Cover image for Bloody constraint : war and chivalry in Shakespeare
Bloody constraint : war and chivalry in Shakespeare
Meron, Theodor, 1930-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 1998.
Physical Description:
246 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Chivalry's legacy -- War and peace -- A pagan knight? : Shakespeare's ancient wars -- The Homeric wars through Shakespeare -- The brave or the wise? : two conflicting conceptions of chilvaric honour -- Chivalry as a normative ideal -- Debunking chilvary's myth : commoners, fools, and cynics -- Principle under stress -- Crimes and accountability.
Reading Level:
1480 Lexile.
Format :


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Item Holds
PR3069.M5 M47 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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War is a major theme in Shakespeare's plays. Aside from its dramatic appeal, it provided him with a context in which his characters, steeped in the ideals of chivalry, could discuss such concepts as honor, courage, patriotism, and justice. Well aware of the decline of chivalry in his ownera, Shakespeare gave his characters lines calling for civilized behavior, mercy, humanitarian principles, and moral responsibility. In this remarkable new book, eminent legal scholar Theodor Meron looks at contemporary international humanitarian law and rules for the conduct of war through the lensof Shakespeare's plays and discerns chivalry's influence there.The book comes as a response to the question of whether the world has lost anything by having a system of law based on the Hague and Geneva conventions. Meron contends that, despite the foolishness and vanity of its most extreme manifestations, chivalry served as a customary law that restrained andhumanized the conflicts of the generally chaotic and brutal Middle Ages. It had the advantage of resting on the sense that rules arise naturally out of societies, their armed forces, and their rulers on the basis of experience. Against a background of Medieval and Renaissance sources as well asShakespeare's historical and dramatic settings, Meron considers the ways in which law, morality, conscience, and state necessity are deployed in Shakespeare's plays to promote a society in which soldiers behave humanely and leaders are held to high standards of civilized behavior. Thus heillustrates the literary genealogy of such modern international humanitarian concerns as the treatment of prisoners and of noncombatants and accountability for war crimes, showing that the chivalric legacy has not been lost entirely.Fresh and insightful, Bloody Constraint will interest scholars of international law, lovers of Shakespeare, and anyone interested in the history of war.

Author Notes

Theodor Meron is a prominent scholar of international law. He is also the author of Henry's Wars and Shakespeare's Laws (OUP, 1994), among many other books.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Meron, a scholar of international law who has published books on human rights and international law as well as Henry's Wars and Shakespeare's Laws (Oxford Univ., 1994), explores the broader significance of chivalry and the literary origins of modern humanitarian concerns like the Hague and Geneva Conventions. Meron uses Shakespeare's plays to illustrate 16th-century attitudes toward war, the treatment of women and prisoners, and the necessity of just war, arguing that the chivalric code moderated the behavior of the combatants. Meron's language is clear and accessible, and he provides background information that places his ideas in context. Organization of the text is loose; chapters function as essays examining one idea related to the central theme. A useful supplement to larger public and academic libraries with Shakespeare and military history collections.¬ĎShana C. Fair, Ohio Univ. Lib., Zanesville (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Students can learn much from interdisciplinary studies, which at their best provide insights into various disciplines and their place in the world. A scholar of international law with interests in human rights, history, and Shakespeare, Meron (NYU) has written one of the best, a book that will interest readers in these areas and beyond. Picking up on ideas in his Henry's Wars and Shakespeare's Laws (1993), Meron poses the question of whether society has gained by having a system of law based on the Hague and Geneva conventions rather than on customary rules and chivalric codes. The author looks at the broad significance of chivalry, expanding his focus to any Shakespeare plays that raise the issue of chivalry (including history plays, comedies, and tragedies). Meron does not purport to be a literary critic; he examines the works as texts that illuminate the chivalric ideal. He writes that to Shakespeare "chivalry meant the duty to behave honorably, even in war." He also comments on Shakespeare's reading of the chronicles, Plutarch, and the literature of chivalry and on the playwright's characters, "who articulate a moving call for civilized behavior, for mercy and quarter, and for humanitarian principles and moral responsibility." Highly recommended for readers at all levels in numerous disciplines beyond literature. A. F. Erlebach; Michigan Technological University

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 3
1 Chivalry's Legacyp. 11
2 War and Peacep. 16
3 A Pagan Knight?: Shakespeare's Ancient Warsp. 47
4 The Homeric Wars through Shakespearep. 63
5 The Brave or the Wise?: Two Conflicting Conceptions of Chivalric Honourp. 97
6 Chivalry as a Normative Idealp. 108
7 Debunking Chivalry's Myth: Commoners, Fools, and Cynicsp. 119
8 Principle under Stressp. 132
9 Crimes and Accountabilityp. 150
Epiloguep. 203
Indexp. 231