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Victor Kiernan | Michael Wood


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'This book rests on a lifetime’s thinking about history. It helps us see Shakespeare in “a more realistic light”.’
Times Literary Supplement

Although Shakespeare is rightly celebrated for the continued relevancy of his plays and poetry today, we too often lose sight of the wider historical context which shaped his work. In Shakespeare: Poet and Citizen, Victor Kiernan shows that Shakespeare was profoundly sensitive to the great social and political upheavals of his age. Shakespeare's life coincided with the first challenges to the institution of monarchy, as well as far-reaching transformations in the social hierarchy.

By placing the plays within this context of an emerging modernity, Kiernan upends our perception of Shakespeare's writings. He shows that these social transformations, and especially the changing roles of women, are crucial to our understanding of the Comedies, in which the confusion of identity, disguise, and cross-dressing play a central role, while the Histories similarly reflect the demise of feudal allegiances and the development of the modern state.

Featuring a new introduction by Michael Wood, Shakespeare: Poet and Citizen provides a rich resource for both students of literature and for the general reader looking for new insight into the life of our greatest dramatist.

Victor Kiernan (1913–2009) ranks among Britain’s most distinguished historians. After a fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge, and a long period spent teaching in India, he joined the History Department at the University of Edinburgh, where he served as professor of modern history from 1970 until his retirement. Over the course of his life he authored such works as Eight Tragedies of Shakespeare, The Lords of Human Kind, European Empires from Conquest to Collapse, The Duel in European History and numerous others, as well as translating two volumes of Urdu poetry.

Michael Wood is broadcaster and film-maker, as well as being the author of several highly praised books on English history, including In Search of Shakespeare.

'Victor Kiernan is one of the best historians of seventeenth-century England. And he is also a sensitive literary critic. The combination of these gifts makes his book a remarkable achievement. It will become a classic.'
Christopher Hill

'The strength of this book lies in the total view of political and social conditions of the period which underpins it ... Unlike so many other books on Shakespeare … it will not scare off the non-academic reader.'
The Guardian

'This book rests on a lifetime’s thinking about history. It helps us see Shakespeare in “a more realistic light”.’
Times Literary Supplement

'[Kiernan's] detailed knowledge of the plays and the period they emerged from give an enormous authority to his analysis of the forces at work in them. He covers the entire canon, including the sonnets and the comedies but his analysis of the histories is central.'
Morning Star

'[A] splendid Marxist exploration of Shakespeare’s work...Victor Kiernan was a historian to rank with Eric Hobsbawm and Christopher Hill. His approach to Shakespeare is based on a deep historical understanding of the contradictions of the period, which makes him deeply sensitive to what the plays reveal.'
International Socialism Journal

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
Cover Cover
About the Author\r i
Title\r iii
Copyright iv
Content v
Introduction by Michael Wood vii
Foreword xi
PART I: A Time Out of Joint 1
1: Late Tudor England 3
2: Society and Art 9
3: Shakespeare's Life 18
4: Shakespeare and the Theatre 24
PART II: The Histories 33
1: Shakespeare and English History 35
2: The Plays 40
Henry VI Part 1 (1590) 40
Henry VI Part 2 (c. 1590) 41
Henry VI Part 3 (c. 1591) 44
Richard III (1591-92) 45
King John (1590-91) 48
Richard II (1595) 52
Henry IV Part 1 (c. 1596-97) 54
Henry IV Part 2 (c. 1597-98) 59
Henry V (1599) 67
3: Historical Themes 75
Monarchy 75
Feudal Nobility and Politics 83
War 95
Nationalism 104
Religion 109
Women and the Family 116
Past and Present 123
PART III: Experiments 131
1: Tragedies 133
Titus Andronicus (1594?) 133
Romeo and Juliet (1594-96) 136
2: Poems 145
Venus and Adonis (1593) 145
Lucrece (1594) 147
3: Sonnets 151
PART IV: The Comedies 163
1: The Comic Realm 165
2: The Plays 168
The Taming of the Shrew (c. 1590) 168
The Comedy of Errors (c. 1590-93) 169
Love's Labour's Lost (c. 1595) 170
The Two Gentlemen of Verona (c. 1593-94) 172
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1596) 173
The Merchant of Venice (1596-98) 175
As You Like It (1598-99) 182
Much Ado about Nothing (1598) 186
The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597) 188
Twelfth Night (1601-02) 190
3: Comedy Themes 195
Wit and Humour 195
Men and Women 200
Lovers 210
Social Currents 218
Affairs of State 226
Epilogue 233
PART V: Life Unfolding 237
1: Chance and Destiny, Fate and Accident 239
2: Towards the Tragic 247
Bibliography 252
Index 258