Butler, Fifty Years discussed on Lend Me Your Ears


Welcome back to lend me your ears a podcast route shakespeare politics i might seek butler this month we're talking about what happens when your country is run by an aging narcissist who demands constant flattery from everyone who serves him what happens when the guy in charge has not entirely stable what happens when men are threatened by female power and kenan entire country just abruptly fall apart in this episode we're going to be looking for answers to these questions and more in one of shakespeare's greatest plays king lear act one the king falls from bias of nature king lear is a massive play one that seems almost cosmic in scope but lurking inside of it or concrete questions about the nature of power and of rulership questions like what do you do when you're ruler is mad ken flattery destroy a king if you're defined by your power and you give that power up what are you and shakespeare began writing lear at a time when current events are forcing people to think about those questions because england has a new ruler when shakespeare wrote richard the second julius caesar the nation was terrified about a looming succession crisis but when he turns to lear that crisis is over king james the first has been sitting on the throne for a couple of years and he has a wife and living children to succeed him here's helen shaw critic for time out new york and four columns lear is written in sixteen o five probably and this is immediately the after the transfer of power between elizabeth and james which was a pretty freaky dicky moment it was a transfer power from a very old very old monarch who had refused certain of the hereditary shall we say responsibilities of being a monarch she had refused to marry and she had not had children and she did not adopt james her air until kind of the eleven o'clock bell and this is a country that had been riven by civil war before it was going to be riven by civil war in the future and so the idea that there would be this transfer of power and that actually everything could just fall completely into shambles was kind of on the table for people sitting and watching king lear at the time king james is the same king james who gave us the king james bible and he also chose shakespeare's company to be official theater troupe elevating them from the lord chamberlain's men to the king men this is a dramatic change in prestige in fortune for shakespeare and his colleagues king james is also a very different monarch from elizabeth in many ways he had different policies of course but he also has a different style as a ruler i spoke to david cast in about this he's a professor of english at yale university and the general editor of the arden shakespeare he is kind of intellectual which interesting he was a political theorist he he read theology wasn't one point adopted as a motto blessed are the peacemakers and he had kind of ecumenical broad christian vision of the world that was based on trying to keep peace both internally and externally but he wasn't loved i mean he didn't play for that love in a way that elizabeth did a new that was the only game in town for james has another problem he's actually the king of a different country he's not only james the i of england he's james the sixth of scotland these two countries they don't really get along the last anglo scottish war had wrapped up only fifty years earlier in the scots had allied themselves with france england's grape enemy james decides the best way to fix all of this is to finally unify the two nations they're already unified legally under his crown so why not make them officially one country i think there are some people in the court thought this was a good thing james se came down from nbr to london was giving out knighthoods right and left building up a constituency among minor nobility but there's still a lot of anti scott feeling unification was a huge issue both politically and in terms of national identity for shakespeare and his contemporaries merging scotland and england would change what it meant to be an englishman in king.

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