Skip to content

Category: Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s King John and the Constitution of Rights and Justice

Written by Vanessa Pupavac.

The peace of heaven is theirs that lift their swords
In such a just and charitable war.

The cause is young Prince Arthur’s claim to the Plantagenet throne. Arthur’s mother Constance has pressed the right of her ‘oppressed boy’ around Europe, and found listeners at the French court to supports international military action against Arthur’s uncle King John.

All is True: Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, International Criminal Justice and Political Trials

Written by Mladen Pupavac and Vanessa Pupavac.

My surveyor is false. The o’er-great cardinal
Hath showed him gold; my life is spanned already:
I am the shadow of poor Buckingham,
Whose figure even this instant cloud puts on,
By dark’ning my clear sun.

Lord Buckingham has been arrested for high treason. But he finds that he cannot plead his innocence because the powerful Cardinal Wolsey, adviser to King Henry, has brought ‘the examinations, proofs, confessions / Of divers witnesses’ to testify against him. Shakespeare’s Henry VIII written with John Fletcher is rarely played. Henry VIII is often only mentioned in connection with being the play where the infamous cannon was fired that burnt down the Globe theatre in 1613. Nevertheless the play addresses themes of political power, justice and due process that remain compelling today, themes that the recent BBC radio production brought out so well.  

Shakespeare Othello culture of suspicion

Written by Vanessa Pupavac.

Much ado about a handkerchief

‘So much ado, so much stress, so much passion and repetition about an Handkerchief!’ (Rymer, 1693, p. 135). Many studies of Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello begin with the seventeenth century critic Thomas Rymer’s incredulity over Desdemona’s handkerchief having a pivotal role in her tragic murder. Nevertheless, through ‘so remote a trifle’, Shakespeare raises fundamental questions over our knowledge of others, and the problems of distinguishing authentic evidence and testimony from false. The tragedy’s concerns with problems of knowing are highly relevant to our contemporary insecurities and pursuit of suspicion from counterterrorism to child protection.

‘I’ll see before I doubt; when I doubt prove’, Othello demands of his officer Iago (III.iii.190).

Shakespeare King Lear free speech

Written by Vanessa Pupavac.

Lear’s Fool and foolish freedom of speech

 King Lear:

what can you say to draw
A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.


Nothing, my lord.

King Lear:




King Lear:

Nothing will come of nothing: speak again. (I.i)

Shakespeare Macbeth borrowed robes

Written by Vanessa Pupavac.

Day is night

 By clock, ‘tis day,

            And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp.

Is’t night’s predominance, or the day’s shame,

            That darkness does the face of earth entomb,

            When living light should kiss it? (II.iv)

Shakespeare’s words capture something of the experience of witnesses of 9/11 when the terrorist attacks turned day into night as the thick clouds of debris from the fallen towers across Manhattan.

Contemporary terrorism has seemed ready to target civilian deaths from Beslan primary school pupils to Boston marathon runners, to Norwegian youth to Turkish peace activists to Pakistani children and families in a park. Such terrorist attacks resonate with Macbeth’s ‘War with mankind’ (II.iv). The outrage generated by the deliberate targeting of civilians built international political consensus around the War on Terror.

Hamlet’s crisis of irreconcilable meanings

Written by Vanessa Pupavac.

Why does Shakespeare’s Hamlet seem so close to us? Shakespeare’s drama takes us to the historic juncture between the old feudal order and the rise of the modern, and their conflicting values. Drama is quintessentially about crisis, here a crisis created by an uncle’s murder of his brother and usurpation of the throne. Hamlet’ dramatic crisis is precipitated by his inability to act against his uncle King Claudius, and reconcile contradictory normative imperatives: the ancient warrior’s honour, Christian ethics, Machiavellian secular politics and faithfulness to himself. Hamlet cannot escape the kingdom and his identity as prince. He is not a free agent as the king and other courtiers make clear.