chapter  2
Shakespearean Comedy: Postmodern Theory and Humanist Poetics
ByRobin Headlam Wells
Pages 20

This chapter talks about a five-year period in Shakespeare's career in which a series of political plays left behind the more moralistic framework of the early English histories in favour of a dispassionate, distanced analysis of political power in four history plays and in Hamlet. This framework can be called a Machiavellian one in that it draws on the humanist secular worldview famously instantiated in Machiavelli's The Prince and Discourses, which abandoned earlier Providential historiography in favour of a secular, analytic approach to politics. Shakespeare may have adopted this Machiavellian analytic framework through direct or indirect knowledge, but there is no doubt that this secular humanist discourse circulated prominently in the Elizabethan political class and had also entered the theatrical world in several dramas of Shakespeare's great predecessor Marlowe in particular. Julius Caesar is an example of a Shakespearean Trauerspiel rather than of tragedy.