Shakespeare and War

Derek Gregory has followed up his post on Theatre of/and War with one on Shakespeare and War. Lots of good reading suggestions in both. I’d also suggest Simon Barker, War and Nation in the Theatre of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries. Derek kindly mentions my Shakespearean Territories project in the second post – and his suggestions on Shakespeare are timely as I’ve recently been writing on the geopolitical framings of Hamlet and Macbeth. I’ll be giving various talks on this project in coming months, and hope to have the chance to focus on different bits for different audiences (rather than repeat the same paper each time). The next outing is the Critical International and Political Studies annual lecture, University of Warwick in October, which is why I’ve turned my attention to Hamlet and Macbeth.

Several of Shakespeare’s plays are explicitly about war – the English history plays, for example. Richard III has a striking battle, as does Henry V, given a propaganda spin by Laurence Oliver in 1944 before another invasion of France.

Coriolanus has important battle scenes, and King Lear has an invasion – both of which I’ve already written about. Macbeth begins with the defeat of an invasion and the execution of traitors – it gives Macbeth his title as Thane of Cawdor – and ends with another invasion to overthrow him. Titus Andronicus has the return of a warrior, army and prisoners at the beginning, and another invasion at the end. This will also be discussed in the book. A number of other plays have wider conflicts that frame a story – Hamlet is the one that I’ve found most striking recently, but troops also return from war at the beginning of Much Ado About Nothing. I’m sure there are more, and obviously there are traces in the martial metaphors throughout.

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