In "Macbeth," Shakespeare struggles to come to terms with the problem the Tudors had created for themselves when Henry VII, a man with a slender claim to the throne, seized power by force of arms. At the beginning of the play, Macbeth is presented as a warrior king who has just saved Scotland from the Norwegians and the Highland Scots. In the older scheme of things, he would have been king, not Duncan whose claim was based on divine right, a concept the Tudors very much wanted to propagate now that they possessed the throne.
The chronicle histories that Shakespeare relied on when he wrote his history plays were in many ways Tudor propaganda meant to shore up their tenuous claim to the throne. The play "Richard III" is one of the main pieces in the argument that Henry VII was not a usurper, but a man destined by God to depose a tyrant.
Shakespeare, in "Henry IV, parts 1 & 2," and "Henry V," presents the Tudor view of what a proper king should be.
In this Thursday Forum, William P. and Gayle S. Whipple Professor Emeritus of English Bob Drexler will explore this evolving idea of what makes a king legitimate. The first session will examine the problem in "Macbeth." In the second week, the idea of a bad king in "Richard II" and "Richard III" will be discussed. In the third session, the development of a good king in the two Henry IV plays will be examined, and in the final session the Tudors' idea of a great king in "Henry V" will be presented.