Thesis

The influence of Vergil's Aeneid on Shakespeare's Henriad

Shakespeare’s second tetralogy was given the name The Henriad was given that title by Alvin Kernan in recognition of its epic qualities. This thesis is a study of the uniquely Vergilian construction of Shakespeare’s epic. Vergil’s Aeneid and Shakespeare’s Henriad share s similar format and that support the equally nationalistic intent of both epics. The first six books of The Aeneid constitute an epic of return based on the restoration of Aeneas after the death of his father. The second six books, during which Aeneas prosecutes an all-out war with the Latin natives, are cast in the form of an epic of wrath. Henry IV Parts One and Two form the epic of return and Henry V is an epic of wrath condensed into a single play. The theme of kingship is resolved through the restoration of the English throne at Hal coronation. The theme of war is developed along similar lines in The Henriad and Aeneid. Both epics develop military campaigns from inception to bloody conclusion that focus on the morality of wrathful actions in the name of nation. The theme of kings and their development highlights the moral stance of the authors and the nations they attempt to represent in their epics. Richard II, the first play of The Henriad, functions the same as Book Two of The Aeneid. These stories are used to provide context for the epic and provide the basis of grievous wrongs to be righted by the each of the epic heroes. Examining the plays of The Henriad according to their epic form and function demonstrates Shakespeare’s replacement and often inversion of Vergil’s Roman values with his own Elizabethan ethics.

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