How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage: Power and succession in the history plays
Yale University Press (Footprint), $64.99 hb, 688 pp, 9780300222715
Sir Philip Sidney in the 1580s proclaimed the superiority of the creative maker of ‘poesy’ over the moralising philosopher and historian – ‘the historian wanting the precept, is so tied, not to what should be, but to what is; to the particular truth of things, and not to the general reason of things; that his example draweth no necessary consequence, and therefore a less fruitful doctrine. Now doth the peerless poet perform both ...’ Ever since, literary studies and history, while closely allied, have also kept a wary distance from each other. To imaginative writers and text-based critics, historians can seem literal-minded in their pronouncements on literature, treating works of art as of the same status as any other document, however mundane, and thus unable to transcend their own historical contexts to speak to later generations. Meantime, to the historian, literature (and literary historians, even of the New Historicist school), may seem maddeningly reductive and biased in dealing with complex issues from the past, in an effort to advance some ahistorical theory.