Public and private life in Shakespeare's English history plays
Little, Carol Anita
Baker, Flaurent A.
Master of Arts
The purpose of this thesis is to show that the contrast between public and private life serves as a unifying theme in the eight plays that make up the two tetralogies (the three parts of Henry VI, and Richard III; and, Richard II, the two parts of Henry IV, and Henry V). An understanding of this dualism between public and private life may also contribute to the reader's appreciation of the social, political, and intellectual milieu in which the plays were written and may increase his understanding of the characters' psychological motivations. The first chapter is introductory in nature, setting forth the major features of the social and political theories which, for the Elizabethans, defined the public world. Marriage and the use of particular types of rhetoric are introduced in this chapter as "indicators" of a proper balance (or lack of it) between public and private portions of the characters' lives. The second chapter develops in greater detail the most important of these "indicators," the royal marriage. A character's marriage may serve as symbol of his private life indicating whether private matters are kept in a properly subordinate position, or the marriage may mirror or serve as analogue to his public life. Chapter III explores the desire for escape from public duties and responsibilities that so many of the public figures in the histories exhibit. The type of escape desired is particularly interesting; it is most often escape into a world of the imagination, into dreams or into play-acting and make-believe. A detailed reading of Act I, scene ii of Richard Ill makes up the final chapter. This is an attempt to illustrate the added significance that may be gained through a consideration of the public/private theme in the history plays.