Looking to the Past to Look Ahead

An interesting concept that Professor Petersen introduced during our trip was the idea that Shakespeare used his many historical productions as a way to question the future of rulership in his time. Before this trip, my knowledge of English history was a bit hazy, I knew some of the names of English rulers, but I did not really know who each was and their basic stories. After having spent a week or so learning about these rulers through Shakespeare’s plays, I think it is intriguing to examine the lasting ideas about leadership and royalty from these plays that remain relevant today. Henry VI Part Three features three kings (one who is crowned after the events of the play); each is quite different, but none of them last.

With all of this said, I think that Shakespeare’s time of uncertainty regarding royalty and kingship mirrors the modern occasion with the royal family and politics of the United Kingdom. Right now, the royal family is deeply unpopular and mired in numerous scandals and issues; meanwhile, the Prime Minister is a seemingly shameless figure who is facing much public disapproval yet clings to power. All of this is set against the backdrop of the Platinum Jubilee for Queen Elizabeth II, a huge and costly celebration of the 70th year of her reign.

Maybe we, like Shakespeare did in his time, need to examine our expectations and wants for royalty and leadership. During his time, the ruler was Queen Elizabeth the First, the virgin queen, who made it illegal to talk about the line of succession towards the end of her reign. So, Shakespeare, in a way, used his historical plays to ask what qualities should be wanted of royalty and leaders. Now, as London celebrates 70 years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, the United Kingdom again ponders what they want of their royalty. Should the leader of the UK be strong and militaristic like Henry V? Nonviolent and refined like Richard II? Or something else? With the figurehead position of modern royalty in the UK, the question of their basic worth is also called into question. In conclusion, I would say that despite my initial misgivings, I have found Shakespeare’s histories to be a very revealing look into his time and the worries and thinking that accompanied it. His plays have lasting relevance to current day United Kingdom and continue to incite important conversations and questions.