Eight Tragedies of Shakespeare

Victor Kiernan
With an Introduction by Terry Eagleton


Victor Kiernan provides a rich and insightful analysis of eight of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies, revealing how they were shaped by the social and political upheavals of his age.

'This book rests on a lifetime’s thinking about history. It helps us see Shakespeare in “a more realistic light”.’
Times Literary Supplement

The seventeenth century saw the brief flowering of tragic drama across Western Europe. And in the plays of William Shakespeare, this form of drama found its greatest exponent. These Tragedies, Kiernan argues, represented the artistic expression of a new social and political consciousness which permeated every aspect of life in this period.

In this book, Kiernan sets out to rescue the Tragedies from the reductionist interpretations of mainstream literary criticism, by uncovering the wider historical context which shaped Shakespeare's writings.

Opening with an overview of contemporary England, the development of the theatre, and a portrait of Shakespeare as a writer, Kiernan goes on to provide an in-depth analysis of eight of his Tragedies – from Julius Caesar to Coriolanus – drawing out their contrasts and recurring themes, and exploring their attitudes to monarchy, war, religion, philosophy, and changing relations between men and women. Featuring a new introduction by Terry Eagleton, this is an invaluable resource for those looking for a new perspective on Shakespeare's writings.

Author Bio

Victor Kiernan (1913-2009) ranks among Britain's most distinguished historians. After a fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge, and a long period spent teaching in India, he joined the History Department at the University of Edinburgh, where he served as professor of modern history from 1970 until his retirement. Over the course of his life he authored such works as European Empires from Conquest to Collapse; The Duel in European History; The Lords of Human Kind and numerous others.

Terry Eagleton is a literary critic, writer and chair in English literature in Lancaster University's department of English and creative writing. He is the author of Shakespeare and Society amongst many other works.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction by Terry Eagleton
  • Foreword
  • Part I: Programmatic
  • Part II: Introductory
    • 1. The Condition of England
    • 2. The Theatre
    • 3. Shakespeare and Tragedy
    • 4. The Tragic Road
    • 5. The Others
  • Part III: The Plays
    • 1. Julius Caeser (1598-99)
    • 2. Hamlet (1600-01)
    • 3. Othello (1603-04)
    • 4. King Lear (1605-06)
    • 5. Macbeth (1606)
    • 6. Timon of Athens (1606-08)
    • 7. Anthony and Cleopatra (1606-08)
    • 8. Coriolanus (1608) 
  • Part IV: Tragic Themes
    • 1. The Hero
    • 2. Villains and Revengers
    • 3. Man and Superman
    • 4. War
    • 5. Political Shadows
    • 6. Women and Men
    • 7. Religion and Philosophy
    • 8. Endings and Beginnings


'This book rests on a lifetime’s thinking about history. It helps us see Shakespeare in “a more realistic light”.’
Times Literary Supplement

'Kiernan writes with passion and precision on the social and economic contexts of Shakespeare’s plays.'
Recent Studies in Tudor and Stuart Drama

'[A] splendid Marxist exploration of Shakespeare’s work... Victor Kiernan was a historian to rank with Eric Hobsbawm and Christopher Hill. His approach to Shakespeare is based on a deep historical understanding of the contradictions of the period, which makes him deeply sensitive to what the plays reveal.'
International Socialism Journal


Publication Date: 15 February 2016
312 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781783606887
Hardback: 9781783607358
eBook ePub: 9781783606900
eBook PDF: 9781783606894
eBook Kindle: 9781783606917

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