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From his two historical tetralogies to his great tragedies, civil and dynastic conflict is a near-constant presence in Shakespeare’s plays. This chapter sweeps across his career to explore the political ferment against which he developed his nuanced depictions of civil discord. It begins with the political contexts that shaped the rise of the English history play in the 1590s and extends through the bitter dynastic rivalries that mark Shakespeare’s depictions of Greek and Roman history, his tragedies, and the full body of his plays. It finds that, while Shakespeare studiously avoided taking sides in the warring factions he depicts, he embraced the opportunity to study the genesis of civil strife – its causes, personal motivations, and means by which it is intermittently brought under control. Civil and dynastic conflict serves Shakespeare brilliantly as essential to his craft as playwright, with implications about civil discord at all times and in all places.
Edward IV dated the start of his reign from 4 March 1461, the day he was acclaimed by the Londoners and took his seat on the throne in Westminster Hall. His claim to be king of England received its real confirmation three weeks later, on 29 March, when he led the Yorkists to victory at Towton. Alongside Edward's search for domestic security went the need to secure recognition for his dynasty in Europe. The Burgundian alliance was formalised in the marriage of Duke Charles to Edward's sister Margaret, the only one of the Yorkist royal family to make a 'dynastic' marriage. Edward IV, now reconciled with Clarence, defeated Warwick at the battle of Barnet and then went on to overcome a Lancastrian army at Tewkesbury. The handful of exceptions included the Lancastrian half blood, now represented by Jasper Tudor and his nephew Henry, and a few men who knew that they had no hope of regaining their land under York.
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