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A poetics of the Elizabethan theatre is inseparable, in crucial respects, from a poetics of power.

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A poetics of the Elizabethan theatre is inseparable, in crucial respects, from a poetics of power. To approach the above discussion it must first be made clear what is meant by "poetics." Todorov, in his book "Introduction to Poetics" (pg.7) defines poetics as a "name for everything that bears on the creation or composition of works having language at once as their substance and as their instrument." This helps us to understand what is meant by "A poetics of the Elizabethan Theatre" - an exploration of all the external and internal influences that shaped and made the said theatre what it was - but it is less helpful in trying to assess what is meant by "a poetics of power." However, with more thought, we can see that the above definition can be easily adapted to enable an interpretation of the meaning of this phrase to be made. "A poetics of power" will be taken to mean an inquiry, essentially, into the nature of power and its causes and effects, along with the inevitable moral questions which accompany it. More specifically it could be taken to mean an investigation into the factors influencing perceptions of power in Elizabethan times. To begin to examine whether a poetics of the theatre is inseparable in any respect from a poetics of power it is helpful to look at the mood and society of Elizabeth I's reign and the creative period of Shakespeare's life, whose second tetralogy, the history plays, this essay will on the whole concentrate upon as representative of Elizabethan theatre (whether this is in fact accurate is an interesting point, and indeed, as such, undoubtedly another essay.)


and priviledges accorded to his "army of flatterers" including Bushy, Bagot and Green between whom and the new aristocracy obvious parallels can be drawn, and the sentiments of his common subjects also "whom he hath taxed half to death" to fund his profligacy. Elizabeth's reign, although attempting to mediate between classes, served in the long term the dominant class; the new or "enterprising" gentry, and her costly foreign wars, especially with the Spanish, along with the constant expenditure involved in subduing the Scots and the Irish forced her to sell crown lands and frequently left her with no alternative but to plead with the Commons for extra grants who then had to impose new taxes to pay for them. Although Elizabeth managed to obtain this money and to pay her troops it severely weakened her position and eventually led to civil war which, although it was not imminent when he was writing, Shakespeare may have conceivably foreseen the possibility of. Despite the growth of England's population, trade, overseas colonies, and general wealth in "the Golden Era of the Elizabethans" this was no longer enough to ensure the basis of state power without domestic harmony, much as Richard's divine right was no longer enough to ensure his autocracy when faced with similar problems. Shakespeare's plays could well be seen to be pondering how much longer such rule could continue. The cultural setting of the second tetralogy could therefore well be seen, whilst primitive, to mirror the degenerating society of the day and the weakening of the monarchy that ensued. Bolingbroke appears, as both a popular hero and the paragon of the nobility, to be the answer to England's prayers.


asks yet another question on the subject of power; whether anyone can have the right to force a man to fight and die on a battlefield. Henry is unable to provide adequate answers to these questions At the end of the play Williams' glove is filled with crowns - the play on words here is almost certainly intentional - to signify a changing power structure to come. The play (Henry V) cannot settle on an answer to the problem of what it means to be King, but the whole tetralogy poses questions concerning the proper location of power in the present and the future. It affords the audience a view of a new idea of histories made by people. Resistance of power is a requirement of the plot, and the questions on power are no longer metaphysical but political and therefore inclined towards struggle. Whether this was obvious to an Elizabethan audience however is debatable. Theatre then was under state censorship and any material considered subversive or as asking the "wrong" questions would have been unlikely to have been allowed to be widely performed as the history plays were. Elizabeth I is however reputed to have said "I am Richard II; know ye not that?" and as we mentioned earlier,audiences clamoured for Falstaff. Whether it is only with hindsight that the possibilities of allusions to the Tudor monarchy become apparent or not, there is no doubt in my mind that a poetics of; or namely a thorough inquiry into the nature and meaning of power, is widely recognisable and indeed largely the lifeblood of the history plays and consequently, it would be reasonable to assume, the Elizabethan theatre as a whole.

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