Shakespeare, the Middle Ages and the Luck of the British: Medievalism and National Identity in The Hollow Crown (2012)

Berger, Matthias (4 December 2014). Shakespeare, the Middle Ages and the Luck of the British: Medievalism and National Identity in The Hollow Crown (2012) (Unpublished). In: Shakespeare's Histories (lecture course, Prof. Indira Ghose). Fribourg, Schweiz. 15.09.-19.12.2014.

Images of the medieval past have long been fertile soil for the identity politics of subsequent periods. Rather than “authentically” reproducing the Middle Ages, medievalism therefore usually tells us more about the concerns and ideological climate of its own time and place of origin. To dramatise the nascent nation, Shakespeare resorts to medievalism in his history plays. Centuries later, the BBC-produced television mini-serial The Hollow Crown – adapting Shakespeare’s second histories tetralogy – revamps this negotiation of national identity for the “Cultural Olympiad” in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics. In this context of celebratory introspection, The Hollow Crown weaves a genealogical narrative consisting of the increasingly “glorious” medieval history depicted and “national” Shakespearean heritage in order to valorise 21st-century “Britishness”. Encouraging a reading of the histories as medieval history, the films construct an ostensibly inclusive, liberal-minded national identity grounded in this history. Moreover, medieval kingship is represented in distinctly sentimentalising and humanising terms, fostering emotional identification especially with the no longer ambivalent Hal/Henry V and making him an apt model for present-day British grandeur. However, the fact that the films in return marginalise female, Scottish, Irish and Welsh characters gives rise to doubts as to whether this vision of Shakespeare’s Middle Ages really is, as the producers claimed, “for everybody”.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies > Institute of English Languages and Literatures

Graduate School:

Graduate School of the Arts (GSA)

UniBE Contributor:

Berger, Matthias


800 Literature, rhetoric & criticism > 820 English & Old English literatures
400 Language > 420 English & Old English languages




Matthias Berger

Date Deposited:

25 Apr 2016 16:17

Last Modified:

25 Apr 2016 16:17

Uncontrolled Keywords:

Medievalism, national identity constructions, Shakespeare's history plays, The Hollow Crown


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