"A scene acting that argument": rhetorical revision in Shakespeare's Henriad

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In this thesis, I read Shakespeare’s second tetralogy, also known as the Henriad, and examine how King Henry IV revises the history of Richard II in subsequent plays. Henry must revise his rise to the throne in order to reconcile his inner conflict, conceived as a tension between his self and his royal role. Additionally, he must legitimize the Lancastrian dynasty, which is threatened on two fronts: by the rebel Percy family, who initially supported his questionable claim, and by his son Hal, who seems determined to squander his legacy. Since Shakespeare had dramatized the very history Henry tries to revise, I use textual evidence to confront, but also to explain, the King’s revision, an attempt best exemplified in his interview with the Prince in 1 Henry IV 3.2. Henry uses an analogy to teach his son a lesson, comparing Hal to the fallen Richard and the rebel Hotspur to Bolingbroke, Henry’s younger self; the character foils are more problematic than Henry seems to think. I am most concerned with why Henry distances himself from his royal predecessor and successor but identifies with his mortal enemy, a lauded soldier. Henry must rewrite Shakespeare’s descriptions of these characters, including Bolingbroke, to make his model work. But ultimately, he must accept his son as his heir in order to make peace with himself. My argument depends on reading the Henriad as a unified dramatic work, a cycle of four history plays, even though they were never performed as such on the Elizabethan stage. Thus, I engage critics invested in the so-called “structural problem,” such as Paul Yachnin, whose theory of sequence and revision most informs my approach. Also fundamental to my framework is Richard Lanham’s dichotomy between “serious man” and “rhetorical man".

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English literature, Literature, Theater