Shakespeare's Bohemia : terror and toleration in early modern Europe

Title: Shakespeare's Bohemia : terror and toleration in early modern Europe
Author: Thomas, Alfred
Source document: Brno studies in English. 2019, vol. 45, iss. 1, pp. [191]-209
  • ISSN
    0524-6881 (print)
    1805-0867 (online)
Type: Article
License: Not specified license

Notice: These citations are automatically created and might not follow citation rules properly.

This article argues that William Shakespeare was not ignorant of the geographic location and political importance of the kingdom of Bohemia, as critics of The Winter's Tale have traditionally assumed since Ben Jonson's infamous jibe of 1618. Shakespeare inherited the motif of Bohemia from his source but significantly inverted it (and gave it a sea coast) in order to make Bohemia the refuge for Perdita, the outcast baby daughter of King Leontes and his wife Hermione. The paper proposes that this inversion is not coincidental but is crucial to the play's oblique message and allegorical plea for religious toleration in Jacobean England, where Catholics had been persecuted since the reign of Elizabeth I. Drawing on previously overlooked primary sources by Shakespeare's Protestant and Catholic contemporaries who lived in or visited Bohemia (including Edmund Campion, John Taylor and Fynes Morison), the text demonstrates that Rudolfine Bohemia's – and Prague's – reputation for religious toleration in the years prior to the catastrophic Battle of the White Mountain (1620) would have been well-known to the playwright and his English compatriots.
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