The Moral and Amoral Orders in Shakespeare's History Plays: Their Relations to the Concept of Monarchy

Publication Year



William Shakespeare, literature, playwriting, monarchy, moral and amoral orders, history plays


Comparative Literature | English Language and Literature | European History | Literature in English, British Isles | Playwriting | Theatre and Performance Studies


The history plays contain the genesis of the vision which enabled Shakespeare to produce such tragic figures as Hamlet and King Lear. His concentration upon the public figure of the king is an important development towards his later view of man as a private figure. Within these early plays there is an employment of external criteria: the traditional Elizabethan view of the universe and the heretical philosophy of Machiavelli, representative of morality and amorality, respectively. These orders dominate the background upon which Shakespeare's monarchs rise and fall. Through an examination of four of the history plays (1 and 2 of Henry IV will be treated as one play) it is possible to determine Shakespeare's evaluation of man's action, as personified in the figure of the king, within these two orders.

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