Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Edward Gieskes


In tracing the development of Shakespeare's history plays, the recurring problem of legitimacy is inescapable. The challenge and assassination of King John, juxtaposed with the character of the Bastard, presents an ambiguous midpoint between the restoration of order in the first tetralogy and its collapse in the second. In conjunction with the problem of legitimacy is the development of the Machiavellian politician. Beginning with King John, the Machiavel and his attempts to solve the legitimacy problem may be linked in various ways to the medieval Vice character. As the histories progress, the Machiavel gradually separates from the Vice, distilling its positive aspects and transposing its negative characteristics onto other characters. This development can be traced through King John, Richard III, and the Henriad. Yet as the Machiavel grows in competency and power, royal legitimacy erodes and diminishes. This inverse movement culminates in King Lear which, when read as a tragedy, reveals legitimacy as a concern ingrained in the English consciousness. While it dives further backward into legendary history than any of Shakespeare's other English plays, it also features the most apocalyptic conclusion. Its bleak circumstances, when connected to the politics of Jacobean England, reveals how Shakespeare's revision of quasi-historical events serves as a warning about the potential for political and national tragedy.