Friday, January 02, 2015

Indifference vs. Earnestness for Knowledge

"Of course no one denies that partiality in the sense of bias is to be avoided. What I have been pointing out is that indifference is fatal, and earnestness for knowledge essential. What would you say if Newton had professed himself indifferent as to whether he succeeded in making fresh astronomical discoveries, or failed? Should you say that that showed the needful attitude of impartiality which ensured the evidence being valued correctly, and that without it he would run the risk of rash conclusions, and would believe on an insufficient induction? or should you not rather say that if he cared so little about it he would probably not succeed if discovery were at all difficult? I say again that we must secure ourselves from being biassed by our wishes, not as the juryman does, by indifference as to results, but as the physical explorer does, by a longing for true knowledge."

Wilfrid Philip Ward, "The Wish to Believe," in Witnesses to the Unseen, and Other Essays, p. 252.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Wild as of Old and Weird and Sweet

The White Witch
by Gilbert Keith Chesterton

The dark Diana of the groves
Whose name is Hecate in hell
Heaves up her awful horns to heaven
White with the light I know too well.

The moon that broods upon her brows
Mirrors the monstrous hollow lands
In leprous silver; at the term
Of triple twisted roads she stands.

Dreams are no sin or only sin
For them that waking dream they dream;
But I have learned what wiser knights
Follow the Grail and not the Gleam.

I found One hidden in every home,
A voice that sings about the house,
A nurse that scares the nightmares off,
A mother nearer than a spouse,

Whose picture once I saw; and there
Wild as of old and weird and sweet,
In sevenfold splendour blazed the moon
Not on her brow; beneath her feet.

Prodigal of Gifts and Kisses

New Year's Day
by William Lloyd Garrison

Brightest, merriest of days!
Welcomed in a thousand lays!
Not a heart but leaps for gladness,
Not a brow that's veiled in sadness,
Not an eye that beams not brighter,
Not a step that is not lighter!
Day of joyful hopes and wishes,
Prodigal of gifts and kisses;
Want, with all his pining brood,
Leaps and sings for gratitude;
Nakedness — a shivering claimant -
Now obtains a seemly raiment;
Sorrow wipes her tears away,
On a happy New-Year's Day;
All the forms of sharp distress,
Charity's fair hand doth bless!

What awaits, O new-born Year!
On thy brief, untried career?
Pass not, till the world is free
From the yoke of Tyranny;
Broken be th' oppressor's rod,
In the dust his throne be trod; —
Till the sea of human blood
Cease to roll its gory flood,
And the thundering tones of War
Echo not from lands afar;
Till the scourge Intemperance,
With its train, is banished hence:
Pass not till, from sea to sea,
Christ shall gain supremacy;
Idols to the bats be given —
In their stead, the Lord of heaven
Be consulted, loved, adored,
By a guilty race restored!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Links of Note

* Sarah Emsley has wrapped up her year of Mansfield Park. There are lots of good posts, worth reading.

* Rudolf Schuessler on Probability in Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy and Chad Hansen on Zhuangzi at the SEP.

* I am very taken with the bluegrass version, by Special Consensus, of John Denver's "Eagles and Horses".

* Why Christmas in Japan calls to mind Kentucky Fried Chicken.

* William Carroll, Thomas Aquinas in China, at "Public Discourse"

* Evelyn Lamb discusses the topology of holes.

* George Ellis and Joe Silk on scientific method at Nature.

* Whewell's Ghost #28, including links to posts on Newton, Babbage, and many others.

* Thony Christie on Babbage's The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise: A Fragment (which is not technically a Bridgewater Treatise, but is full of many interesting things).

* Peter Kwasniewski on the Mass of Catechumens.

* Daniel Gullotta defends the criterion of embarrassment in historical inquiry.

* Christ the Arkenstone at "A Clerk of Oxford"

* An attempted murder case that shows that you should perhaps not eat anything made by someone who has threatened to poison you with a parasitic worm.

* The Value of Ayn Rand in an Introductory Philosophy Course at "milliern".

* Jeannie Suk, The Trouble with Teaching Rape Law. I've noticed something very similar in my classes, where I have a short segment on questions of consent and how rape law might be improved -- every year students get less inclined to participate in discussion of the subject, to such an extent that I am considering replacing it entirely. Every year it gets harder for them to talk about the subject at all, even at the level of considering ways the legal system might handle it better. And the irony is that we are living in an age when I occasionally have to point out to students that talking about their sex lives in essays or to me is not completely appropriate. It says something about us that in our society it is easier to talk about sex than about justice in sexual matters.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Friend Stands at the Door

A Psalm for New Year's Eve
by Dinah Maria Craik


A friend stands at the door;
In either tight-closed hand
Hiding rich gifts, three hundred and three score:
Waiting to strew them daily o'er the land
Even as seed the sower.
Each drops he, treads it in and passes by:
It cannot be made fruitful till it die.

O good New Year, we clasp
This warm shut hand of thine,
Loosing forever, with half sigh, half gasp,
That which from ours falls like dead fingers' twine:
Ay, whether fierce its grasp
Has been, or gentle, having been, we know
That it was blessed: let the Old Year go.

O New Year, teach us faith!
The road of life is hard:
When our feet bleed and scourging winds us scathe,
Point thou to Him whose visage was more marred
Than any man's: who saith
"Make straight paths for your feet" — and to the opprest --
"Come ye to Me, and I will give you rest."

Yet hang some lamp-like hope
Above this unknown way,
Kind year, to give our spirits freer scope
And our hands strength to work while it is day.
But if that way must slope
Tombward, O bring before our fading eyes
The lamp of life, the Hope that never dies.

Comfort our souls with love, — Love of all human kind;
Love special, close — in which like sheltered dove
Each weary heart its own safe nest may find;
And love that turns above
Adoringly; contented to resign
All loves, if need be, for the Love Divine.

Friend, come thou like a friend,
And whether bright thy face,
Or dim with clouds we cannot comprehend,—
We 'll hold out patient hands, each in his place,
And trust thee to the end.
Knowing thou leadest onwards to those spheres
Where there are neither days nor months nor years.

I like the conceit of days as seeds, unable to be fruitful until they die. I know almost nothing about Craik except that she was best known in her day as a novelist. But glancing through her early short story collection, Avillion and Other Tales (that's just volume 1), it looked very interesting, as did her fantasy novel (as we would call it today), Alice Learmont. I have about a jillion things to do at the moment, but I'll have to add them to the list.

Coercion and Conceptual Analysis

Julian Savulescu:

The paradigm case of coercion could be said to be when a robber stops you and says, ‘Your money or your life’. Coercion involves the restriction of freedom (reduction of options), which causes that person to do what she does not want to do. Coercion is wrong when it harms a person or fails to respect that person's autonomy. That is a conceptual analysis of coercion.

Even professionals working in bioethics (which includes medical ethics), including Leon Kass, misuse this term. Embryos cannot be coerced since they are not persons and lack freedom of will. But more importantly, future people cannot be coerced by the act of genetic selection or cloning. Imagine that IVF produces two embryos, Anne and Bob. The parents choose Bob because that embryo has perfect pitch (or is a clone). Later in life, can Bob complain that his parents coerced or limited his freedom by selecting him on the basis of having perfect pitch (or being a clone)? No—he owes his very existence (all his options and freedom) to their act of selection. Without assisted reproduction and selection (or cloning), he would not have existed. It is metaphysical fact that those who owe their existence to a reproductive act cannot be coerced by that act. Even more broadly, they cannot be harmed by that act unless it makes their existence so bad that their lives are not worth living.

This is an awful conceptual analysis, one that seems to ignore almost all philosophical work that has ever been done on the topic. The problems start right at the beginning. A paradigm case is supposed to be a relatively simple and straightforward example, so that it can serve as a general reference point for other things; it needs to have relatively few atypical features. But threats of any kind are not relatively simple and straightforward; while people generally recognize that some kinds of threats can sometimes be coercion, determining why and in what way threats are coercive has never been easy, because they necessarily bring in issues of emotional possibility and social expectation. Virtually all the obvious candidates for paradigm cases of coercion are physical: someone seizing you and physically making you do something, someone holding your nose to force something down your throat, etc. Even the simplest cases of threat (e.g., dangling someone off the side of a building and threatening to drop them if they don't tell you something) are more complicated than such cases, with all sorts of distinctive and atypical features.

The point would perhaps not bear pointing out, since paradigm cases are only important as reference points, were it not for the obvious thing that is not in Savulescu's analysis at all: the reason why physical cases of coercion are better candidates for paradigm cases than emotional cases is that they are more blatant examples of use of force. To get emotional cases in requires looking at how and in what way one person can be said to force someone else to do something simply by threatening, which brings in the psychological and sociological questions. (This is the only reason historically, for instance, that we take threat to be coercion and not something different even if related: people argued that certain kinds of threat were as much a case of forcing someone as physical forcing.) Savulescu's analysis is missing any conception of forcing at all, a fact that is glossed over by his choice of paradigm case. The analysis itself is so general that it doesn't require any force at all. Do you know how I can reduce your options in such a way as to cause you to do what you don't want to do? By doing just about anything at all, in the right circumstances. If I insult someone in whose good graces you'd prefer to stay, this might cause you to apologize to them on my behalf even if you don't want to do so. And if you claimed I coerced you, I would say (in a candidate paradigm case of rejecting coercion as an explanation), "Nobody forced you to do it." The vast majority of our actions reduce the options of other people; that's why coordination in the form of society is often necessary. The number of ways in which our actions can cause someone to do something that they don't want to do is truly legion, and very few of them involve anything that most people would recognize as coercive. And note in particular that Savulescu doesn't give any way of connecting how the reduction of options relates to the causing. If I reduce your options so that you still have several options left, but you stupidly think it leaves you only one option, in what way did I actually coerce you? Yet it fits Savulescu's account of coercion.

It's possible that Savulescu is assuming something like Nozick's account of coercion, which does take coercion to be primarily threat-based; but this is not a "conceptual analysis of coercion" but a substantive and highly controvertible position on the subject. Nor does this do anything to alleviate the obvious problem of overgenerality.

The issue of harm and failure to respect as implying wrongness of coercion can be allowed to pass, although they are not part of a "conceptual analysis" of coercion, but points of substantive dispute. The next serious problem, though, is that there is no particular reason to think that Savulescu's analysis is complete -- either with respect to the analysis of coercion itself (we've seen that there are positive reasons to think it is not) or with respect to what makes coercion wrong. There is nothing wrong an incomplete conceptual analysis, except that Savulescu immediately goes on to treat it as complete, using it as a criterion for proper use and misuse of the term. But as long as it is incomplete, it cannot be ruled out that there are nuances that shift the border between appropriate use and misuse in ways that may not be obvious. (To take a simple example: Suppose someone gives 'killing a person' as a conceptual analysis for murder and then immediately starts criticizing other people for misusing the term. Is it not immediately obvious that, since the conceptual analysis is incomplete, treating it as complete will guarantee that the person gets the question, 'Is this a correct or incorrect use of the term 'murder'?", wrong in any number of cases?)

What is more, Savulescu's argument ends up not being consistent with taking his conceptual analysis as complete. Savulescu says, "future people cannot be coerced by the act of genetic selection or cloning", but nothing in his analysis implies this. The conceptual analysis gives two, and only two, conditions for something being coercion:

(1) It reduces someone's options.
(2) It causes them to do what they don't want to do.

Both of these can be met in the genetic selection cases. Certainly anyone's genetics might at some point in their lives cause them to do something they don't want to do; go to the hospital, perhaps. And there are perfectly straightforward senses in which your genetics can reduce your options. My genetics means that I don't have the option of doing things that require excellent vision. The only way Savulescu can get 'future persons' into the analysis at all is by reading (1) in a very, very particular way, one that is not at all obvious from his analysis, and is not at all an obvious candidate for how it should be read: it has to mean that coercion is reduction of the options that already existed (rather than normal options, or minimal acceptable options, or what have you). By that account, slave owners who arranged for slave babies were not coercing the slaves who grew up from those babies, because there was never a point at which the slaves in question had any option not to be slaves -- that option was ruled out from the beginning. This is not what anyone would have taken to be the obvious reading of condition (1), nor is it consistent either with our usual usage or the history of the term. If one doesn't take this extremely counterintuitive reading, neither (1) nor (2) rules out the possibility that someone can be coerced by means of the very act by which they are generated, nor do they imply that future people cannot be coerced by genetic selection or cloning.

I have no idea in what sense Savulescu's last sentence is supposed to be taken 'more broadly'; as his conceptual analysis of coercion states things, considerations of harm are not 'more broad' than considerations of coercion, merely overlapping. But even here Savulescu's claim is baffling: 'making someone's existence bad' is something we usually talk about in terms of harm, so it's an utter mystery how one would go about making someone's existence bad and yet not be harming them because you didn't make their existence so bad that life itself was no longer worth living. That's certainly not what anyone would usually say; it doesn't fit any of our paradigm cases of harm. And it doesn't follow from the conceptual analysis of coercion, since the conceptual analysis you would need is a conceptual analysis of harm, which we aren't given.

The same problems pervade the article. For instance, Savulescu says,

Concerns about coercion equally fail to apply to many acts of germline genetic enhancement. Engineering perfect pitch or increasing intelligence or giving a child a talent increases options and freedom. Coercion in such cases only exists if parents choose to then limit options.

But this doesn't follow from the conceptual analysis, either, which did not make any claims that the reduction of options had to be overall, rather than any sort of reduction of options. And it is quite obvious that one may simultaneously reduce options so that someone does what he or she doesn't want to do, while also increasing other kinds of options. Indeed, this happens in all sorts of coercive cases. A peasant who is kidnapped and forcibly made a eunuch to a king may have all sorts of options opened that did not exist before -- eunuchs have historically had all sorts of lines of power opened to them, so that someone might well have more options as a eunuch than as a peasant. But nobody would look at any of these to determine whether the eunuch in this instance had been coerced in the first place. Nobody thinks that it is relevant to the question of whether Ottoman Turks coerced young people into becoming Janissaries that the Janissaries then for all practical purposes ruled the Empire. If I torture you, or threaten you, or blackmail you into doing something that leaves you more free in the end, it's not obvious that the latter implies that I did not coerce you at all; and it is certainly not something that follows from Savulescu's conceptual analysis. There is a clear illegitimate shift here: the analysis considers only reduction of options, without telling us anything about how opening options would be factored in, and Savulescu in his example considers only opening of options, without considering the ways in which it would reduce options. There's no excuse of this, either; the people Savulescu is criticizing would certainly be focusing on the latter.

What's more, the whole thing begins to be quite comic. Savulescu by the end of the article has complained that (1) professionals working in bioethics and medical ethics often do not use the term in the way his conceptual analysis would require; (2) professionals working in law often do not use the term in the way his conceptual analysis would require; and (3) in everyday life, in matters where they have to deal with problems in medical ethics, people very often do not use the term in the way his conceptual analysis would require. Which shows that he does not quite grasp what a conceptual analysis does: it analyzes the concepts people use by beginning with how they use it and seeing what that requires about the concept itself; and while people may use concepts confusedly or inconsistently, a proper conceptual analysis will be able to explain why they would be confused. (Nor can Savulescu claim to be doing conceptual analysis in some other, weird way; he explicitly appealed to a paradigm example, and that is the whole point of a paradigm example in conceptual analysis: typical use.) The evidence is not sufficient to determine the analysis, but it is essential for doing it. Savulescu's conceptual analysis not only is defective in itself, it apparently floats free from almost all actual evidence about the concept. If your conceptual analysis cannot explain how almost everyone except yourself uses the term in question, you have not actually analyzed the concept that you are claiming to analyze.

Savulescu admittedly insists that he is not giving a full defense; but he does presuppose throughout his entire argument that this is a good, even if not best, analysis. But this is one of the worst conceptual analyses I've ever seen, and certainly the worst I've ever seen published in a professional journal. You could give a bright undergraduate the article and they could point out obvious problems with it. And a bad conceptual analysis doesn't establish what he claims -- "good philosophy—which may well include good counter—arguments to all my philosophical arguments in this paper—is essential to understanding and deciding bioethical issues—and law". I do in fact agree with this claim, at least. But Savulescu fails miserably at showing it. His conceptual analysis being a mess, it doesn't show that conceptual analyses would do any more than sow confusion. And his argument is not appropriately structured, even if his conceptual analysis were any good, for showing that it is "essential" to understanding and deciding bioethical issues and law, rather than say, merely occasionally a useful supplement. Indeed, nothing Savulescu says establishes any relevance to law at all; for all he shows, the 'conceptual confusions' he identifies that get involved in law might well just be necessary evils given all the many things law has to balance. There seems to be a rather large contingent of bioethicists who do not seem to grasp the elementary point that law, as a practical discipline, often has to operationalize, approximate, and rig up extrinsic qualifications and restrictions to work in the first place. Going around pointing out 'conceptual confusions' in the law is an idiot's game; the question is how one would eliminate them in law while still meeting all the goals that must be met by the law -- and that is sometimes very, very far from an idiot's game.

That's all I have to say about that, although the thing that Savulescu says in the article that had me hit my head on the desk -- literally, and I do mean literally -- was this:

David Hume famously described this ‘fact–value’ or ‘is–ought’ distinction. One of his greatest contributions to ethics was to observe that values cannot be read straight off natural facts. To do so is what GE Moore described as the naturalistic fallacy. Science and ethics are completely different kinds of enterprises.

Full discussion of this would take another long post. But setting aside the fact that 'fact-value' and 'is-ought' are not the same distinction, Hume manifestly does not think that "values cannot be read straight off natural facts"; he's a moral sentimentalist, which means that he thinks moral matters concern facts about moral feelings of approval and disapproval, which are natural facts (just not necessarily natural facts, depending on how the phrase is used, about the thing approved or disapproved). To put it in terms other than Hume's own, he's a naturalist about ethics. To claim that science and ethics are completely different kinds of enterprises on the basis of Hume's discussion of the way in which ethics can be part of the Science of Man is completely wrong, and there hasn't been much excuse for such a use of Hume in decades. I wasn't even born yet when people were pointing out that this sort of thing is a caricature of Hume, and not even a very good one. Alas, I fear that I will be pointing out that it is a caricature of Hume on my deathbed, be it many decades down the road.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Turbulent Priest

Today is the Feast of St. Thomas Becket. Thomas was appointed Lord Chancellor to Henry II in 1155. He turned out to be an extraordinarily savvy administrator, increasing the king's revenue considerably. As a result, Henry pulled a few strings to help get him the position of Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest prelacy in the kingdom. (He had to be ordained a priest the day before he was ordained bishop, although he was already a deacon.) Almost certainly Henry expected Thomas to continue to be in the royal pocket, but Thomas turned out to take his position as Archbishop just as seriously as he had taken his position as Lord Chancellor. He became an ascetic, and zealously began to extend the influence of his office.

Things came to a crisis over the question of legal jurisdiction. Court and Church had different legal systems at that time. If a cleric murders someone, however, in which court should he be tried. The two courts worked in fairly similar ways, but there were important differences -- for instance, ecclesiastical courts did not have the death penalty. Henry wanted all such crimes tried in royal courts, Thomas insisted that they be tried in ecclesiastical courts. Henry was willing to accept a compromise in which the accused would first be tried in an ecclesiastical court, then, if found guilty, be defrocked and tried in the secular court; but Thomas did not regard this as as even remotely acceptable, and insisted that the accused could not be tried twice for the same crime.

Henry began actively pulling strings again, trying to get the bishops to agree to a sharply curtailed system of ecclesiastical privileges. Only Becket held out, and he was eventually forced to flee to France. Pope Alexander III began to intervene, and through his legates negotiated a compromise that allowed Becket to return in 1170.

Becket's stay on the continent seems to have done nothing to restrain his insistence on maintaining the rights and privileges of the Church; the issues changed, but his attitude did not. What follows next is somewhat obscure. The usual story is that Henry happened to say something -- the exact thing said varies from story to story -- that was taken by some of his knights as a hint to bring Thomas in. So four knights went to Canterbury and demanded that Thomas come with them to Winchester to answer for his actions. He refused, and they went back outside to get their swords, and killed him in the cathedral on December 29. We have eyewitness accounts of the murder.

Alexander III canonized him in 1173, which is very short period for canonization. But he was a martyr, which simplifies the canonization process, and as word spread, so did his veneration. He was originally buried in the crypt, but he was moved to a special shrine in 1220. That shrine stood until 1538, when Henry VIII, in the process of stealing all of the Catholic Church in England, specifically ordered the shrine destroyed (and possibly had his bones burned), and also had all mention of his name eliminated from the Cathedral and made it illegal to celebrate his feast day. No doubt he was a little uncomfortable at the thought of England's most famous pilgrimage site being devoted to a saint martyred for insisting to a King Henry that the Church had rights and privileges the king could not infringe.

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, of course, is about a pilgrimage to Becket's shrine. Both Tennyson's Becket and T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral are about Becket's murder.

From Tennyson's Becket:

DE MORVILLE. Why, then you are a dead man; flee!

BECKET. I will not.
I am readier to be slain, than thou to slay.
Hugh, I know well thou hast but half a heart
To bathe this sacred pavement with my blood.
God pardon thee and these, but God's full curse
Shatter you all to pieces if ye harm
One of my flock!

Prejudice and Apathy

"I don't know that calm and unbiassed men are always the best judges," said Father Ashley. "No doubt bias is a bad thing, but I think that apathy is worse. If your unprejudiced men are apathetic, if their minds and hearts are in things other than religion, I had rather have a 'prejudiced man who is in earnest, and whose heart is in the matter. If I were a prisoner, I had rather my judge were somewhat prejudiced against me, than that he had neither bias nor sense of responsibility. The former kind of judge, if he is conscientious, has something in him to which one can appeal, and which may overcome his prejudice; the latter may condemn me through mere sleepiness or inattentiveness. You may reason away prejudice, but not apathy, as its very characteristic is that it takes no pains to attend to your reasonings."

Wilfrid Philip Ward, "The Wish to Believe," in Witnesses to the Unseen, and Other Essays, p. 171.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fortnightly Book, December 28

The First Folio edition of William Shakespeare's plays, published in 1623, divided its thirty-six plays into three groups: comedies, histories, and tragedies. Ten plays are found in the category of 'histories', of which eight are concerned with the Wars of the Roses. While I'll be reading all ten, it is the latter that is the primary draw; I've been wanting to read the plays of the Wars of the Roses cycle all together for some months now.

The plays are:

(1) King John: John ruled from 1199 to 1216; he was the son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the father of Henry III. He came to the throne after the death of his brother, Richard I Coeur de Lion. He faced some rather significant problems in his reign, which he did not handle entirely successfully, and the play is mostly about the internal dissensions he faced, and the need of the English people to be united. The structure of the story is based almost entirely on a previous anonymous play, The Troublesome Raigne of King John, which was published in 1591 and has occasionally also been attributed to Shakespeare.

***Wars of the Roses***

(2) King Richard the Second: Richard II ruled from 1377 to 1399; he was the younger son of Edward, the Black Prince, and he succeeded his grandfather, Edward III, at the age of ten. Since the play depicts the deposition of Richard II, which led to Henry IV taking the throne, it was somewhat controversial in its day; scholars since have tended to see the play as suggesting that the deposition started the chain of events leading to the Wars of the Roses, which is perhaps a little free with the history but a rather less subversive interpretation.

(3) The First Part of King Henry IV: Henry IV, cousin to Richard II, ruled from 1399 to 1413. The play was famous from the beginning for its comedy, most notably in the person of Falstaff, Prince Hal's drinking companion. The story depicts the period in which Henry Percy (Hotspur) rebels against Henry IV, although we also get something of Prince Hal's own rebelliousness.

(4) The Second Part of King Henry IV: The tale follows Prince Hal and his relation to Falstaff as Prince Hal has to come to reject his dissolute ways and become a man worthy of being king.

(5) King Henry V: Prince Hal ascends the throne and rules as King Henry V from 1413 to 1422. The play, which focuses on the Battle of Agincourt (1415) serves as a sort of pinnacle to the War of the Roses cycle, portraying a definite political success.

(6) The First Part of King Henry VI: With Henry VI, who ruled England from 1422 to 1461 and from 1470 to 1471, we begin to get the Wars of the Roses themselves, as the House of Lancaster begins to struggle against the rising House of York. That England's fortunes, so apparently bright under Henry V, are beginning to turn is seen in the fact that Joan of Arc (la Pucelle) is a character in this play: the French under the Valois dynasty are about to make sudden and massive gains against the English and their Burgundian allies, although Joan will eventually be captured. An uneasy and unstable peace settles by the end, on the verge of Henry IV's marriage to Margaret of Anjou.

(7) The Second Part of King Henry VI: Henry VI marries Margaret of Anjou and the two, who are something of an ill-suited match, become caught up in the struggle between Gloucester and Suffolk; the Wars of the Roses begin and the play ends with Henry VI in flight from the House of York. It is usually considered the strongest of the Henry VI plays.

(8) The Third Part of King Henry VI: Beginning where 2 Henry VI leaves off, this play covers the destruction of the kingdom and the corruption of its houses through the Wars of the Roses. It ends with Henry VI having been cast off his throne a second time and depicts Richard, brother of King Edward IV of the House of York, as his assassin.

(9) King Richard III: The death of King Edward IV brings Richard to the throne as Richard III, who ruled England from 1483 to 1485. The basic story that Shakespeare is working with goes back to Sir Thomas More, since both of the major sources used by Shakespeare for his historical background, Edward Hall's The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (1548) and Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1577) draw on More's History of King Richard III -- good dramatic ground to build on, since More presents Richard III as extraordinarily manipulative, able to push and pull people as he will even when they see clearly that he is doing it, yet simultaneously blind to the clear signs that he is pushing events toward his own destruction. The play ends with Richard's defeat at the Battle of Bosworth Field. It is Shakespeare's second longest play (after Hamlet) and is usually performed in an abridged version because it presupposes familiarity with the Henry VI plays.


(10) King Henry VIII: Henry VIII ruled from 1509 to 1547. It ends with the christening of Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth. It is very free with the order of events and avoids any direct criticism of Henry, although it is usually thought to have been first written and performed after Elizabeth's death. It is often thought to be a collaborative work with John Fletcher.

As I mentioned before, my primary interest is to read the Wars of the Roses cycle, from Richard to Richard by way of the Henries, but I'll read the other two as well. The edition I am using is the Heritage Press (New York) edition of 1958, introduced by Peter Alexander with woodcut illustrations by John Farleigh; it is the second volume of the three volume set of Shakespeare's plays. While I've read all the plays before at some point or another, this volume has seen less reading than the other two, except for Henry V, which is my favorite Shakespearean play. You see a picture of it online, with the title page and some of the woodcuts, although my copy is in much better shape. Alas, I seem to be missing the Sandglass for it, so I don't have further details about binding or type, or at least, any details that could be regarded as remotely accurate. But the whole work is 986 pages, not counting the glossary in back, so that's quite a bit of historical drama to get through in two weeks.