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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.
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