After decades of religious wars, in 1598 a voice rose in Europe and strongly affirmed that religion could no longer be invoked as just cause of war. The voice was that of the Regius Professor of civil law at Oxford: the Italian-born Alberico Gentili, who is generally considered one of the fathers of modern international law. Gentili, graduated at the University of Perugia, had had to flee from Italy since he was persecuted by the Inquisition because of his Protestant faith. Once arrived in England, thanks to the intervention of the reformed Italian community in London and, most of all, to the Earl of Leicester, he was appointed Lecturer at the University of Oxford. Here, he found himself in repeated contrast with the extremism of the influential exponents of the Puritan faction, especially on such themes as the just causes of war. Gentili was indeed a strong supporter of the necessity of separating civil law from the authority of the theologians (silete theologi in munere alieno is one of his most famous quotations), and wanted to drop religion out of what were considered at the time just causes to wage a war. According to the Italian scholar, religion only concerned the intimate relationship between God and the individual, and it had nothing to do with the public relationships between nations. Gentili put forward the idea that the latter had to be regulated only by jurisprudence, contrarily to what had happened in Europe in those years. He expressed his thought in his most celebrated work, the De Iure Belli, which Gentili published in 1598, after having being promoted to the position of Regius Professor. The influence of his theories can be easily detected in the contemporary English foreign politics against Spain, which was at that time the principal enemy of Queen Elizabeth’s kingdom. Within the deep geopolitical the transformations taking place in the late 15 -century Europe, England was struggling to affirm its own position at international level. Threatened by the schemes of the Spanish crown and by the inner conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, England - and its aging and heirless Queen - was engaged in the effort of quickly building a new and strong national identity. An identity which could unite around the sovereign all the different local identities and the centrifugal interests which prevented – and actually resisted – the birth of a powerful and unified nation. Many of the members of the political establishment chosen by Elizabeth I greatly contributed to this effort, from Walter Raleigh to Richard Hooker, and Alberico Gentili as well: all of them played a critical role in the political and religious propaganda to support the nation which was then being born. A propaganda which was also carried out by the most important means of communication of the age: the theatre. It is known that in those very years the most famous of the English playwrights, William Shakespeare, had begun to write down his own contribution to the reconstruction of the national history of England: his series of historical plays. It is highly likely that Shakespeare had come to know the modern theories of Alberico Gentili, not only because the latter made part – as we said - of the intellighenzia of that period, but also because of the involvement of Gentili in a famous controversy on drama which had taken place in Oxford at the beginning of the 1590s. This controversy had brought to a tight correspondence between Gentili and the powerful Dean of Corpus Christi College, the Puritan John Raynolds, who later collected their letters in a well-known and popular pamphlet, Th’Overthrow of stage–playes. In his letters to Raynolds, the Italian professor defended drama on the bases of those very Machiavellian principles which he would have later exploited, in his De Iure Belli, to defend the political (and not religious) causes of war. It then may come as no surprise that the year following the publication of Gentili’s masterpiece on legitimate warfare, Shakespeare brought to the scenes his own hypothesis of a unified and heroic nation in Henry V (1599), where he most openly favour the present-day reign of Elizabeth I. In this play, Shakespeare brings together theatre and foreign politics, showing his support to the most modern theories on the engaging issue of the just war. The war Henry V wages against France is not at all a holy war. On the contrary, it is waged to defend the English dynastic law and the honour of the nation. Therefore, even though Henry’s kingdom is a fragmented mosaic of people and dialects, just like Elizabethan England, the charismatic king, brave soldier and persuasive leader, makes up a «rhetoric of the brotherhood» (the famous «band of brothers») to unite his soldiers and overcome their scepticism. From this interpretation, my paper would then underscore how Shakespeare takes part in that process known as «the writing of England» - to put it in Richard Helgerson’s words – giving voice to a modern idea of nation and of Europe and to a new kind of politcs based on the supremacy of the law and freedom of conscience. The aim of this paper is thus twofold. On the one hand, it deals with Gentili’s role within the Elizabethan cultural and political background, especially focusing on his involvement in the famous controversy on drama and his modern theories of warfare, whose influence can be seen in the contemporary English foreign politics against Spain. On the other hand, it also shows Gentili’s influence on Shakespeare’s Henry V and the «quarrel honourable» of England’s first king-hero.

“A stranger, and learned, and an exile for religion”. Alberico Gentili, Shakespeare and Elizabethan England

Ragni C
2014

Abstract

After decades of religious wars, in 1598 a voice rose in Europe and strongly affirmed that religion could no longer be invoked as just cause of war. The voice was that of the Regius Professor of civil law at Oxford: the Italian-born Alberico Gentili, who is generally considered one of the fathers of modern international law. Gentili, graduated at the University of Perugia, had had to flee from Italy since he was persecuted by the Inquisition because of his Protestant faith. Once arrived in England, thanks to the intervention of the reformed Italian community in London and, most of all, to the Earl of Leicester, he was appointed Lecturer at the University of Oxford. Here, he found himself in repeated contrast with the extremism of the influential exponents of the Puritan faction, especially on such themes as the just causes of war. Gentili was indeed a strong supporter of the necessity of separating civil law from the authority of the theologians (silete theologi in munere alieno is one of his most famous quotations), and wanted to drop religion out of what were considered at the time just causes to wage a war. According to the Italian scholar, religion only concerned the intimate relationship between God and the individual, and it had nothing to do with the public relationships between nations. Gentili put forward the idea that the latter had to be regulated only by jurisprudence, contrarily to what had happened in Europe in those years. He expressed his thought in his most celebrated work, the De Iure Belli, which Gentili published in 1598, after having being promoted to the position of Regius Professor. The influence of his theories can be easily detected in the contemporary English foreign politics against Spain, which was at that time the principal enemy of Queen Elizabeth’s kingdom. Within the deep geopolitical the transformations taking place in the late 15 -century Europe, England was struggling to affirm its own position at international level. Threatened by the schemes of the Spanish crown and by the inner conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, England - and its aging and heirless Queen - was engaged in the effort of quickly building a new and strong national identity. An identity which could unite around the sovereign all the different local identities and the centrifugal interests which prevented – and actually resisted – the birth of a powerful and unified nation. Many of the members of the political establishment chosen by Elizabeth I greatly contributed to this effort, from Walter Raleigh to Richard Hooker, and Alberico Gentili as well: all of them played a critical role in the political and religious propaganda to support the nation which was then being born. A propaganda which was also carried out by the most important means of communication of the age: the theatre. It is known that in those very years the most famous of the English playwrights, William Shakespeare, had begun to write down his own contribution to the reconstruction of the national history of England: his series of historical plays. It is highly likely that Shakespeare had come to know the modern theories of Alberico Gentili, not only because the latter made part – as we said - of the intellighenzia of that period, but also because of the involvement of Gentili in a famous controversy on drama which had taken place in Oxford at the beginning of the 1590s. This controversy had brought to a tight correspondence between Gentili and the powerful Dean of Corpus Christi College, the Puritan John Raynolds, who later collected their letters in a well-known and popular pamphlet, Th’Overthrow of stage–playes. In his letters to Raynolds, the Italian professor defended drama on the bases of those very Machiavellian principles which he would have later exploited, in his De Iure Belli, to defend the political (and not religious) causes of war. It then may come as no surprise that the year following the publication of Gentili’s masterpiece on legitimate warfare, Shakespeare brought to the scenes his own hypothesis of a unified and heroic nation in Henry V (1599), where he most openly favour the present-day reign of Elizabeth I. In this play, Shakespeare brings together theatre and foreign politics, showing his support to the most modern theories on the engaging issue of the just war. The war Henry V wages against France is not at all a holy war. On the contrary, it is waged to defend the English dynastic law and the honour of the nation. Therefore, even though Henry’s kingdom is a fragmented mosaic of people and dialects, just like Elizabethan England, the charismatic king, brave soldier and persuasive leader, makes up a «rhetoric of the brotherhood» (the famous «band of brothers») to unite his soldiers and overcome their scepticism. From this interpretation, my paper would then underscore how Shakespeare takes part in that process known as «the writing of England» - to put it in Richard Helgerson’s words – giving voice to a modern idea of nation and of Europe and to a new kind of politcs based on the supremacy of the law and freedom of conscience. The aim of this paper is thus twofold. On the one hand, it deals with Gentili’s role within the Elizabethan cultural and political background, especially focusing on his involvement in the famous controversy on drama and his modern theories of warfare, whose influence can be seen in the contemporary English foreign politics against Spain. On the other hand, it also shows Gentili’s influence on Shakespeare’s Henry V and the «quarrel honourable» of England’s first king-hero.
978-88-907244-1-1
File in questo prodotto:
File Dimensione Formato  
Ragni_Gentili_Shakespeare_GraduateConference_2014.pdf

non disponibili

Dimensione 658.95 kB
Formato Adobe PDF
658.95 kB Adobe PDF   Visualizza/Apri   Richiedi una copia

I documenti in IRIS sono protetti da copyright e tutti i diritti sono riservati, salvo diversa indicazione.

Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11562/1056067
Citazioni
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.pmc??? ND
  • Scopus ND
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.isi??? ND
social impact