Shakespeare’s Theatre of War  book cover
1st Edition

Shakespeare’s Theatre of War

ISBN 9781138272040
Published November 28, 2016 by Routledge
304 Pages

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Book Description

The period between 1585 (when Elizabeth formally committed her military support to the Dutch wars against Spain) and 1604 (when James at last brought it to an end) was one in which English life was preoccupied by the menace and actuality of war. The same period spans English drama’s coming of age, from Tamburlaine to Hamlet. In this thought-provoking book, Nick de Somogyi draws on a wide range of contemporary military literature (news-letters and war-treatises, maps and manuals), to demonstrate how deeply wartime experience influenced the production and reception of Elizabethan theatre. In a series of vivid parallels, the roles of soldier and actor, the setting of battlefield and stage, and the context of playhouse and muster are shown to have been rooted in the common experience of war. The local armoury served as a props department; the stage as a military lecture-hall. News from the front line has always been shrouded in the fog of war. Shakespeare’s Rumour is here seen as kindred to such equally dubious messengers as his Armado, Falstaff or Pistol; soldiers have always told tall tales, military ghost-stories that are here shown to have seeped into such narratives as The Spanish Tragedy and Henry V. This book concludes with a sustained account of Hamlet, a play which both dramatises the Elizabethan context of war-fever, and embodies in its three variant texts the war and peace that shaped its production. By affording scrutiny to each of its title’s components, Shakespeare’s Theatre of War provides a compelling argument for reassessing the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries within the enduring context of the military culture and wartime experience of his age.

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; Casualties of War: ’Her privates we’; ’Now art thou my lieutenant’; ’You a captain?’; The Art of War: Matters mathematical; Model soldiers; Theatre of War: Playing at soldiers; War games; Rumours of War: True reports; Old soldiers; Ghosts of War: Soldiering on; Airborne troops; The Question of These Wars: ’Implements of war’; ’Is there no offence in’t?’; Unearthing skulls; Bibliography; Index.

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Nicholas de Somogyi is a freelance writer and researcher. He is a genealogist at the College of Arms in London and a teacher at the Education department of Shakespeare’s Globe. He also worked on the editing of the Globe Quartos series.


’ is gratifying to see the appearance of Nick de Somogyi’s Shakespeare’s Theatre of War...Following a chapter on the rumors of war, de Somogyi launches into the two final chapters that make this book exceptional. The chapter entitled The Ghosts in War is splendidly conceived...The discussion of Hamlet forms a brilliant conclusion....’ Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. LI, No. 4 (Winter 1999) ’Somogyi’s exploration of wartime Elizabethan England convincingly shows the correlation, indeeed, the parallels between the battlefield and the stage.’ The Shakespeare Newsletter, No. 49, No. 2 (Summer 1999) ’De Somogyi’s scholarly methods deserve only praise; and copious notes, a thorough bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and a usefully enhances his work.’ Sixteenth Century Journal XXXI/3 2000 ’Nick de Somogyi presents powerful, compelling arguements for placing the dramas of Shakespeare and his contemporaries within the context of militarism that will provide scholars and students with important ways to understand and appreciate those works.’ Sixteenth Century Journal XXXI/3 2000 ’De Somogyi admirably fills the relatively empty field with a detailed examination...This new work will be especially useful to Shakespeareans whose knowledge of the period is limited primarily to the Armada and perhaps strife in Ireland...Nick de Somogyi’s six well-researched and informative chapters perform a valuable service to Shakespeareans by rounding out our awareness of the European conflicts that pressed upon the English people of the time, and by reminding us how much and in how many ways the theaters of Elizabethan England were theaters of war. ’ Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol 51 ’De Somogyi’s scholarly methods deserve only praise; and copious notes, a thorough bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and a useful index enhances his work.’ Sixteenth Century Journal ’Nick de Somogyi presents powerful, compelling arguements for