“A history of possibilities”: The use of history in the interpretation of William Shakespeare’s Second Tetralogy
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During the second half of the twentieth century, scholars and literary critics have tried to escape master narratives, the epic stories of European supremacy, set in place by historicists like Leopold von Ranke. The most significant effort to destabilize these historicist totalities in literary studies today is that of the New Historicists, who have turned their attention to the marginalized—the accidents, the defects, and the abhorrent— in history. Unfortunately, they have only been able to replace one totality with another, leaving the readers trapped in the same predicament. This thesis examines how the historiographical assumptions of the last two centuries have affected the way history is used to analyze William Shakespeare’s Second Tetralogy. Finally, it returns to Stephen Greenblatt’s promise to combine the traditional and subversive elements of a culture, in this case chivalry and the Machiavellian doctrine, in order to produce a more complex interpretation of the literary texts.