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Brattleboro – Fall 2019

Kingship and Authority in Selected Shakespeare Plays

Presented by Geraldine Pittman Batlle

At the New England Youth Theater, 100 Flat Street, Brattleboro

Mondays, 10:00 am to noon

In this course we will consider the cultural context of the plays: the belief in the Great Chain of Being, the belief in the Divine Right of Kings, the issue of witchcraft. Emphasis will be placed on those qualities so necessary for an enlightened and safe community: the importance of truth and language; the importance of trust and transparency; the honoring of historical and spiritual values shared by citizens; John Rawls’s definition of justice as fairness; the relationship between the king, the nobles, and the commoners.

October 7: MacBeth
This play begins with the depiction of violence in civil war. We will follow closely the metaphor of blood and that of clothing and will look at the presentation of the loyalty of subjects to principles and the presentation of traitors and their motives. We will consider themes such as the cultural horror of the murdering of a king; the role of the witches and Shakespeare’s presentation of the supernatural; gender issues; and equivocation in language and the importance of transparency. Attention will be given to the concept of a just war and the breaking of cultural codes in war.

October 14: Richard II
Here we find another murder and deposing of a king. We will discuss the consequences following from the rule of an incompetent but divinely ordained king; the responses of both commoners and nobles to such a king; the usurping of the throne by one who does not enjoy the reification of authority; and the societal consequences and political unrest when there is a belief that the king is not blessed by God. We will also consider the cultural codes that Richard II violates that lead to his deposing; the implications of lack of trust; and the importance of language in Bolingbroke’s rise to power.

October 21 and 28: Henry IV, Parts I and II
We will look at the complexity of being able to rule when one’s accession to power has no reification within cultural belief. We will discuss the following themes: the importance of constructing an image of authority and virtue; and Shakespeare’s problematizing the concepts of honor, loyalty, honesty, and patriotism in the state. Through the character of Falstaff, we will consider Shakespeare’s criticism of the cultural codes and, through the character of Prince Hal, the education of a future king, including the importance of accepting the responsibilities of rule and Prince Hal’s assumption of power.

November 4: Henry V
This play has been characterized as Shakespeare’s depiction of a “Christian” king, and we will decide whether or not this concept is valid. We will consider the Elizabethan concept of “vertu” and apply it to Henry V. We will return to our themes of honor, respect for truth and language, and the importance of image for a ruler. We will review the depiction of women in each of the plays and assess the significance of the courtship scene. We will pay attention to the role of the chorus in terms of changing beliefs and the beginning of Shakespeare’s concern for the instability of belief in world order.

November 11: Richard III
We will discuss the culmination of cultural chaos in passages that deal with the violence and instability incurred by the civil war following the death of Henry V. We will consider the political consequences of a baby, divinely ordained, assuming the throne. We will look at the psychology of a narcissist, one who, in the words of Simone Weil, lives in “the realm of silence” with an amoral attitude toward cultural codes. We will study the consequences of the rule of one who uses the office for his own self-gratification with no respect for morality or justice; the steps a dictator takes to gain power; and how each step reveals a cultural code that has been violated. We will consider what must be done to rebuild the state and to restore order after the rule of Richard III ends.

Geraldine Pittman Batlle has taught at Marlboro College; studied at Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford; worked for the Vermont Council on the Humanities; and served on the Ethics Committees for the Vermont Bar Association and for the National Endowment of Science.

WHERE WE MEET: New England Youth Theatre, 100 Flat Street, Brattleboro, Vermont.

DIRECTIONS: From the South or the North: I-91 to exit 2. Left off exit ramp onto Western Avenue (VT-9). Follow about a quarter mile, bear left at “Y” in road. At traffic light, Main Street (US-5), turn right. Go 2 blocks to Flat Street and turn right onto Flat Street. The theatre is down the street on the left.

QUESTIONS: Please call Julie Lavorgna at 802-365-7278, or e-mail

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Membership Information (Fall and Spring Sessions)

$30 individual (6 sessions)
$50 couple (6 sessions)

Individual lectures are open to nonmembers for a fee of $6 per lecture.

We encourage attendees to pre-register by mail so as to avoid delays at on-site check-in.

For membership, complete the form on the site brochure or click on this membership form. Mail your completed form with your payment to:

(payable to “The University of Vermont”)
UVM OLLI Registration Office
460 South Prospect Street
Burlington, VT 05401

For a complete listing of all programs, see our listing in a pdf format.