The Philosopher's English King

The Philosopher's English King

Shakespeare's "Henriad" as Political Philosophy

Leon Harold Craig

The Philosopher's English King offers a close reading of the Henriad, presenting Shakespeare's teaching on political authority and contributing to the burgeoning scholarship on Shakespeare as a political thinker.
This book on Shakespeare's Henriad studies the tetralogy as a work of political thought. Leon Harold Craig, author of two previous volumes on Shakespeare's political thought, argues that the four plays present Shakespeare's teaching on the problem of legitimacy, or who has the right to rule -- one of the perennial questions of political philosophy. Offering original interpretations of each of the plays, Craig discusses the demise of divine right in Richard II, political upheaval and disputed rule in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and the attempt to reestablish legitimacy on a new basis in Henry V. While focusing especially on the plays' various interpretive puzzles, Craig shows how the four plays constitute one narrative, culminating in the rule of England's most famous warrior king, Henry V, whose brilliant achievements were undone by ill fortune. Craig concludes with an epilogue on what might have been had Henry lived to consolidate his conquest of France and unify it with England under a single crown. Supported by a wealth of scholarship, both historical and critical, The Philosopher's English King makes a major contribution to the burgeoning scholarship on Shakespeare as a political thinker, providing further evidence for why the poet deserves to be recognized as a philosopher in his own right.

Leon Harold Craig is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alberta.

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Table of Contents

Begins the Woefullest Division: The Tragic Reign of King Richard II
A Punishing of Mistreadings: The Turbulent Reign of King Henry IV Proceeds
The Noble Change Long Purposed: The Turbulent Reign of King Henry IV Concludes
A Curious Mirror of Christian Kings: The Brief Glorious Reign of King Henry V
An Alternative Epilogue: Imagining What Might Have Been
Index of Names


I consider this one of the best books ever written on Shakespeare's Henriad. The level of scholarship is second to none. Each chapter is as good as the next. The book is never uneven, and Craig's passion for his subject matter and his desire to share his knowledge with his readers is evident throughout. Not only does one gain many valuable insights into these plays, we are also encouraged to read Shakespeare philosophically, as I am certain Shakespeare wished to be read. VOEGELINVIEW

Supported by the author's learned command of the relevant English history, this analysis not only serves as a comprehensive overview of the plays' events but also shows how paying attention to even the most minute details and minor characters can shed light on Shakespeare's central figures and plot lines. Highly recommended. CHOICE

Dissenting from Craig requires the disputant's exercising his utmost capacities for philosophical reflection. . . . Because Craig rightly conceives the philosophic poet. REVIEW OF POLITICS

In The Philosopher's English King Leon Craig once again proves the value of taking Shakespeare seriously as a political thinker. Drawing parallels with important political philosophers, such as Plato, Machiavelli, and Hobbes, Craig illumines some of the darker corners of Shakespeare's history plays and offers a comprehensive interpretation of the tough-minded teaching on kingship they embody.

--Paul A. Cantor, University of Virginia

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