In 1589 the Privy Council encouraged the Archbishop of Canterbury to take steps to control the theatres, which had offended authority by putting on plays which addressed 'certen matters of Divinytie and of State unfitt to be suffred'.
How had questions of divinity and state become entangled? The Reformation had invested the English Crown with supremacy over the Church, and religious belief had thus been transformed into a political statement. In the plentiful chronicle literature of the sixteenth-century, questions of monarchical legitimacy and religious orthodoxy became intertwined as a consequence of that demand for a usable national past created by the high political developments of the 1530s.
Divinity and State explores the consequences of these events in the English historiography and historical drama of the sixteenth century. It is divided into four parts. In the first, the impact of reformed religion on narratives of the national past is measured and described. Part II examines how the entanglement of the national past and reformed religion was reflected in historical drama from Bale to the early years of James I, and focuses on two paradigmatic characters: the
sanctified monarch and the martyred subject. Part III considers Shakespeare's history plays in the light of the preceding discussion, and finds that Shakespeare's career as a historical dramatist shows him eventually re-shaping the history play with great audacity. Part IV corroborates this reading of Shakespeare's
later history plays by reference to the dramatic ripostes they provoked.
David Womersley was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and is currently the Thomas Warton Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of St Catherine's College. His publications include The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Penguin, 1994) and Gibbon and the Watchmen of the Holy City: the Historian and his Reputation, 1776-1815 (Oxford, 2002). He has edited Edmund Burke's Pre-Revolutionary Writings
(Penguin, 1998), Restoration Drama: An Anthology (Blackwell, 2000), Cultures of Whiggism (University of Delaware Press, 2005), Literary Milieux (University of Delaware Press, 2008), and Boswell's Life of Johnson (Penguin, 2008). His current projects include a biography of Gibbon (for Yale University Press), and monographs
provisionally entitled Literary Whiggism 1680-1730 and English Literature and Colonial Tension, 1765-88.