chapter  6
20 Pages

Imagining England: Contemporary Encodings of ‘this sceptred isle’

Shakespeare is well known as the most English of English writers, having divided his time between the very heart of the nation and the capital, and expressed its inner soul in his work. Nevertheless, Shakespeare only writes about what could even be conceived of as contemporary England in two plays: The Merry Wives of Windsor and, As You Like It. After all, England's neighbours within the British Isles have adopted figures who, roughly speaking, emerged at periods of national self-definition, whatever political role they played. Gaunt imagines an England with secure borders, an Eden that somehow successfully resists the fall, providing another obvious level of irony to the speech. Shakespeare is an acute thinker about national identity, although many who see him in these terms cannot read his subtle distinctions and his clear understanding that such identities are always provisional.