Skip to content

Reflections on NATIONALISM

Ernest RENAN: What is a Nation?
- Renan was a philologist, philosopher and political historian who lived in the 19th century.
- Although his essay is not scientific, it is interesting because it shows us what people at that time understood by “nation”.
- He claims that a nation is a FEELING and it has a spiritual principle (we are in the field of the transcendental).
- He also links the PAST and the PRESENT:
* This feeling is rooted in the HERITAGE, it’s connected with traditions, past glories as well as tragedies and
* It continues in the present: it’s the feeling of togetherness. He says “the nation is a plebiscite”.

Walker CONNOR: A Nation is a Nation, is a State, is an Ethnic group, is a...
- 20th century.
- The nation is something non-existent, it is CONSTRUCTED.
- It’s difficult to define a nation, because its concept is mixed with other ideas, such as that of state. “The Nation is a State...” this is misleading because the state is the political division of the globe, while the nation is an essence.
- He adds the elements of ethnical groups (we have different origins), culture and cultural specificity (national language and literature), territory (landscape and limits).
- Jingoism: aggressive hostility against other nations based on the idea of one’s own superiority.

Benedict ANDERSON:
- 20th century - 1983
- The nation is an “IMAGINED COMMUNITY”, it is not real.
- Literature is a fundamental instrument to the creation of the sense of nation.

SHAKESPEARE (1564 – 1616)
- First Folio (1623) divided into 3 groups (generic system): COMEDIES, TRAGEDIES, HISTORIES.
- In the 20th century scholars started speaking of another genre: ROMANCE.
- HISTORY PLAYS (he wrote 10 history plays):
- History plays mainly deal with English history, but also with history of other countries such as Scotland, Wales, Ireland and France. Do not confuse with Tragedies which are about ancient history (Roman History, ex: Julius Caesar).
- History plays were very popular during the 16th century because there was a strong sense of NATIONAL IDENTITY: English felt their history was peculiar for REGLIOUS, MILITARY and COMMERICIAL REASONS.
- Protestant reformation: the Church of England separated from that of Rome.
- The Tudor monarchs started wars against other countries, France and Spain in particular (1588 – the English won against the invincible Armada – it was a moment of great glorification).
- Transformation in the idea of history: from a medieval idea to a renaissance idea of history: medieval history is based on providence, it’s in God’s hands, while the renaissance history is in our hands: history teaches us how to make history and not to repeat other mistakes.
- Shakespeare created history plays using 2 sources:
* The MEDIEVAL MORALITY PLAYS (religious plays)
* The OFFICIAL HISTORIA (official history of the Kingdom)
- Shakespeare didn’t write history, but DRAMA. He used history but he transformed it in order to create interesting characters and for political reasons.

The plays are problematic because:
* The quality is discontinuous (some are good and some are average)
* They are complicated (many characters and subplots)

It’s difficult to say what idea of history these plays endorse:
* Some critics think they support a providential history.
* Others think Shakespeare presents a negative vision on monarchs: a part from Henry V, there isn’t any other positive king: they are weak, self-referential and represent the enemy of the English – Shakespeare may be presenting 2 different ideas of the nation: on the one hand there is a possible centralisation of the state on the king, on the other hand Shakespeare was the first to consider the British isles as interconnected.

To remember:
The War of the 2 Roses: House of York (white rose) vs House of of Lancaster (red rose). It went from the deposition of Richard II (1398) to the accession of Henry VII -> first TUDOR (grandfather of Queen Elizabeth I).

- He reigned from 1377 to 1399
- Everything revolves around him.
- He’s weak and immature, manipulated by the men of his court.
- He’s a medieval king who believes that his authority comes from God -> divine right of the crown.
- In the end he’s deposed -> this is the beginning of the war of the 2 roses. He’s replaced by Henry IV.

Versi 31-68

- John of Gaunt, the king’s uncle speaks. He’s the founder of the Lancaster dynasty, he comes from a royal family (son of Henry III), he was born in the city of Gaunt (Belgium today) and is Richard’s tutor (he tried to help him become a good king, but Richard becomes infatuated with the idea of divine power.
- John is about to die (very ill).
- In his speech there are 3 movements:
° He depicts the situation of England in the present. England is presented as a diseased body, nothing is balanced. Semantic fields: disorder, imbalance, confusion, excess. The climax is on the idea of self-destruction (eat-itself).
° Idealised conception of England -> Glorification. He uses list, metaphor (seat of Mars – land of Warriors), accumulation, crescendo and climax. England as a military nation: solidity, defence, preciousness, greatness in smallness.
° He makes a prediction of the future -> prophecy which becomes a curse. He reworks positive powerful semantic fields: images of fertility, celebration of the English monarch, positive lineage because of their heroism, military exploits and Christianity

BUT Richard II is not this kind of king -> IRONY. Also he uses the language of economy to say that the country has been sold because of the king’s incompetence as a ruler.

NB: line 66 – the conclusion of the 3rd section goes back to the conclusion of the 1st = destruction of itself
In this picture we go from what England is to what it should be. Then a sad premonition on what it will be follows.


- John of Gaunt represents the old generation of the triumphant part of England – there’s a reference to his father Henry III who triumphed in the BATTLE OF CRECY (1346) against France.
- Richard II is represented as an autocrat who’s incapable of handling politics and ruling.
- The deposition of the king was a rare event. A king could be defeated or die. Shakespeare stresses the unusual nature of the king’s end. It can only cause unnatural events such as the war of the 2 Roses.

- Duke of Lancaster (he was the 1st king from Lancaster), military leader. He imprisons Richard II, takes the crown and becomes King Henry IV.
- He reigned from 1399 to 1413
- Part 1 and part 2 follow his reign.
- Unlike Richard II, where the king is the centre of the play, here we have 2 main characters:
° Henry IV, who’s political manipulation and is responsible.
° Prince Harry or Hal, his son, the heir to the throne. He’s a rebel, he refuses his father’s authority and he rejects his role as a prince. He lives in London, in taverns; he’s often drunk and surrounds himself with low class people. He creates another father figure: Sir John Falstaff, who represents irresponsibility.

- After his father’s death prince Harry becomes the king. He’s a young king who has completely forgotten his old lifestyle and has embraced his role of king. At the beginning he manages complex military and diplomatic affairs. He’s powerful and astute. He listens to his advisors but at the same time he’s the leader. He is completely POSITIVE.
- He leads the country to war against France and with a very small army he wins on the 25th October 1415, the day of Saint Crispin – which is an important theme in the play.
- The play has entered the NATIONAL IMAGINATION: it was used as an instrument for patriotic propaganda during World War 2 to rouse the spirit/strength of the nation.
- Henry receives an embassy from the King of France with a challenge and decides to go to war against France.
- Siege of Harfleur: 1st military confrontation. Henry wins the battle and conquers the town but as time goes on, his army becomes tired and soldiers die. The French army instead is healthy and strong. They prepare to counterattack.
- The clash happens in Angicourt the day of Saint Crispin.
- The king of France proposes peace and offers his daughter (Catherine of Valois) to Henry. Shakespeare describes the courtship between Henry & Catherine. In the end they fall in love: a new bond between England and France is created.
- The play ends with a sign of hope BUT the peace didn’t last long: Henry died young and was succeeded by Henry VI, who was incapable of ruling (he was only a child and then he became weak).

Henry’s speech:
° Perfect rhetoric: accumulation of emphasis and emotions.
° He invokes 2 general principles: country and honour.
° Then the speech becomes more specific – there’s the veteran’s story: he describes the daily life of this man, the idea of the battle is transformed into a memory which is part of daily life and involves a little community which is linked with the idea of the Kingdom (a larger community). An event like this one can create a sense of union. They all belong to the same country. NB: it’s not democracy.
° This speech is effective because the king strikes the imagination of the soldiers to imagine themselves as a unified group (band) linked by the feeling of belonging to the same community -> idea of brotherhood.
° Benedict Anderson: the members don’t know each other, but what keeps them together is the idea that they belong to the same structure.

- He’s a villain, Machiavellian and he murders all his opponents. He’s the last king of the war of the 2 roses.

Richmond’s speech:
° It is less emotional and it is practical.
° He separates good from evil.
° Richard III is a Satan, he’s a liar, he’s impure and dirty ≠ from England which is pure.
° He claims they have to fight because of God’s will, for the country and for their families.
° The climax is on the symbols of nationalism: religion, flags and S. George.
° Henry is like Jesus Christ, he had given new life to the nation.
° Shakespeare celebrates the founder of the Tudor.

Richard III’s speech:
° It is characterised by selfishness.
° Shakespeare stresses the fact that he was wrongly set on the throne.

Valuta questi appunti:

Continua a leggere:

Puoi scaricare gratuitamente questo appunto in versione integrale.