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This chapter examines how resistance to the ideology of Englishness is expressed through Shakespeare’s vision of human community, especially with respect to ‘strangers’, in early comedies, the second tetralogy and the contribution to Sir Thomas More. Of key importance is the idea put forward through Shakespeare’s More that ‘the strangers’ case’ is at once common and contingent. This idea is shown to find expression in Shakespeare’s use of the word ‘stranger’ and in the phrase ‘straing rootes’ in his contribution to Sir Thomas More. The ‘straying’ into the condition of ‘a stranger’ is dramatised in the early comedies, and brought ‘home’ in the second tetralogy, which depicts the nation as a mix of mutual strangers. This resonates not only with premodern lived experience, but also with biblical figures of the stranger. Of particular importance is a biblical passage that represents the inclusive reach of the gift of redemption in terms of strangers made citizens in the house of God. Referencing this passage The Comedy of Errors engages with ‘the strangers’ case’, like, if less explicitly than the Shakespearean contribution to Sir Thomas More.
This chapter provides a history of ‘the King’s English’ as a context for an analysis of language, history and power in The Merry Wives of Windsor and the second tetralogy. The trope is used as a rhetorical and ideological tool in performatives. Associated with temperance and honesty, ‘the King’s English’ belongs to a set of defining values of true Englishness. The project to produce this linguistic norm coincides with a homologous project to produce a stable, monetary system of ‘good’ coin through exclusion of ‘bad’, ‘counterfeit’ or ‘clipped’ coin. These projects testify to a shift of the centre of economic and cultural gravity from the court to the merchant citizen class. Shakespeare’s one English comedy centred on English citizens which features his one use of ‘the King’s English’ is shown to engage critically with this ideology, and to set against it an idea of ‘our English’ as an inclusive mix, the ‘gallimaufry’ loved by the linguistically extravagant gentleman John Falstaff. The comedy draws out the implications of the banishment of Falstaff in the second tetralogy, which sets history against the project of cultural reformation ideology to produce (the) ‘true’ English.
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