Shakespeare's Pacifism

Steven Marx
1992 Renaissance Quarterly  
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more » ... ike Youth and Age or Reason and Passion, War and Peace was one of those polarities that Renaissance writers persistently thought about as well as with. Reflection upon war and peace was at the heart of the Humanist movement, just as the conduct of war and peace was at the foundation of the European state system during the early modern period. This concern with war and peace arose from Humanism's defining traits: its exaltation of fame, its fascination with the military cultures of Greece and Rome, its emphasis on human dignity and freedom, its pursuit of secular knowledge in history and psychology, and its political commitment to improving the quality of institutional and personal life.I The Humanist response to war and peace often split into opposing positions categorized as martial vs. irenic-that is militarist vs. pacifist.2 Associated with what some scholars label "civic humanism," militarists like Caxton, Machiavelli and Guiccardini lionized an ideal of the prince or courtier as soldier and scholar and regarded the warrior's activity as essential for individual achievement as well as for social order.3 Their pacifist opponents, who, like Erasmus, Thomas More, Baldassare Castiglione and Juan Vives, were often identified as "Christian Humanists," envisioned the ideal prince or courtier as a jurist and philosopher, and criticized the military ethos as irreligious, immoral and impractical.4 This debate shaped the ac-'Hale, 1971, 3-26. 2Pro and anti-war positions were not categorized as "isms" or labelled as "militarist" and "pacifist" until the later nineteenth century, but Renaissance writers used the contrary adjectives "martial" and "irenic" (after Eirene, the Greek goddess of peace and prosperity) to convey the meanings of"war loving" and "peace loving.".I use the term "militarism" to cover a variety of attitudes affirming war as a cultural institution and the use of organized violence as an instrument of state power. As is indicated later, different militaristic attitudes can be mutually contradictory as well as supportive. "Pacifism" is also an umbrella term. In general, it denotes hostility to war and to the profession of soldier and a desire for peace. But varieties of pacifism range from strict nonviolence on absolute religious principles to an acceptance of military action for defensive purposes as a last resort. See n. 47 below and Cady. For extensive primary evidence of the existence of pacifism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, see Swinne. 3Baron, 12-47. 4See Adams, Dust, and Tracy. [49] RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY tions of monarchs, the deliberations of councils, the exhortations of divines, as well as the imaginative productions of artists and writers during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Shakespeare repeatedly dramatized the disagreement between militarist and pacifist perceptions of warfare in the many plays he devoted to military matters. This essay charts Shakespeare's development from a partisan of war to a partisan of peace in the course of his career. It argues that the central turning point of this development occurred between 1599 and 1603 -the publication dates of his two battlefield plays, Henry V and Troilus and Cressida-and that the shift in outlook reflects a shift in British foreign policy that began during the last years of Queen Elizabeth's reign and was completed with the accession of King James I.5 "A prince therefore must not have any other object nor any other thought, nor must he take anything as his profession but war, its institutions, and its discipline; because that is the only profession which befits one who commands": so Machiavelli opens chapter 14 of The Prince, entitled "The Prince's Duty Concerning Military Matters."6 His equation of sovereignty with military strength was both traditional and innovative. Since the fall of the Roman Empire, European political power and social status were vested largely in a warrior elite descended from Germanic chiefs. Their martial values and cultural identity were sublimated by the intellectual and bureaucratic legacy of the Church of Rome into the institutions of feudalism and the ideology of chivalry, but Europe throughout the Middle Ages retained the underpinnings of a warrior culture.7 Hence the symbols of gentility and honor were inextricably tied to the practice of arms. With the secularization of literacy and the rediscovery of classical civilization in the Renaissance, learning be-SShakespeare's treatment of war and peace has been studied by Bevington, L. Campbell, and Jorgensen. But neither they nor more recent students of Shakespeare's Jacobean politics link his pacifism to the Erasmian tradition. See Goldberg, Marcus, Tennenhouse, and Yates. Woodbridge's brief but trenchant discussions of" 'masculine' wartime values and 'feminine' peacetime values" (160-70) and in her unpublished essay, "Palisading the Body Politic," is to my knowledge the only commentary that treats Shakespeare's shift to pacifism as both politically and dramatically significant. 6Machiavelli, 124. 7Howard, 1986, I-17. 50 SHAKESPEARE'S PACIFISM came a source of prestige no longer restricted to the clergy and was eagerly pursued by military aristocrats. The paradigm of the Renaissance prince combined the virtues of the general and the scholar. In the texts that he studied and the statues he admired, he found not only models of intelligence and grace, but also exemplars of military strategy and a celebration of amoral prowess free of the moral strictures of the Christian Church. In The Art of War, Machiavelli observes that "since military institutions are completely corrupted and have, for a long period, diverged from ancient practices, bad opinions about them have arisen, causing the military life to be despised . . .8 and calls for "a rebirth of classical military skill through the imitation of ancient military institutions. "9 That call for a Humanist militarism was widely heeded-by Machiavelli's patron Lorenzo de Medici, by mercenary captains who elevated themselves to nobility, like Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, by the Kings of England and France, Henry VIII and Francis I, and by Elizabethan courtiers like Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Walter Ralegh. For them war and politics were the extensions of one another and formed the opportunity, or "occasione," for displaying a worldly "virtu" --a self-created ability forged in mortal strife. Machiavelli sees the presence of many warring states as the reason why "in Europe there are countless excellent men"; he finds vitality and health in the class struggles, civil wars, and foreign engagements of the Roman Republic, but disdains the pax romana of the Empire as the source of ability's decline. Io Humanist militarists had no use for medieval justifications of war-that it was God's punishment upon sinning man or a means of bringing about peace. For them it was an end in itself, the fundamental condition of social life, individual psychology and all creation: "There is not in nature a point of stability to be found; everything either ascends or declines: when wars are ended abroad, sedition begins at home, and when men are freed from fighting for necessity, they quarrel through ambition ... I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire after power that ceaseth only with death.""i 8Machiavelli, 484. 9Ibid., 482. °Ibid., 509. "Sir Walter Ralegh, Works, VIII, 293, translating Machiavelli's Discourses, cited by Jorgensen, 18 . 5 I RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY Such glorification of war and denigration of peace permeate Renaissance culture. Maps and diagrammatic accounts of contemporary battles were distributed as broadsides. Treatises in military science, designed to teach advanced techniques of strategy, battle formation, and fortification, were widely reprinted and studied by playwrights like Marlowe, who included a lengthy lesson on how to penetrate different sorts of ramparts in the second part of Tamburlaine. And Shakespeare both satirizes and adulates the current fascination with the ancient wars and the punctilio of combat in the character of Fluellen in Henry V. Sermons, poems, political speeches repeat the lesson that "peace is quiet nurse/of Idlenesse and Idleness the field/where wit and power change all seeds to worse,"I2 that it is not to be trusted, that it is a hidden disease of the body politic-a cause, in Hamlet's words, of"th'imposthume ... / that inward breaks and shows no cause without/why the man dies" (4.4.27); that it, rather than war, is God's punishment upon man. I3 Elizabethan drama in general clearly illustrates the prominence of Renaissance military culture. Marlowe's Tamburlaine and Massacre at Paris, the anonymous Famous Victories of King Henry V, and Peele's Battle of Alcazar edify popular audiences with what Jorgensen refers to as "War's cheerful Harmony"14-sound effects of drums, trumpets, and cannons, spectacles of armor, weaponry, and carnage. This is the background music for many of Shakespeare's plays and the environment that determines Jaques' selection of the role of "soldier-full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard/ Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel/Seeking the bubble reputation even in the cannon's mouth" as representative of young manhood itself.I5 But if militaristic approval of war was dominant, it was by no means monolithic. In 1516, three years after Machiavelli sent The Prince to his patron, the most prestigious Humanist in Europe, Desiderius Erasmus, published The Education of a Christian Prince (Institutio Principis Christiani), which he wrote as a handbook for the future Emperor Charles V. In it, he advocates an "Art of Peace" contrasted to Machiavelli's Art of War.'6 Rather than normal 2Fulke Greville, Caelica Io8, cited by Jorgensen, 185. 3Jorgensen, 186. 14Ibid., 5. '5As You Like It, 2.7. 49-53. '6Erasmus, 1965, 205-14.
doi:10.2307/2862831 fatcat:iw7x5sl7sjaqvfxoxczg6k2gfu