better history of England: "For as statues and pictures are dumb histories, so histories are speaking pictures". In 1622 he published his History of Henry VII, and before his death had started a History of Henry VIII. No doubt in both Shake-Speare and Bacon interest in history was linked to their interest in politics. As Bacon wrote in his Essay on Studies, "Histories make men wise".

Two Bacon quotes:

 "True history wearies the mind with the satiety of ordinary events, one like another, poesy refreshes it, by reciting things unexpected and various, and full of vicissitudes".
The Advancement of Learning

"Dramatic poesy, which has the theatre for its world, would be of excellent use if well directed. For the stage is capable of no small influence both of discipline and corruption. Now of corruptions in this kind we have enough, but the discipline in our times has been plainly neglected. And though in modern states play-acting is esteemed but as a toy, except when it is too satirical and biting; yet among the ancients it was used as a means of educating men's minds to virtue. Nay, it has been regarded by learned men and great philosophers as a kind of musician's bow by which men's minds may be played upon. And certainly it is most true, and one of the great secrets of nature, that the minds of men are more open to impressions and affections [passions, as usually in Bacon] when many are gathered together than when they are alone".
De Augmentis

Regarding Bacon's plan for a history of Henry VIII

Letter from Bacon to King James, Nov.1622:

"...for my pen, if contemplative, going on with The Historie of Henry the Eighth."

January 1623. Bacon applied to the records office for the loan of archive documents relating to the reign of Henry VIII.

Letter from Bacon to the Duke of Buckingham, 21 February 1623:

...Prince Charles "who, I hope, ere long will make me leave King Henry VIII and set me on work in relation to His Majesty's adventures."

Letter from Bacon to the Duke of Buckingham, 26 June 1623:

"...since you say the Prince hath not forgot his commandment touching my history of Henry VIII."

December 1623 ' The Historie of King Henry VIII' printed for the first time in the Shakespeare First Folio.

A brief, 30-line summary of Henry VIII's reign was printed after Bacon's death under his own name.

A Stage oddity

Professor Ioppolo, who saw Henry VIII when it was staged by the RSC in the 1990s, compares the play to a painting:

"You have all these processions - highly-visualised staged scenes which were very much the vogue in 1613."

She points out that most of Shakespeare's history plays were written at the beginning of his career.

"The vogue for them was the 1590s. We don't know why in 1613 they are suddenly writing a history play. The other plays being done in the period are all tragedies or city comedies.

"It's really an elusive little play because we don't know what it represents. It's wonderful, it's an oddity."


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