Poet and Citizen

Victor Kiernan
With an Introduction by Michael Wood


A vivid and absorbing portrait of the great dramatist, which reveals how his writings 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

Although Shakespeare is rightly celebrated for the continued relevancy of his plays and poetry today, we too often lose sight of the wider historical context which shaped his work. In Shakespeare: Poet and Citizen, Victor Kiernan shows that Shakespeare was profoundly sensitive to the great social and political upheavals of his age. Shakespeare's life coincided with the first challenges to the institution of monarchy, as well as far-reaching transformations in the social hierarchy.

By placing the plays within this context of an emerging modernity, Kiernan upends our perception of Shakespeare's writings. He shows that these social transformations, and especially the changing roles of women, are crucial to our understanding of the Comedies, in which the confusion of identity, disguise, and cross-dressing play a central role, while the Histories similarly reflect the demise of feudal allegiances and the development of the modern state.

Featuring a new introduction by Michael Wood, Shakespeare: Poet and Citizen provides a rich resource for both students of literature and for the general reader looking for new insight into the life of our greatest dramatist.

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 Eight Tragedies of Shakespeare, The Lords of Human Kind, European Empires from Conquest to Collapse, The Duel in European History and numerous others, as well as translating two volumes of Urdu poetry.

Michael Wood is broadcaster and film-maker, as well as being the author of several highly praised books on English history, including In Search of Shakespeare.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction by Michael Wood
  • Foreword
  • Part I: A Time Out of Joint
    • 1. Late Tudor England
    • 2. Society and Art
    • 3. Shakespeare's Life
    • 4. Shakespeare and the Theatre
  • Part II: The Histories
    • 1. Shakespeare and English History
    • 2. The Plays
    • 3. Historical Themes
  • Part III: Experiments
    • 1. Tragedies
    • 2. Poems
    • 3. Sonnets
  • Part IV: The Comedies
    • 1. The Comic Realm
    • 2. The Plays
    • 3. Comedy Themes
  • Part V: Life Unfolding
    • 1. Chance and Destiny, Fate and Accident
    • 2. Towards the Tragic


'Victor Kiernan is one of the best historians of seventeenth-century England. And he is also a sensitive literary critic. The combination of these gifts makes his book a remarkable achievement. It will become a classic.'
Christopher Hill

'The strength of this book lies in the total view of political and social conditions of the period which underpins it.'
The Guardian

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

'[Kiernan's] detailed knowledge of the plays and the period they emerged from give an enormous authority to his analysis of the forces at work in them.'
Morning Star

'[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
280 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781783606719
Hardback: 9781783607341
eBook ePub: 9781783606733
eBook PDF: 9781783606726
eBook Kindle: 9781783606740

Why is peer review so important?

Learn more about the various types of peer review, why it’s so important, what the social and political considerations of peer review are and how we use it at Zed Books.