Free Will

Art and power on Shakespeare's stage

By Richard Wilson

Free Will


  • Hardcover
  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-9179-7
  • Pages: 480
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £25.00
  • Published Date: March 2014
  • BIC Category: Literature & literary studies / Shakespeare studies & criticism, Early Modern Literature, Literature, Literary studies: plays & playwrights, Literary studies: c 1600 to c 1800, English, PERFORMING ARTS / Theater / History & Criticism, LITERARY CRITICISM / Shakespeare, The arts / Theatre studies


Free Will: Art and power on Shakespeare's stage is a study of theatre and sovereignty that situates Shakespeare's plays in the contraflow between two absolutisms of early modern England: the aesthetic and the political. Starting from the dramatist's cringing relations with his princely patrons, Richard Wilson considers the ways in which this 'bending author' identifies freedom in failure and power in weakness by staging the endgames of a sovereignty that begs to be set free from itself. The arc of Shakespeare's career becomes in this comprehensive new interpretation a sustained resistance to both the institutions of sacred kingship and literary autonomy that were emerging in his time. In a sequence of close material readings, Free Will shows how the plays instead turn command performances into celebrations of an art without sovereignty, which might 'give delight' but 'hurt not', and 'leave not a rack behind'.

Free Will is a profound rereading of Shakespeare, art and power that will contribute to thinking not only about the plays, but also about aesthetics, modernity, sovereignty and violence.


'Perhaps the most brilliant of the Shakespearean historicists is Richard Wilson.'
A.D.Nuttall, Shakespeare the Thinker


1. The picture of nobody: Shakespeare in the time of the political
2. Welsh roots: Shakespeare's brute part
3. O world: The echoes of Rome in Julius Caesar
4. Denmark's a prison: Hamlet and the rules of art
5. Great stage of fools: King Lear and the king's men
6. Double trouble: Regime change in Macbeth
7. Your crown's awry: The visual turn in Antony and Cleopatra
8. Like an eagle in a dovecot: The intrusion of the time into the play
Epilogue: No sovereignty: Shakespeare's voyage to Greece


Richard Wilson is the Sir Peter Hall Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Kingston University

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