Date of Award

Spring 1996

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dobbs, Darrell

Second Advisor

Goldin, Owen

Third Advisor

Rhodes, James


Surely one of E.M.W. Tillyard's most delightful insights is this bit of honesty: "People are so fond of Shakespeare that they are desperately anxious to have him of their own way of thinking."1 It is true that commentators on Shakespeare generally covet his approval; they want to claim Shakespeare as their own, so to speak. But we should be careful not to make Shakespeare say merely what we would say. While we ought to be cautious in pronouncing what we take to be the views of a man who wrote under the veiled persona of dramatic form, it is nevertheless the case that we can, if careful, arrive at an objective interpretation of Shakespeare's intention. Our interpretation must always stand or fall on the basis of its account of the text itself. It is fortunate, I think, that the obscurity of the life of William Shakespeare serves to return our attention again and again to the text as the ultimate arbiter of questions of the interpretation of his work. With this in mind, I am prepared to say that one of Shakespeare's central concerns throughout the whole body of his work is the refutation of the charges that Machiavelli makes against the influence of Christianity. This dissertation is concerned with advancing that thesis within the limits of the two tetralogies of Shakespeare's histories, though there are many more of Shakespeare's plays that deal with this theme. Shakespeare's response to Machiavelli is not merely a pedantic exercise; as we shall see, Machiavelli's primary charge against Christianity-that it disposes men to suffer tyrants-strikes at the heart of the political orthodoxy of Shakespeare's day, the Tudor Myth. The first tetralogy begins to answer Machiavelli's challenge to Christianity by exploring the problem of justice which emerges from a disordered love of worldly glory. It culminates with the regicide of Richard Ill-a rejection of both the Machiavellian consequentialism he stands for and the Tudor Myth his usurper authored. The problem of justice thus identified, the second tetralogy offers the solution to it in the person of Shakespeare's Christian prince, who learns to reject Machiavelli and embrace the practice of the Christian virtue of mercy as the only solution to the problem of justice...



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