These Valiant Dead

These Valiant Dead

Renewing the Past in Shakespeare's Histories

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192 pp

"…a study of Shakespeare's histories that opens a fresh perspective on the human and ethical dimensions of the characters, seeing them as persons with shifting and sometimes contradictory engagements with their own heroic ancestors and the history of England…Jones offers a lucid argument that makes its points concisely and forms a complete pattern, portions of which one could not have predicted but which are immediately sensed as correct."—Coburn Freer

From the funeral that opens 1 Henry VI to the Chorus' closing tribute to "this star of England" in the Epilogue of Henry V, the figure of the lost leader or dead hero is evoked time and again throughout Shakespeare's histories. Sometimes the remembered hero—Henry V, Hotspur—is one who appears onstage himself in the course of the histories. But others—Cordelion, Edward III, the Black Prince—also become significant presences through the recollections of characters who place their current situation in the perspective afforded by the "valiant dead."

Through a focus on such recollections, These Valiant Dead offers a new and insightful examination of the histories' dramatized exploration of the past's effective value for the present that remembers it. After the positive model of Talbot's renewal of heroic predecessors in 1 Henry VI, we see the "sleeping neglection" of their own heritage that besets the wrangling factions in the Wars of the Roses and, then, Richard III's active opposition to a past that eventually haunts and overwhelms him. Through the bastard Faulconbridge's fictive reembodiment of the heroic Cordelion, King John raises further questions about the validity of historical memory and the viability of heroic renewal. When Henry V, who began the first of the histories as the lamented lost leader, emerges in his own play as the series' last embodiment of the hero, both living and "valiant dead," he is presented in terms that take into account the preceding plays' questions about the uses of the past and that offer a viable way to "remember with advantages."

Rather than approach political and other concerns through a historical context or offer individual readings of the various histories, this carefully crafted volume traces the uses and abuses of history by characters in the plays themselves through Shakespeare's series of histories. All scholars and students of Shakespeare and those with an interest in the historiography of drama will want to read this book.