chapter  VII
19 Pages

Shakespeare's political plays

In the sequence of the history plays, Shakespeare, as I have suggested in an earlier chapter, achieved a reconciliation of epic material with dramatic form, somewhat as Milton, in Samson Agonistes, transmuted the matter of religious experience into drama. In studying Milton's play, we were drawn imperceptibly into describing its dramatic power; for the reality of the religious experience was self-evident, and the question whether or not the reconciliation had been achieved rested upon that of whether or not the resulting work was dramatic. With Shakespeare's histories we find ourselves, equally of necessity, approaching from the opposite direction. We do not, at this point in Shakespeare studies, question whether individual plays are dramatic, but we may well question whether or not the series contains the material of epic. We may perhaps suggest in what ways and by what means they have preserved the spaciousness and coherence of their epic material as well as the concentration and immediacy of drama.