Date of this Version
Forthcoming in Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England (2021).
Shakespeare, interpreting late medieval English history from the ages of Geoffrey and Thomas Chaucer, gives us a second tetralogy (1595-99) that less defends the "Tudor myth" than creates a lens for viewing the formation of a unitary religious/political culture. Writing near the end of Elizabeth's reign, after serious Catholic insurrection had quieted, he examines how Act of Supremacy sacerdotal monarchy eschews rebellion and decadence, creating eidola paralleling Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales ones. In the latter, Chaucer presented, to the court, narratives of Catholic clerical failure, Jovinian decadence and the possibility of reformed penance. However Shakespeare turns, for his salvific, from honest penance—Chaucer's solution—to royal contrition and honest action. The second Henriad debunks old polarities of conformity and non-conformity by celebrating the monarch's sense of national religion and recapitulating unifying themes about celibacy, repentance and rebellion from the age of Chaucer, bringing Elizabethan religious polemics to the stage in a fashion that emulates Chaucer's dramatic court readings in his time and place.