The limits of modernity in Shakespeare's King John

Longstaffe, Stephen (1996) The limits of modernity in Shakespeare's King John. In: Klein, Holger and Wymer, Rowland, (eds.) Shakespeare and history. Shakespeare Yearbook, VI . Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, N.Y., USA, pp. 91-118.

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Abstract

Deborah Curren-Aquino, summing up fifty years of critical engagement with Shakespeare's King John, identifies a radical break with earlier views of the play in "the tendency in post 1940 scholarship to describe John as ambivalent, ambiguous, suspicious, sceptical, questioning and ideologically subversive".1 The form and tone of John, in other words, are recognisably modern. Few critics have gone as far as Sigurd Burckhardt, who in the 1960s asserted that the play documented Shakespeare's own modernity, defined as the recognition that order, or "justice and truth at the heart of things", was of human, rather than divine, origin.2 Burckhardt's position, though not his confidence that he could show that "when he wrote King John, or quite possibly in writing it, Shakespeare became a 'modern'", is echoed in Virginia Vaughan's claim of 1989 that the play "like Shakespeare's other history plays" depicts a crucial point in the inauguration of "the relativism of the modern age".3 But for the most part, writers on John have avoided such grand narratives of epistemological shifts, and found the play's modernity to be historically produced in a much more local way: as part of a Shakespearian negotiation with chronicle, source play, or the history play genre. What John is sceptical about, in other words, is other historical accounts of John's reign, especially regarding their relationship to what might still be termed Tudor ideology. For many critics, Shakespeare's John is in antagonistic relation to such "sources" as the anonymous Queen's Men's play The Troublesome Reign of King John and the 1587 Holinshed, interrogating the writing of history of which these two texts, and the history play as a genre, were part.

Item Type: Book Section
Publisher: Edwin Mellen Press
ISBN: 9780773488373
Related URL(s):
Departments: Humanities
Depositing User: Insight Administrator
Date Deposited: 10 Jun 2011 08:44
Last Modified: 19 Oct 2018 15:23
URI: http://insight.cumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/622

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