1st Edition

Shakespeare’s Politic Histories The Italian Connection

By John H. Cameron Copyright 2024

    This book posits that Shakespeare’s First Tetralogy draws inspiration from the Italian “politic histories” of the early modern period. These works of history, influenced by the Roman historian Tacitus, delve into the exploration of the machinations of power politics in governance and the shaping of historical events. The argument is that closely analysing these Italian “politic histories” can significantly enhance our understanding of the “politic” aspects dramatized in Shakespeare’s early English History plays. Specifically, the writings of Niccolo Machiavelli are highlighted as contributing to this understanding. These “politic histories” were accessible (in a variety of forms) to many English early modern writers, including Shakespeare. Thus, they serve as foundation for political and strategic analogies, enriching our interpretation of Shakespeare’s politic histories.

    While delving into the Italian “politic” historians can illuminate Shakespeare’s achievement, it is suggested that we should regard the English History plays as “politic histories” in their own right. In essence, they are dramatized versions of precisely the same kinds of “politic” historical writing, with its emphasis on ragion di Stato or raison d’état. This emphasis on what the Elizabethans called “stratagems” introduces new approaches to interpreting the plays. Considering the motivation and action of its characters entails novel approaches that challenge the established reading of the plays’ ‘Machiavellian’ characters (particularly Richard III) and shed light on previously overlooked characters (particularly Buckingham and Stanley), revealing their considerably greater strategic acumen. This exploration provides fresh avenues for reading the Shakespeare’s politic histories and better appreciate their Italian connection.



    1 Shakespeare’s Politic Histories: The Italian Connection

    Politic Histories, Politic Stratagems

    The Prince: A Prolegomena

    Gracing My Stratagems: Politic Drama

    2 The First Tetralogy, Shakespeare’s Politic History

    Things Not as They Ought to Be, but as They Truly Are

    Might vs. Right

    Trust and Distrust

    The Fox and the Lion

    With silence, be politic: Waiting for the Right Moment

    Weakness and Cruelty

    3 ‘Made I him king for this?’: Buckingham and the Choice of Ministers

    Choosing the Right Minister, Choosing the Right Prince

    Give us notice of his inclinations: The Use of Spies

    Playing the Orator, Playing the Crowd

    Stops he now for breath? The Limits of Politic Stratagems

    4 Stanley, the True Machiavellian of Richard III

    Stanley, the Quiet Machiavellian

    What think’st thou, then, of Stanley? Hiding One’s Intentions

    Look unto it: Failing to See Past the Surface

    What says Lord Stanley? Choosing the Right Moment

    5 ‘For few men right temper with the stars’: Fortuna and Virtù

    Tempering with the stars

    Fortune Favours the Bold: The Nature of Virtù

    Fortuna vs. Virtù, or Fortuna and Virtù?

    Conclusion ‘My kingdom for a horse!’: The Hollow Crown

    My kingdom for a horse! The Hollow Crown

    For one commanding all, obey’d by none: Some Closing Thoughts




    John H. Cameron teaches English Literature at Saint Mary’s University as well as German and Russian Literature at Dalhousie University. He is the editor of Narrative is the Essence of History and co-editor (with Goran Stanivukovic) of a special issue of Forum for Modern Language Studies that explores the development of comedy across different theatrical traditions (July 2022). He is the co-author (with Goran Stanivukovic) of Tragedies of the English Renaissance.