In this book the distinguished historian Victor Kiernan makes a case for seeing Shakespeare as a writer profoundly sensitive to the great social and political upheavals through which he lived. Shakespeare’s poetic and dramatic achievement, Kiernan argues, was not something which transcended his environment but was directly enlarged by his civic consciousness and his critical reactions to a changing social fabric.
Shakespeare’s phase of dramatic activity coincides with the first challenges to the institution of monarchy. Kiernan analyses the cycle of History plays in the light of the demise of feudal allegiances and the emergence of the modern state apparatus. He shows how the far-reaching transformations in social hierarchy which simultaneously began to take place are crucial to an understanding of the Comedies, in which confusion of identity, disguise and cross-dressing are central. And he examines the ways in which women’s roles are affected by this nascent individualism, especially in relation to the ideas of romantic love around which the Comedies revolve.
Shakespeare: Poet and Citizen draws a vivid portrait of the outstanding dramatist of modernity. Lucid, scholarly and absorbing, it will be a rich resource for both students and the general reader.
“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 this book a remarkable achievement. It will become a classic.”—Christopher Hill