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Shakespeare and World History

Author’s Note:   This material comes from a master’s thesis I wrote about how social studies teachers could use Shakespeare’s plays to teach world history topics.  Aside from a couple of typographical edits and the redaction of a section dealing with ca. 1994 software, it appears here, minus the title page, as it was originally written.





This project will examine the use of classic literature (Shakespeare) as a supplement to world history instruction.  The primary events being studied are the Roman Civil War and the English War of the Roses.

History is taught from textbooks generally, and is tied too often to sanitized, chronological, compartmentalized packages.   Students do not see the connection between what they learn in a subject like history and their other subjects, or to the real world.   

Students need to see history as something more than lists of kings and Presidents, dates o famous battles, etc., in a textbook.  History has to have both content and meaning that relates it to other disciplines and to the world at large.   

Purpose of the Study:

The purpose of this study is to show how the classroom teacher can integrate Shakespeare into a World History curriculum.  Literature and history intersect in many of his plays; not only in the historical series covering English history from King John to Henry VIII, but also in the Roman plays, and somewhat more tenuously, in King Lear, Cymbeline, and Macbeth.  Explaining that connection can bring history alive in new and interesting ways.  This study will outline how to use Shakespeare to help teach portions of Roman and English history, during their most celebrated civil wars.  Students should be able to compare different sources when studying an event, and from thence to draw independent conclusions about how history is recorded and interpreted.  They will transfer analytical skills learned in this exercise to the examination of possible alternate historical scenarios, as measured by an end-of-chapter assignment.

This project’s significance lies in investigating the value of using Shakespeare to teach history, as referenced against his primary sources.  For the Roman history plays, the comparison is with Plutarch and Seutonius, while the English history plays will be held up against works like Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time, David Hume’s History of England and Holinshed’s Chronicles and acted out using the board game Kingmaker.  This project will demonstrate the potential for interdisciplinary cooperation between teachers of History and English, thereby showing students the interconnectivity of learning, so that they think more broadly, instead of thinking in terms of subjects that bear little or no relation to each other, or to the world around them.  As Sayers (1947) framed the question:

Do you come across people for whom, all their lives, a subject remains a subject, divided by watertight bulkheads

from all other subjects, so that they experience very great difficulty in making an immediate mental connection between

let us say, algebra and detective fiction, sewage disposal and the price of salmon—or, more generally, between such spheres

of knowledge as philosophy and economics, or chemistry and art?






To begin to examine the avenues open to the classroom teacher who wants to integrate Shakespeare into a World History Curriculum, it is advisable to review what previous research has suggested in terms of strategy.  The typical place for Shakespeare is in the English classroom, hence the relative scarcity of research on his uses for the history teacher.  The approaches reviewed focus on the multidimensional nature of the plays – read, spoken, acted in class, on stage, or in film.  The historical value of the English history plays, especially Richard III, is an important strand in several articles, which explore the validity of the portrait of the title character

The Value of Using Shakespeare in the Modern Curriculum

Why Teach Shakespeare? (Or Any Other Dead White Male?)  (Forrester, 1995) explores the arguments in favor of teaching Shakespeare.  She begins by asking a series of questions, starting with: why do we teach and what do we mean by education?  She builds on these questions to define what is commonly meant by ‘educated,’ and how one becomes truly literate.  Ms. Forrester’s conclusion is that educational relevance is demonstrated by works that address timeless questions

relating to the human condition, and by being the basis upon which modern works rest.  This assumption makes the classical works educational prerequisites for gaining full understanding of what follows.  “In whatever age ‘modern’ is, all ‘modern’ work builds upon what has gone before.” (Forrester, 1995)

Methods of Teaching the Plays

A systematic approach to teaching the plays will yield better results than a simple start-to-finish reading.  One method is to teach a play with a focus on character, followed by one with the focus on plot, and then a third where the emphasis is on language.  This concept allows for progressively greater sophistication on the part of the students in terms of contextual analysis. Creative Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare in High School (Dienstfrey, 1991) uses The Taming of the Shrew as an example of how a play may be taught using several different strategies.  These strategies are focused on making the experience entertaining, so as to facilitate active student participation, and thereby stimulate learning.  “Shakespeare needs to be taught in an entertaining fashion for the high school student to appreciate his genius and savor his keen insights and talents.”  ( Dienstfrey, 1991)  The strategies presented start with the simple and progress to the more difficult.  Exercises like Shakespearian Jeopardy and the Match Game help interest students in the beginning of the exercise.  Other suggestions include having the school’s drama club or a local college’s act scenes from the play being studied.  The emphasis throughout is on going beyond the

text to make the plays come alive.

Fact vs. Myth in Literature

Richard III: The Man the Myth, and the Reality (Hubbard, 1983) explains the use of the lay as one aspect of viewing Richard III and the War of the Roses.  The unit he describes was designed for a class of gifted ninth graders in Ontario.  The focus of the unit is on ‘historiography,’ an interdisciplinary approach to historical inquiry that emphasizes the process of historical inquiry.

The Daughter of Time (Tey, 1951), is a mystery novel in which a hospitalized detective spends his convalescence examining the evidence supporting the charge that Richard III murdered his nephew-princes in the Tower of London in order to secure his throne.  The conclusion of that book, that Richard was probably innocent, is compared to the pro-Tudor propaganda of Shakespeare.  Renzulli’s model for gifted students supplied Hubbard with a reference point for designing this unit.  In addition to Shakespeare and Tey’s detective novel, students played the Avalon Hill multi-player board game Kingmaker, in which each player represents a noble family or faction seeking to crown the sole-surviving royal claimant to the throne from either the Yorkist or Lancastrian house.   The player does not himself try to become king, but rather seeks to be the power behind the throne, by eliminating all claimants to the crown, save the one controlled by his faction.  The game is primarily political in nature; combat

is decided generally in favor of the larger force, without recourse to tactical maneuvering on the field of battle.  The complexity of play renders it necessary to spend a fair amount of time learning the rules prior to commencing play. “ In addition to being an excellent motivating agent, the game also provides a solid background to the milieu of England at the time of Richard III.”  (Hubbard, 1983)  Students are encouraged to view the War of the Roses as the actors did, to compare the two views of Richard III presented by the readings, and to understand the process of historical inquiry.

The unit’s objectives are divided into general goals (revolving around concrete, nuts-and-bolts historical comprehension), cognitive goals (i.e., to understand technical information about the Middle Ages, like heraldry, dower rights, etc., which enhance understanding), and skill objectives (conducting historical inquiry, using Kingmaker to get a feel for political maneuvering, etc.).  Kingmaker provides the framework for the classes’ two-week inquiry into Richard III.  The class will play the game, with each student being a specific noble family.  The readings are done, research is conducted on the major figures, and an enlarged game board hung on the wall, complete with flags denoting the various nobles, allows the class to track the progress of their own War of the Roses.  Possible modifications include ‘what if?’ scenarios, such as Richard’s capture and trial under a bill of attainder from Henry Tudor. “… The thrust and parry of a courtroom debate with its’ inherent drama and sense of the unexpected provide occasions for verbal fluency and mental flexibility of a higher order.” (Hubbard, 1983)  Students


may also be assigned a formal research paper on Shakespeare vs. Tey, with evaluation of the same made by both English and History teachers.

Historical Sources

Holinshed’s Chronicles provided the raw material for Shakespeare’s history plays, Macbeth,


Cymbeline, and King Lear.  Shakespeare’s Holinshed (Hosley, 1968) is a aeries of selections


from the 1587 edition used by Shakespeare.  The portions of Holinshed which bear upon the


plays noted above are included, along with references in each selection to the specific pages of


the original and their tie-in by line number to their respective plays.  Appendices contain an


outline of English history from 1154 to 1603, genealogical tables, and a map of England and


western France.

Historical Whodunit


The proverb, Truth is the daughter of time, inspired the title of a mystery novel which


explores the murder of the Tower Princes which has been laid at Richard III’s feet for four


centuries, as it was in Shakespeare’s play about that monarch.  The Daughter of Time (Tey,


1951) investigates the accusation from a police angle.  The Scotland Yard detective who is the


lead character looking at motive, past character and reputation, opportunity, actions of the other


principals in relation to the suspect, possible bias in eyewitness accounts and sources, and, most


importantly, by asking: who benefited the most from the murders?  The book follows the actions


of each major character in the years leading up to Richard’s coronation, through his deposition


and death at the battle of Tewksbury, and in the first months of his successor’s (Henry VII)




Based on the evidence, the detective concludes that Richard III would never have been a


suspect, and that the likely candidate (in terms of ultimate responsibility) was Henry VII, Tudor


propaganda non-withstanding.


Preparatory and Enrichment Activities

Ancillary activities that prepare students for Shakespeare and heighten their interest can make the initial contact with the plays more rewarding.  A number of such activities, encompassing art activities, mental exercises, games and acting out of selected parts in the plays, has been compiled by Cass Foster and Lynn Johnson in, Shakespeare: To Teach or Not To

Teach.  The activities are intended for elementary through high school classes, and aim to familiarize the student with stage terminology, Elizabethan times, and acting the parts of various Shakespearian characters.  Some of these include producing an Elizabethan newspaper, performing parts of the plays (in costume), and keeping a journal of observations about the plot of the play being read.  “Looking at different approaches and reminding ourselves of the uniqueness of each group will allow us to establish an environment that nurtures creativity and discovery.  This is a difficult concept to work with when we are so preoccupied with finished products in terms of test results.  Please keep in mind that what the students gain along the way – the intellectual and artistic stimulation, the improved skills in working cooperatively, as well as the pleasure of the experience – far outweighs how well they will fare on an exam.” (Foster and Johnson, 1998)

Peer Groups and Coming of Age in Shakespeare

Nice Guys Finish Dead  (Newlin) describes a mixture of reading and acting Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I.   Student interest is directed to young Prince Hal’s coming of age, his parental conflicts over his choice of friends, his father’s open admiration of his rival, Hotspur, and the resolution of that conflict.  The timeless nature of the subject matter, not to mention the character of Falstaff, are held to be natural introits into the consciousness of today’s students, thus making it easier to engage their active participation in the experience.  Consonant with that desire, strategic cropping of long-winded speeches that may bore students unfamiliar with Shakespeare is recommended.  This includes the opening speech by Henry IV, which begins the play.  By shortening the play this way, the tempo is kept high enough to accommodate attention spans that might be prematurely shortened by an initial contact that otherwise would be considered boring.  Focusing on the father-son conflict between the King and Hal contrasts with the so-called good Hotspur, the supposed model of heroic virtue.  Hal’s associations at the tavern are shown to give him insight into the people he will have to rule, and into the philosophy of the anti-hero, Falstaff.  Hotspur, by contrast, is characterized as so blinded by his code of honor that he has a falling out with his ally, Owen Glendower, which leads to defeat in battle.  Women’s roles include Hotspur’s wife, whose virtue and intelligence are compared to Brutus’ Portia in Julius Caesar, and the Boars’ Head crew, led by Mistress Quickly.  Psychological motives are examined in Hal’s case, relating to his making friendships that he knew from the

start would be ended upon his ascension to the throne, and his pre-planned religious ‘conversion’ to the straight and narrow for public relations value shortly before his fathers’ death.  “Must Hal, in order to banish Fat Jack and his lawlessness, banish good humor, compassion, and warmth – all the world – as well?  Is the price of ‘growing up’ really rejecting Falstaff and all that he represents?” (Newlin, 1996)


Literature as Historical Propaganda

Susan Leas’ Richard III, Shakespeare and History studies the contrasts and similarities between the real and literary legacy of the title character, in a model designed for advanced high school students.   The author makes a case for using Richard III, in spite of the technical difficulties presented by having to keep track of the various Henrys, Edwards, characters identified by name, then by title, etc., because of the, “opportunity of offering students a valuable insight into the nature of history.” (Leas, 1971)   Leas examined the sources used by Shakespeare, mostly written during the reign of the son of Richard’s vanquisher, Henry VIII.  History as advocacy and propaganda is the theme of this discussion.  What follows is a discussion of the various schools of thought as to what really happened then, especially as regards Richard’s alleged crimes, such as putting his two nephews to death in the Tower of London.  Note is made of both Tey’s Daughter of Time (mentioned above) and Paul Murray Kendall’s biography of Richard, which places blame for the murders on the rebel Buckingham.

Sir Thomas More’s History of King Richard III is used as the standard Tudor defense, and source of the Bard’s material.  Students would evaluate these sources in coming to their own conclusion about what really happened.

Political Science in Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s English History Plays as Political Science Pedagogy  (Gleicher, 1988) looks at the interdisciplinary use of the history plays for social studies classes.   “The use of drama as a teaching device in politics requires no extensive argument.” (Gleicher, 1988)  The play as ‘case study’ allows use of real and readable literature vis-à-vis often dry and sanitized textbook accounts.  Gleicher ranks Shakespeare in this regard with Euripides, Goethe, Sarte and Robert Bolt in terms of interdisciplinary value.  Gleicher’s examination of Shakespeare as political scientist is based on Shakespeare’s standing,” at a pivotal position in the history of political philosophy.  He is heir to a classical, largely Aristotelian tradition, as transmitted and transformed by medieval Christianity.  He is also witness to the beginning of modern political theory, in the iconoclastic teaching of Machiavelli.” (Gleicher, 1988)  The history plays, Gleicher tells us, mediate between these two bodies of thought.  The questions of legitimacy vs. competency loom large, and make excellent raw material for character studies by the class.  Who should rule?  The legitimate, constitutional monarch, or one who possesses the competence that the king so clearly lacks?  What is the relation of truth to politics?  What is the limit and scope of

politics in the field of human action?  Questions of this type can be the basis of classroom debate and discussion.

History as Literary Inspiration

History Into Drama: the Perspective of One Henry IV (Champion, 1978) looks at the development of Shakespeare’s dramatic maturation from Julius Caesar through the last of the history plays.  The theme of internal character development, with Brutus as predecessor to Othello and Hamlet stands along side the Henry IV and V plays, which tend to be dramatic vehicles for the main character (Prince Hal/Henry V) to move historical action through a long period of time without a great deal of inner reflection.  “ The limited emotional appeal of the tragic figures and the presence of comedy show the potential of the history play as a separate dramatic form” (Champion, 1978).  Although Hal is the central figure of the play, he delivers slightly fewer lines than Hotspur and Falstaff, all of whom have more than the title character.   The use of multiple, related plot strands to move the action forward is also significant, in that they tend to resolve the major plot while involving different sets of characters.

Interconnecting English and Social Studies

The correlation of language arts and social studies is the subtitle of The Marriage of Clio and Shakespeare (Carter, 1981).  “Both literature teachers who want to teach historical

background and history teachers who take time to incorporate literature teach students that life is

multi-dimensional.” (Carter, 1981).  Carter’s idea for the paper came when he was teaching an American history course and one of his students realized after a couple of days that the Emerson in the history class was the same as the Emerson in English class.  Suggested assignments include rewriting historical and literary works as stories in contemporary language.  Comparisons of various versions of the same event are also suggested, for example, Biblical vs. modern versions of Creation, (Carter, 1981).  Students may be assigned to write dialogue between modern and historical characters (Carter’s suggestions: Cleopatra and Reagan discussion politics or Hannibal and Muhammad Ali on strategy).   Student-made history books are another idea; this entails group work, with each group assigned a particular piece of history in the overall period to be covered.  Historical Graffiti is an activity designed to be ‘relevant’ to today’s youth, with an activity/interest corner set up for student contributions.  Advertising angles can also be played up, as in concocting slogans in favor or in opposition to a particular person, idea, movement, etc.

Biohistory as a Source for Drama

Shakespeare’s Plutarch (Spencer, 1964) is a compilation of the lives authored by the latter which served as material for the Bard’s plays, as translated by North from the French.   This book includes an introduction explaining the relation of antiquity’s most celebrated biographer to the greatest playwright of all time.  This influence is traced through the use of various Lives as source material, and in terms of Shakespearean absorption of Plutarch’s philosophical outlook.  (History is made by the actions of great men, and lives have parallels in other places and ages) as shown in the speeches of various characters in the plays.

Three Tragedies as Historiography

Shakespeare’s Rome: Republic and Empire (Cantor, 1978) examine and contrast the presentation of the Roman world in Coriolanus with that of Antony and CleopatraJulius Caesar is examined as a battleground between the character types (and their philosophies) found in the earlier Republican play vs. those of the later, Imperial drama.  Shakespeare’s sources are explored, along with the biases that they and their most famous reader had.  The central thesis is that Shakespeare had a clear, deep and profound understanding of the different Romes that he dramatized, and that the clash of the two Romes supply the basis of the conflict in Julius Caesar.

Audio-Visual Aids for the Classroom

“We know that we do not have to do much searching to find books which will help us in our preparation for and presentation of Shakespeare.  However, securing appropriate audio-visual materials for the classroom is another matter.” (Albert, 1965).  The Annotated Guide to Audio-Visual Materials for Teaching Shakespeare is a resource listing films, filmstrips, recordings, and an index of producers and distributors, with addresses.  These audio-visual aids are categorized

according to whether they are whole plays, performances of acts or scenes, or provide historical background for the play, or for Elizabethan England.

Teaching Modules for the Classroom

Teaching Modules for Nine Plays by Shakespeare contains modules designed to guide students through Shakespearian plays by looking at them from three perspectives: Plot, Character, and Language.  A guided reading of the selected plays will, “develop language skills necessary for analyzing Shakespeare’s use of plot, character, and language, [and] acquire the experience necessary to make inferences about meaning based on analysis.” (Smith, 1978). Each play is categorized according to its susceptibility to analysis in terms of plot, character, or language.  Three plays fall into each category.  The system is predicated on starting with the simplest element, plot, progressing to character, and finally to language.  The nine plays are evenly selected from comedy, tragedy, and history.  Each outline covers major points to be taught, questions to answer, and speaking and writing activities designed to enhance learner understanding and skill.







Shakespeare has near universal appeal, and stands at the center of the Western Canon (Bloom, 1997).  The popularity of the Bard is attested to by the cinematic success of his plays in recent years, and by the allusions to his work in sources as disparate as TNT’s movie Rough Riders and Star Trek VI.  The use of Shakespearean drama should elicit no criticism over the difficulty of early Modern English: the most widely read  (and sales leader) translation of the Bible is the King James Version, a contemporary of Shakespeare’s plays.  The leading Oscar winner in 1999 was Shakespeare in Love.  The theme of the hit movie, Renaissance Man, was that educationally disadvantaged individuals could make great strides by studying Shakespeare.   That is the point of this project, and the research behind it: can Shakespeare be used to teach history?

Description of the Project

The Roman Civil Wars, normally taught in a high school World History class during the second marking period of a one-semester Ancient History course, will be the subjects of the Shakespeare-as-history project.  After reading the standard chronological history presented in the textbook, the class would be divided into groups.  Each group will be given a primary source

document to read. Groups  would be responsible for discussing the Roman Civil War, post First Triumvirate, from the viewpoint of their author or character.  The materials to be used are as follows:

Plutarch:  Life of Brutus; Life of Caesar; Life of Marc Antony

Seutonius:  Life of Caesar; Life of Augustus

Cicero:  Letters (Civil War); First Philliphic

Shakespeare:  Julius Caesar; Antony and Cleopatra


The class will be shown excerpts from movie versions of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra.  Students will be able to discuss the different interpretations of the same series of events, and the merit of literature as ‘color commentary’ alongside the standard ‘play-by-play’ of history books.  Students will write their own histories, either as play, biography, letters, standard history, poetry, or in some other manner agreed upon in advance by teacher and student.  These assignments will be expected to show a deeper understanding of the events, and human nature as revealed in them, than heretofore would have been the case.  The skills learned would be transferable to analysis of other situations.

The class will come to the chapter dealing with the Late Republic, at which time the Shakespeare-as-history project will commence.  (There will be an opportunity to do Coriolanus prior to reaching the Civil Wars, if desired.)  The first class will open with distribution of the

Shakespearean Insults page (Appendix A).  This will help students, through humor (What Junior or Senior high school kid could resist calling his classmates, ‘half-faced, toad-spotted harpys’?) to get over so-called Shakespeare Phobia, so that they will be more inclined to tackle the texts.

The class discussion to follow will begin with, “What is history?” as a topic.  The various sources of history will be noted.  Literature and biography will be introduced as sources of ‘color commentary’ on historical events.  The major historical sources for the Roman Civil Wars will be discussed, and Shakespeare’s use of Plutarch will come into play.

After some introductory remarks on the actual history, the class will read the textbook version of events together.  Supplemental handouts describing the major characters (attached) will follow this.  The class will then be divided into groups of, ideally, not more than 4 students each.  Each group will be assigned a major piece of literature to read and report on.  These will be compared with the Shakespearean plays Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, which will be read in class, each child taking a character’s part to read out loud.  The groups will then begin reporting on what their source said, and if it is consistent with the plays.  Fresh material, not well covered by the play, such as Cicero’s death following his Philippics, will also be reported.  After discussion and debate about the accuracy of the playwright as historian, both as to fact and mood, political insight, etc., the class will individually write a history of the Civil War from the perspective of any character mentioned from any source.  Additional assignments will include finding ‘Parallel Lives’ of Romans and current or recent American leaders, and seeing movie footage from Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra.  (Marlon Brando’s speech as Mark Antony following James Mason’s as Brutus on the Ides of March will be included, along with others that will appeal as dramatic rather than being seen as boring or old.)      English history is normally covered during the second semester of a World History course.  The Wars of the Roses can be taught as seen through Shakespeare’s plays using selections from the eight history plays (Richard II, Henry IV, Part One, Henry IV, Part II, Henry V, Henry VI, Part One, Henry VI, Part Two, Henry VI, Part III, Richard III).  These can be compared to the standard textbook account, as well as with Shakespeare’s major source, Holingshed’s Chronicles or classic historical writings like David Hume’s History of England.  Class activities can include having each student play the part of a prominent historical noble or noble family using the game Kingmaker (see Appendix L).  Kingmaker, available as a board game and on computer disk, enables the players to take the parts of the contending factions in the English civil wars. The object is to crown a royal heir as King or Queen, rather than becoming king themselves (in other words, to be like Warwick, ‘the Kingmaker.’).  A wall map of England, with castle locations marked (the game supplies such a map) and stickpins identifying the location of each player will help the class keep track of events.  Forming alliances, conducting open and negotiations, setting up ambushes, laying siege to opposing castles, calling Parliament, holding office, etc., will give

students a feel for the political and military maneuvering that shaped the outcome of the War of the Roses, and, by extension, other civil wars, as well.

 Suggested Program Outline

A sample three- to four-week (each) outline of suggested activities for teaching Shakespeare as history for both the Roman and English Civil Wars follows.  Each outline includes reading, discussing, watching and comparing (against historical sources) the plays that span the history in question.  Each outline also includes a geographic element, interactive exercises, and a field trip.  (While not essential to the unit plan, seeing Shakespeare on the stage could be the most memorable and enriching aspect of the experience for the students.)














                                                                                                            CHAPTER FOUR



The appendixes listed here contain suggestions for specific activities that seek to combine Shakespeare and history in an interesting way.  The goal of each is to demonstrate the linkage of literature and history, while increasing both factual knowledge and higher order thinking skills.  The reflective and innovative educator will find them useful in presenting a stimulating educational opportunity to his students.

Recommendations and Resources


Appendix A: Elizabethan Insults. These are culled from Shakespeare; a selection of barbs sure to                      appeal to the sense of humor.


Appendix B: Cast of Major Characters.  Background information on the principal historical and   literary characters in the play being studied will aid students in following the action  in the various plays.  The example presented here is for Julius Caesar and Antony     and Cleopatra.


Appendix C: Parallel Lives. Having students find parallels between historical and modern personalities links the past to present and highlights recurrent themes in human affairs.  Shakespeare’s use of Plutarch underscores the theme of how history                         influences literature.


Appendix D: Shakespeare, Plutarch, and Seutonius.  This exercise is designed to facilitate  learner understanding of the similarities and contrasts between the historical biographers and the playwright in portraying the major characters in the plays.


Appendix E: Jerry Springer’s Rome.  The popular TV show’s format is used for class activities  designed to get students to imaging controversial topics in history in a modern  format.  Spin-offs like “Sally Jesse Plantangent” are possible for English history.


Appendix F: Trial of the Century: The Impeachment of Gaius J. Caesar.  This activity plays off  recent high-profile trials to spark interest in debating a specific topic.  Students would have both historical text and Shakespeare to choose from in assigning                   motives to the defendant and his accusers.  The same format can be used to conduct  a trial of Richard III, along the lines proposed by Hubbard in Richard III: The  Man, the Myth, and the Reality.


Appendix G: Shakespeare, Viet Nam, and the Law of War.  A ‘case study’ of how Shakespeare  can be applied to a modern situation. The principles of war as outlined in Henry V have changed little, and the case study is designed to show the timelessness of these       principles, and the universality of their (and Shakespeare’s) application.


Appendix H: Kingmaker.  The review of the Avalon Hill board- and computer-game is intended  to introduce educators to this facet of the suggested approach for teaching the War  of the Roses in an interactive fashion.  “Hands-on” learner experience in acting out  the roles of the nobles contending for control of the Crown will add to the depth of  their understanding of events, especially when coupled with acting out the parts from Shakespeare’s Richard III.


Appendix I: Shakespeare and Hume.  Just as Shakespeare can be compared to his predecessor  Plutarch, so also can he be measured against the primary source for his English historical material, Holinshed’s Chronicles.   The 18th century historian/philosopher         David Hume’s History of England , Volume II covers the reigns of all the monarchs whose reigns are chronicled in Shakespeare’s history plays.  The comparison with  Shakespeare/Holinshed should yield insight into the topic of literature as history.








Elizabethan Insults   



Elizabethan Insults   Find yourself tempted to say that effin word too often? Modern language is rather uninventive when it comes to expletives, contenting itself with a paucity of four letter equivalents for the range of human distress.

Elizabethans took a delight with language, weaving together terms to form stinging phrases of wit. As faire workers, these equivalents are not only fun, but don’t make parents with children glare at you. You could say fie or you could swear by God’s teeth or wounds. As a tradesman, you might swear by your hammer or tongs, or any other object of untarnished purity. (Good Elizabethans would not, as a rule, swear by Odin’s beard or similar heresy.)

To create your own curses, memorize some choice terms from the list below, two adjectives and a noun minimum per curse please.

Out of my path, thou Spongy Rat‑Faced Foot Licker!

From: (Matthew A Lecher)

Subject: Here they are, the Shakespearian insults!!!!!!

Date: Sun, 17 Jul 1994 16:03:35 GMT

Combine one word from each of the three columns below, prefaced with Thou:

Column 1                                      Column 2                                      Column 3


artless                                           base‑court                                    apple‑john

bawdy                                          bat‑fowling                                  baggage

beslubbering                               beef‑witted                                  barnacle

bootless                                        beetle‑headed                              bladder

churlish                                        boil‑brained                                 boar‑pig

cockered                                      clapper‑clawed                           bugbear

clouted                                         clay‑brained                                bum‑bailey

craven                                          common‑kissing                           canker‑blossom

currish                                          crook‑pated                                 clack‑dish

dankish                                         dismal‑dreaming                          clotpole

dissembling                                  dizzy‑eyed                                   coxcomb

droning                                         doghearted                                   codpiece

errant                                           dread‑bolted                                death‑token

fawning                                        earth‑vexing                                dewberry

fobbing                                         elf‑skinned                                   flap‑dragon

froward                                        fat‑kidneyed                                flax‑wench

frothy                                           fen‑sucked                                   flirt‑gill

gleeking                                       flap‑mouthed                               foot‑licker

goatish                                          fly‑bitten                                                                fustilarian

gorbellied                                     folly‑fallen                                   giglet

impertinent                                   fool‑born                                      gudgeon

infectious                                     full‑gorged                                   haggard

jarring                                           guts‑griping                                  harpy

loggerheaded                               half‑faced                                    hedge‑pig

lumpish                                         hasty‑witted                                 horn‑beast

mammering                                  hedge‑born                                  hugger‑mugger

mangled                                       hell‑hated                                     jolthead

mewling                                       idle‑headed                                  lewdster

paunchy                                       ill‑breeding                                  lout

pribbling                                       ill‑nurtured                                   maggot‑pie

puking                                          knotty‑pated                                 malt‑worm

puny                                             milk‑livered                                 mammet

quailing                                        motley‑minded                             measle

rank                                              onion‑eyed                                   minnow

reeky                                            plume‑plucked                             miscreant

roguish                                         pottle‑deep                                   moldwarp

ruttish                                           pox‑marked                                 mumble‑news

saucy                                            reeling‑ripe                                  nut‑hook

spleeny                                         rough‑hewn                                 pigeon‑egg

spongy                                          rude‑growing                               pignut

surly                                              rump‑fed                                        puttock

tottering                                        shard‑borne                                 pumpion

unmuzzled                                    sheep‑biting                                 ratsbane

vain                                              spur‑galled                                     scut

venomed                                      swag‑bellied                                skainsmate

villainous                                      tardy‑gaited                                 strumpet

warped                                         tickle‑brained                              varlet

wayward                                      toad‑spotted                                 vassal

weedy                                          urchin‑snouted                             whey‑face

yeasty                                           weather‑bitten                             wagtail































BRUTUS:  Only the Good Die Young

Honor meant more to Brutus than anything else.  Descended from the Brutus who threw the last king out of


Rome in 509, BC, he was raised to believe that the Republic’s good was the highest earthly good that he could strive


for.  Like many idealists and purists, susceptible to being conned easily.  Murdered his friend Caesar, ‘not because I


loved Caesar less, but because I loved Rome more.’  Brutus was the only conspirator whom Antony said acted out of


patriotism rather than envy or jealousy.


MARK ANTONY: Wag the Dog

Caesar’s best friend and confidant, he used the assassination as an excuse for making the ultimate power grab.  His


speech at Caesar’s funeral turns the people against their would-be liberators.  Known in history as, ‘the man of a


thousand follies,’ for his habit of always getting in trouble.  In spite of it, his troops loved him, because he shared their


food, their entertainment, and their danger, unlike virtually any other patrician of his time.


CASSIUS:  Lean and Mean

Caesar didn’t trust Cassius, because he said that he looked too hungry.  Organizer of the plot, he persuades


Brutus to join, ‘for the Republic.’ Unlike Brutus, Cassius is a hard-nosed realist, with no illusions about what needs


to be done to win.


CICERO:  General of the Army of Words

The best orator and lawyer in Roman history, he had saved the Republic from Cataline’s conspiracy 15 years ago.


We know more about Cicero than virtually any other pre-modern person, because he write so much, and much of it


survived.  In addition to over a dozen major philosophical works, his court cases and 900+ letters tell us a great deal


about him. His works are a cornerstone of European literature, and have provided us with the best Latin prose ever


written. A defender of the old ways, he will attach Mark Antony in a series of speeches, called the “Phillipics,” after


the Athenian orator Demosthenes’ speeches warning his city about Alexander the Great’s father, Phillip II.  Like


Demosthenes, Cicero ended up on the losing side, in spite of his eloquence.


MARCUS LEPIDUS: The Most Boring Man in History

Lepidus was a wealthy general who formed the Second Triumvirate with Antony and Octavian.  Little else is


known of him, and he did little.



The same Caesar Augustus who decreed, ‘that all the world should be taxed’ in the Bible (Luke 2) was at this


time the 18-year-old nephew and heir of Caesar.  Arriving at Rome on the heels of the assassination, this teenager


was sharp enough to divide the world with the generals Antony and Lepidus, start a civil war with Brutus and


Cassius, and got himself elected Consul by age 20.  He would rule for over 40 years as the first Emperor of Rome,


establishing the ‘Pax Romana,’ a two-century era of relative peace and unchallenged Roman domination.


PORTIA:  Hardcore

As the daughter of Cato, widow of the ex-Consul Biblius, and wife of Brutus, Portia had a lot to live up to.


Knowing that something was keeping Brutus awake at night, she tested herself to see if she could keep a secret


before asking him what was on his mind.  Her test: she stabbed herself in the thigh with a dagger to see if she could


take the pain without telling anyone.



CLEOPATRA:  Black Widow

To quote history professor, Dr. Finley Hooper, ‘while Hannibal and Mithradates tried to defeat


Rome’s armies, Cleopatra set out to conquer the Roman world one man at a time.’ She was, in succession, the lover


of Pompey, Caesar, and Mark Antony.  (As luck would have it, being her boyfriend lowered one’s life expectancy


considerably)  Cleopatra was the last ruler of the 32nd Dynasty of the Pharoahs of Egypt, who had ruled in


succession since ca. 3,200, B.C.


CASCA:  Blunt Instrument

The first man to stab Caesar, Casca was known for not mincing words.  Mincing dictators was another matter, as


Caesar found out.


JULIUS CAESAR: The First Action Hero


No one knows if Caesar really wanted to be a king.  We do know that Arnold Schwartzenegger would have his


hands full playing him in a movie.  As a child, the dictator Sulla had wanted him killed; after being talked out of it


by people who thought young Caesar was just a spoiled rich boy, Sulla regretted the decision, saying, ‘in that boy I


see many a Marius.’  (Marius was the dictator Sulla had overthrown to get to the top.)


While sailing in the east, Caesar was captured by pirates.  Caesar lost his temper with them because the ransom


they asked for was ‘too low.’  The teenager joked that he’d come back and crucify them after being ransomed; he


did, raising a fleet on his own and beating them in battle.







While in the East, he visited the King of Bithinya, where his behavior earned him a reputation as, ‘every man’s


wife and every woman’s husband’ for life.  (Speaking of wives, Caesar divorced his first wife over rumors, later


shown to be false, that she was unfaithful.  His reason:  ‘Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.’)


Back at Rome, he went up the ladder of elective offices, from Quaestor to Aedile to Pontifex Maximus, chief of

the State religion.  Implicated in the Catalinian conspiracy to overthrow the government, he was never charged, due


to lack of evidence.  After a term as Consul, Caesar divided up the world with the general Pompey the Great and


Crassus, richest man in the world.  To keep his power, Caesar arraigned to be appointed Proconsul of Gaul, then a


small strip of land in southern France.  Over the next 8 years, Caesar went from having two legions garrisoning a


obscure province to having eight legions fresh from conquering all Gaul, in campaigns among the most brilliantly


generaled in history, at a cost of an estimated 1.5 million Gallic lives.  His book, Commentaries on the Gallic War,”


became a literary classic, used in schools from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century.  Distinguished by his bravery in


battle, and by oratory second only to Cicero’s, Caesar faced a big decision when his command expired.


Caesar chose to cross the Rubicon River, border between Italy and Gaul, with his army, which meant civil war.


Over the next six years, Caesar beat every army sent against him, snatching victory from defeat on several




After the last battle, Pompey fled to Egypt.  The Pharaoh, Ptolemey XIII, killed him, hoping to please Caesar.


Caesar nearly always tried to make friends of enemies, offering pardon to those who surrendered.  Enraged at


Ptolemey, he had him killed, and made Cleopatra Queen.  Falling in love, he nearly lost his life in an ambush.


Jumping off a bridge, the 54-year-old Caesar swam several hundred yards to a nearby barge – with one arm out of


the water, keeping important papers from getting wet.  Although married, he had a son with Cleopatra, Caesarion.


Returning to Rome, he had the Senate make him Dictator, first for three months, then for life.   As Dictator, Caesar


reformed the calendar to make it more accurate, saw that other needed laws were passes, and made plans for


numerous other things to be done.

Caesar did all of this as a lifelong epileptic, subject to seizures with little warning in a time when medicine


wasn’t far removed from superstition and magic.











     Write a “Parallel Life” of an American that closely matches, in your opinion, the Roman or Egyptian that you select from the list below (be sure to state why you think that there is a parallel):


Julius Caesar




Mark Antony



Octavian (Caesar Augustus)







Shakespeare, Plutarch and Seutonius


DIRECTIONS: Answer any three questions below.  Support your answers with references to the


authors’ writings.  Each answer must be a minimum of 200 words.


1.) How does each writer portray Octavian?  What are the similarities?  The differences?


2.) What motives are assigned to the suicides of Brutus and Mark Antony by Plutarch and


Shakespeare?  How were their reasons different?


3.) Who is Cleopatra imitating when she decides to commit suicide, “after the noble Roman



4.) What are the differences between the Julius Caesar of Plutarch and Seutonius?  Which one is

Shakespeare’s Caesar most like?


5.) To what other Roman is Brutus most like?  Who is he least like?  Why?


6.) In Shakespeare, Plutarch and Seutonius, who met their fate with the most courage: Caesar,

Cassius, Brutus, or Mark Antony?


7.) Which side, if any, would each writer have been on, if they had taken part in the events they

describe?  (Give either a party – Senatorial or Popular – or leader, with your reason why.)






DIRECTIONS: One member of the class will be selected as Jerry, the moderator of the show.


Other members will be selected as guests.  They will prepare to play the part of their


character on the show.  The rest of the class, as the audience, will be ready to ask questions or


make comments, in character as Romans, Egyptians, Israelis, barbarians, etc., who would make


up a 1st Century, B.C., TV studio audience.  The class will select two topics from the list for use.




Julius Caesar: Every man’s wife, or every woman’s husband?


Cleopatra: World Conquerors and the woman who loved them.


The Gallic War: Wag the Dog?


Egyptian women playing hard to get: Not tonight, it’s my pyramid?


“Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell” in Caesar’s army.


Mark Antony: Boxers or Briefs?


Mrs. Portia Brutus: Taking a stab at conspiracy?


“The Most Unkindest Cut of All”: When Your Friends Turn On You.


Octavian: Who put this kid in charge, anyway?


Cicero’s “Phillipics”: Free Speech or Hate Speech?


Political Suicide: Why are all these people killing themselves?  Exclusive with the ghosts of

Cassius, Brutus, Portia, Mark Antony, and Cleopatra.


Julius Caesar: Deadbeat Dad?  Exclusive with single-mom Cleopatra and Cesarion: what will


the DNA show?







“Trial of the Century”



Based on the action and dialogue in the first two acts of Julius Caesar, and what you can find


in Plutarch’s Lives of Caesar, Brutus, and Mark Antony, and Seutonius’ Lives, assume that


Brutus, Cassius, etc., did not kill Caesar, but 9instead impeached him (they were all Senators).


Who would draft the Articles of Impeachment?  What would be the charges?  Assume that


Brutus, Cassius, and Cicero are the prosecutors, Mark Antony the Defense Counsel, and the rest


of the Senate is the jury.


One student each will play the roles of the major characters; the rest will be the jury.


Everyone should prepare to act ‘in character’ when speaking or writing.  Recourse to


Shakespeare, Plutarch, and Seutonius for fact, motive, witnesses, etc., is encouraged.


Remember:  The jury’s decision is final…
















and the


By Lloyd Conway

            This outline can be used for a model in dealing with other topics in world history  (“Shakespeare, Paine, and Republican Government,”etc.).  The class in this exercise would discuss the Law of War and apply it to the Viet Nam Conflict.  More immediacy can be added by substituting Kosovo, Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan or another contemporary topic of the teacher’s (or classes’) choosing.

He wills you, in the Name of God Almighty,

That you divest yourself and lay apart

The borrowed glories that by gift of heaven

By law of nature and of nations, ‘longs

to him and his heirs ‑ namely, the crown . . .

[Duke of Exeter to the King of France]

‑Shakespeare, Henry V, Act II, Scene IV, l. 76‑81


INTRODUCTION: Applying Shakespeare to times and situations about which he never wrote is both possible and fascinating.  This lesson outline covers the use of Henry V (both as text and as

film) to illustrate the Law of War, in comparison with the Viet Nam War.  How little the rules governing international conflict have changed since it was written – and how they are just as likely to be ignored show the contemporarieness of the material.


From ancient times, certain rules have been manifest between combatants who claimed to be civilized.  Both the Bible and Homer recognized the sanctity of a flag of truce and of embassies.  Until the time of Hugo Grotius, however, no written canon or body of law existed which governed conduct in war.   With the publication of Grotius’ work, The Rights of War and Peace, in 1625, the Common Law of War was supplemented by text, and later, by treaty.  The Geneva and Hague Conventions are today the internationally recognized Law of War, although traditional (common) customs are specifically held by these treaties to be law, as well.  (Grotius was singled out for special honor by the 1899 Hague Convention in recognition of his classic work.)

Shakespeare’s Henry V mentions the “Law of Arms” and the “Law of Nature and of Nations” extensively, and, having been performed prior to Grotius’ work, may be taken as giving a sense of what was commonly accepted as the Law of War at the dawn of the era of the Nation‑State.


SCOPE:  The Law of War is universally applicable, even to nations, which did not sign the Geneva and Hague Conventions. This the Conventions make clear, with reference to the older,

‘common law’ of nations, which has the universal sense of humanity expressed therein. (U.S. Army Field Manual 27‑10, p. 4, Sources)


APPLICATION:  The point of the class discussion/exercise inquiry is to examine and bring into question the late war in Viet Nam, with reference to how certain acts by the belligerents did, or did not violate the Law of War.  Some of the specific incidents, which can be pondered, are:

1.) US bombing of Cambodia in 1971;

2.) The Kennedy Administration’s assassination of  President Diem

3.) US mining of Haiphong Harbor in 1971;

4.) North Viet Namese treatment of US POWs;

5.) The status of non‑belligerents who provided aid to the combatants;

6.) US entry into the War/Was it a war if it was not declared?

7.) Operation Rolling Thunder, the bombing of North Viet Nam, 1967‑69;

8.) Viet Cong guerilla tactics; and

9.) Aid and comfort to the North Vietnamese by the ‘Peace Movement.’

The Ma Lai Massacre is specifically excluded, because it is universally acknowledged as a violation of the Law of War.  Other incidents that have bearing on this discussion are excluded for the sake of brevity.  Each of the above was chosen because they are controversial.

The assassination of Heads of State is also expressly forbidden, but it seems good to


touch on the subject, as calls for a ‘hit’ on Saddam Hussein are heard in conjunction with the present crises over Iraqi chemical/biological research and production.


PURPOSE:  This exercise will demonstrate the application of the Law of War. No special or detailed knowledge of the topics is presupposed, provided, or required.  The question is: did or did not the action under question violate the Law of War? Those acts which are in conformity with law are moral and justifiable, whilst those which do violate the Law are war crimes.


WHAT THE LAW OF WAR IS:  Out textual reference is US Army Field Manuel 27‑10, “The Law of Land Warfare,” published in July, 1956, as amended in July, 1976.  The Field Manual is an extract of the Geneva Conventions of 1864, 1906, 1929, and 1949 for the Protection of War Victims, and the Hague Conventions of 1907.  Each succeeding Geneva Convention incorporates the earlier Conventions, adding and modifying them as deemed necessary.  The 1949 Conventions are authoritative, unless a matter dealt with in an earlier Convention has not been altered, in which case the earlier Convention is in force. (FM 27‑10, pp. 5‑6)

The Geneva and Hague Conventions are the Supreme Law of the Land, according to the US Constitution, which so makes all treaties (Article VI, Paragraph 2).  The Law of Nations is expressly recognized in Article I, Section 8, of the same Document, which empowers Congress to define and punish, “…Offenses against the Law of Nations.”


The applicability of the Law of War to belligerents who do not so recognize it is established by the principle, mentioned earlier, of the customary law of war.  Treaties are binding only upon those who sign them, as nations, and as individuals belonging to those nations.  The treaties are derived from the customary law of war, and in that sense, apply universally, without regard to ratification.


PRINCIPLES OF THE LAW OF WAR:  Combat is to be attended with the minimum amount of destruction possible, according to the rules of humanity and chivalry (FM 27‑10, Ch 1; Grotius, Book III, ch XI & XII). Noncombatants are to be spared; they may be interned, removed from the theater of action, or placed in protective custody.  Noncombatants lose their status as soon as they engage in hostile acts. (GPW, art 4, para 61).  War should be preceded by a formal declaration, regardless of the amount of time between so declaring and the commencement of hostilities.  (A case in point is the Pearl Harbor attack. The Japanese Government was supposed to have had its’ ministers deliver the declaration of war at the hour of the attack.  Due to miscalculation of the time zone difference between Hawaii and Washington, D.C., the declaration was delivered after the attack took place.)  Notice is to be given of bombardment prior to commencing, if possible; buildings designated as hospitals, temples, historic, etc., are exempt from targeting, if they serve no military purpose. Prisoners of war are to be humanely treated.  Wounded and sick persons are to be cared for.  Treachery (but not deception) is


outlawed. Neutral Powers are to police the belligerents as Protecting Powers, charged with looking after the interests of neutrals, POWs, the injured, sick, refugees, and non‑combatants in general.  International relief societies, notably the Red Cross, are authorized to carry out their humanitarian work, and to verify compliance with measures for the relief of suffering for which the belligerents are charged with carrying out.

The Law of War ceases to be applicable upon the cessation of hostilities, for whatever reason (cease-fire, surrender, treaty, both sides quit, etc.).



1.)  The US bombing of Cambodia, 1971:

President Nixon ordered the bombing of Cambodia, a neutral country, in 1971.  The justification for doing so was North Viet Namese use of the “Ho Chi Minh Trail” through Cambodia to send supplies to forces in the South.  The Viet Cong also used Cambodia as a safe haven from which to operate.  This action was roundly decried as a widening of the war.

The Law of War says that Neutral States are bound to prohibit the use of their territory for military actions against a belligerent or for the transport of supplies by a belligerent (Para 515‑521, FM 27‑10; HV, art 2,5,10, Grotius, book III, ch XVIII).

Based on the forgoing, the bombing of Cambodia, insofar as it was intended to counter the prior illegal use of Cambodian territory by North Viet Nam, was legal.


2.) The Kennedy Administration’s assassination of South Vietnamese President Diem, in 1963:

It is assumed in the Law that enemy leaders would be targets for murder, not a nation’s allies.  The targeting of specific individuals for death in premeditation is outlawed by the Hague Convention, Annex #17, 1907, article 23, para (b), which states:

It is expressly forbidden to kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the                     hostile nation or army.  This is construed as prohibiting assassination, proscription, or                 outlawry of an enemy, or putting a price on an enemy’s head, as well as offering a reward             for an enemy ‘dead or alive.’  [Field Manual (FM) 27‑10, ch. 2, para. 31]


Retaliation in kind is permitted, as is retaliation not in kind, but only after all other means of redress (diplomatic protest via the Protecting Powers, indemnity proceedings, etc.) having failed.  Treachery is specifically forbidden (FM 27‑10, ch 1, sec. V, para 50). (It is ironic to note that the last page of FM 27‑10 is signed by the Secretary of the Army, as all manuals are, in this case, Gen. Maxwell Taylor, a member of the Kennedy Administration. Apparently, they didn’t read his book…)

3.)  US mining of Haiphong Harbor, 1971:

This act occasioned loud outcry in anti‑war quarters.  The justification was that Haiphing Harbor was being used by the Soviets to bring contraband (war material) to North Viet Nam.

What The Law Of War Says: It is permitted to interdict war materials bound for an enemy, even if carried by neutral countries. Neutrals may sell to either side, or both, and may transport goods to them, but only private individuals and companies may so act.  The State may

not itself do so. (FM 27‑10, ch 9, sec III, para 525‑527.)

The Soviet Union, being officially Communist, owned all means of production; therefore, they violated their neutrality in shipping goods to North Viet Nam. The US was justified in attempting to stop those shipments with mines.


4.)   North Viet Namese treatment of US POWs:

The Geneva Convention of 1929 governs POW treatment.  Torture, humiliation, abuse, denial of medical care, food, etc., is forbidden, yet all were practiced against US POWs.  The documentation of such abuse can be found in the accounts of reliable, senior Americans who have written of their POW experiences.  Evrett Alvarez, the longest‑held POW, James Bond Stockdale, Jeremiah Denton, Robert Reisner, and others have detailed their sufferings in separate accounts, which are in substantial agreement.  We have accounts primarily from aviators; most were known captures following shootdowns, and nearly all came home.  Enlisted prisoners and members of US ground forces are less well documented, and comprise the bulk of the MIAs.  North Vietnamese and Viet Cong prisoners of the US are virtually undocumented in terms of memoirs of their captivity.  The controversial nature of US POWs’ experience focuses this question.

What the Law of War Says:  “It is expressly forbidden to kill or wound an enemy who, having laid down his arms, or having no longer means of defense, has surrendered at discretion.”

‑Hague Convention of 1907, art 23, para (c).

The Geneva Convention of 1929 goes into great detail on this subject.  Prisoners are required to give name, rank, serial number, and date of birth.  They cannot be tortured, used for propaganda purposes, forced to do humiliating or dangerous labor, used as human shields, or placed in danger.

North Vietnam did all of this, not as isolated acts of cruel individuals, but as policy. The justification was that the POWs were ‘war criminals’ for bombing the North in an ‘illegal’ war.  The Law of War makes clear that bombing is a legitimate means of carrying on war, as long as the targets are military in nature.  Undefended places, protected buildings, etc., cannot be targeted. Accidental or collateral damage does not imply guilt, as long as care was taken to try not to inflict it needlessly.  War criminals may be tried, under Article 49 of the Geneva Convention of 1949.  The accused retain all rights as Prisoners of War until convicted.  No American prisoner was so tried.  The next Article makes it a grave breach of the Law of War and a war crime to engage in, “willful killing, torture or inhumane treatment… or depriving a POW of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed in this Convention.”

‑Geneva Convention of 1949, Article 50

The legality of the war is dealt with in Question #6; it has been commonly accepted that soldiers need not answer for the cause of a war, but only for their individual conduct in it. As Shakespeare tells it:


Henry V (in disguise):  Methinks I could not die

anywhere so contented as in the King’s

company, his cause being just and his

quarrel honorable.

Williams:                      That’s more than we know.

Bates:                            Ay, or more than we should seek after;

for we know enough if we know we are

the King’s subjects:  if his cause be wrong,

our obedience to the King wipes the crime of it

out of us.

‑Henry V and two soldiers on the eve of battle,

from Henry V, Act IV, Scene I, l.128‑135

(The appropriate scene from the 1989 movie, “Henry V” can be shown here.)

5.)   The status of non‑belligerents who aided the combatants:

South Korea and Australia provided ground troops to the US ‑ South Vietnamese effort, so they must be considered combatants.  We will discuss Soviet and Chinese aid from the perspective of their neutrality.  As noted above, Haiphong Harbor was mined to stop the flow of Soviet aid by sea.  Chinese support came across their border with North Vietnam.  Both nations also provided advisors to help with technical equipment, and to interrogate POWs, as did Cuba.  Communist states are at a disadvantage in sending aid, since the State owns all means of production.  This creates a problem in distinguishing between ‘private’ and ‘government’ efforts.  As we saw earlier, private citizens and companies may trade with belligerents, but not states themselves.  The fact of worldwide support from Communist Powers would lend credence to the belief that they were co‑belligerents with North Vietnam, if not outright allies, and as such,

enemies of the US and its’ allies.  In this context, students may choose to view the conflict as a hot spot in the Cold War between the West and the Iron Curtain, which makes questions of neutrality between members of each camp problematic, at best.

6.) US entry into the war/ Was it war if it wasn’t declared?

US involvement in Indochina went from providing aid to the French to sending 600 advisors to 17,000 Marines to full‑scale ground, sea, and air engagement following the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.  Like the Resolution passed by Congress authorizing President Bush to use force in the Gulf War, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was a call for action without actually declaring war.  The fact that the attack on the USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy, which led to the Resolution, never took place, according to Adm. Stockdale, who led the search mission to find the alleged attackers, does not invalidate the fact of hostilities being announced, which fulfills US obligation under the Law of War. (This does not mean that it was good policy or that the American people were honestly informed of the reasons for war by their elected officials.)

What The Law Of War Says:  “The customary Law of War applies to all cases of declared war or armed conflicts…”

‑FM 27‑10, ch 1, sec 8

(Act One, Scene One from Henry V, in which the king declares war on France, may be shown here.)



7.) Operation Rolling Thunder, 1965‑67: President Johnson authorized Robert McNamara to


bomb North Viet Nam in the hope that measured escalation would bring Hanoi to the negotiating table. As is the case with almost every instance of ariel bombing, (the notable exceptions being Hiroshima and Nagasaki) the result is to stiffen resistance, not break it.

What The Law OF War Says:  “There is no prohibition of general application against bombardment from the air of combatant troops, defended places, or other legitimate military objectives.”

‑FM 27‑10, Ch II, Sec I, para 42, 43

Notice is to be given, if possible, of bombardment, to allow for the evacuation of non‑combatants.  Carpet-bombing, by the indiscriminate nature of the targeting, presents a difficult case to justify, in light of the Law.  Advance notice destroys the element of surprise, puts the aircrews in danger, and gives time for movables to be relocated.  Not giving such notice may therefore excused.  The nature of carpet bombing itself is the matter, which fails of justification.  In this writers’ opinion, it is doubly wrong if pursued without the aim of speedy, ultimate victory, since the agony is prolonged to no good reason for those who must suffer it.

8.) Viet Cong Guerilla Tactics:

Irregular warfare is legal under specified conditions.  These are: that the guerillas answer to some competent authority (the Viet Cong did); that they be identifiable by uniform, patch, or other distinguishing mark, from the general population (they didn’t).  The reason for this rule is that it prevents unnecessary civilian casualties, which came in Vietnam as a result of the

deliberate confusion of combatant and civilian, and the use of civilians as cover, an act, which as noted above, is expressly prohibited.


What The Law Of War Says: Everyone is entitled to self‑defense.  The population may act as a levee en masse to repel invasion (Geneva Convention of 1929, Article 4, para. A (6)).  If the Viet Cong were thus locally raised civilians resisting outside invasion, they were legitimate, even without means of identification, according to the same Article.  In such cases, the invading Power is justified in treating all males of military age as enemies, and interning them as POWs.  The Convention is silent on female combatants, and ‘military age’ normally ranges from 15‑18 years of age to 60.  It may be supposed that the presence of underage and female combatants would render the entire population subject to the Law of War as enemy personnel.  The known pipeline from the Viet Cong to the NVA, for which it served as a form of basic training, leaves us with the question of whether the Viet Cong were a local militia, or an arm of the North Vietnamese Army.

9.)     Aid and Comfort to the North Viet Namese by the ‘Peace Movement‘:

Distinguishing between at‑home war protesters, draft resisters and other forms of civil disobedience, our focus here will be on those Americans who actively gave aid to the Hanoi regime.  Two examples of this are: Under torture, an American prisoner gave Captain. Kirk as his Commander, Mr. Spock as his Executive Officer, etc. for a propaganda statement, someone in the US contacted Hanoi to let them know that they’d been tricked.  This resulted in further

torture for the POW in question.  The second example is Jane Fonda’s famous trip to Hanoi, complete with a stint on an anti‑aircraft position.

What The Constitution Says:  “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

‑Article III, Section 3.




What The Law Of War Says: The Geneva Convention of 1929, Article 4, Paragraph 61 states that persons who engage in belligerent or hostile acts without being members of a military

the death penalty.

What US Statute Law Says:

Any person who‑

(1)aids or attempts to aid, the enemy with arms, ammunition, supplies, money, or other


thing; or


(2)without proper authority, knowingly harbors or protects or gives intelligence to, or


communicate or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either

directly or indirectly; shall suffer death or such other punishment as a court‑martial or


military commission may direct.


US law places all Americans under authority of military law in cases of treason, which involves acts of military significance.

The forgoing discussion is not intended to be exhaustive, but merely illustrative of some of the general principles of the Law of War.

What can be drawn from this is that both sides made substantial violations of the Geneva

and Hague Conventions, as well as of the unwritten tradition of civilized combat.  Much of this has to do with the fiction surrounding the war:  from the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on, the American people were lied to by their leaders, which created an atmosphere in which no oversight or accountability existed, which breeds acts of war crime.  The other side would have you believe that Vietnam was a civil war, and not a struggle between West and East for world dominion, into which independent, non‑aligned, anti‑colonial movements got sucked into worldwide.  While Vietnam may not have been inevitable, what happened was certainly predictable, given the nature of the struggle, the practices of total war in our century, and the myth, deception and outright lies in which the action was shrouded.

Students should be encouraged to explore these issues in relation to current events like Operation Desert Storm and the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia.  Reference to the UN Charter and multinational peacekeeping operations may be made to broaden the understanding of the Law of War in current events.

It is necessary to observe that a war may be just in

it’s origin, and yet the intentions of its  authors may

become unjust in the course of its prosecution.

For some other motive, not unlawful in itself,

may actuate them more powerfully than the original right, for the

attainment of which the war began. (Grotius, 1625)




















The following review of the board and computer game Kingmaker is included for the benefit of classroom teachers who are interested in using the game as an enrichment activity for their students while studying the English Civil Wars.  It can be further enhanced by simultaneously having learners memorize and deliver speeches from Richard III given by their characters.  Showing the movie version of Richard III can also add another dimension to their learning experience.
















Shakespeare, Holinshed, and and Hume

David Hume’s History of England (Volume 2) covers the Wars of the Roses, including all of the reigns of the monarchs featured in the history plays: Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Richard III.  Holinshed’s Chronicles, Shakespeare’s primary source for the same plays, also spans the era portrayed in the plays.

Divide the class into groups and have each grope choose a play and a king from either Holinshed’s  Chronicles or Hume’s History.  They will then read the play and the appropriate chapter of Holinshed or Hume, and compare how the historian and the playwright portray the king.  Specific incidents, character traits, motives, and relationships are among the subjects that can be examined.  Groups should be prepared to report back to the class on their findings.















Shakespearean Timeline

Each of Shakespeare’s plays with a historical connection through Holinshed or Plutarch is listed below, with the approximate date(s) in history of their setting.  The right-hand column, World Events, is for you to fill in other events in history that were happening at the same time.

DATE:         PLAY:                                SOURCE:                  WORLD EVENTS:


807              King Lear                           Holinshed                                                                           450              Coriolanus                          Plutarch                                                                            

c400              Timon of Athens                                                                                                           

c250              Pericles, Prince of Tyre                                                                                               

44-41         Julius Caesar                       Plutarch                                                                            

c27               Antony and Cleopatra         Plutarch                                                                             

33-c25       Cymbeline                            Plutarch                                                                             AD

c400           Titus Andronicus                                                                                                            1038-1057  Macbeth                                Holinshed                                                                         

1199-1217  King John                              Holinshed                                                                         1399-1485 Richard II,                              Holinshed                                                                         

                  Merry Wives of Windsor                                                                                                  

                  Henry IV, Part I & II               Holinshed                                                              

Henry V                                   Holinshed                                                                         

Henry VI, Part I, II, & III       Holinshed                                                                        

 Richard III                              Holinshed                                                                        

1509-1534 Henry VIII                               Holinshed                                                                        


Shakespearian Geography

On a blank outline map of Europe and the Mediterranean Sea coast, locate and label the following locations, which were the scene of action for the plays listed with them.

PLAY                                             SCENE OF MAJOR ACTION

All’s Well That Ends Well              France

Taming of the Shrew                      Padua

Two Gentlemen of Verona             Verona

The Comedy of Errors                    Ephisus

Measure For Measure                    Vienna

Othello                                            Venice

Romeo and Juliet                            Verona

As You Like It                                 France

The Winter’s Tale                           Sicily

Much Ado About Nothing              Messina

A Midsummer’s Nights’ Dream     Athens

Twelfth Night                                  Illyria

The Tempest                                    Naples (and an unknown island)

Hamlet                                             Denmark

King Lear                                         Britain

Antony and Cleopatra                      Egypt

Julius Caesar                                    Rome

Pericles, Prince of Tyre                   the Levant

Timon of Athens                               Athens

Coriolanus                                       Rome

Cymbeline                                        Britain

Titus Andronicus                              Gaul

Macbeth                                           Scotland

Henry V                                            England, France

Henry VI, Part I, II, III                    England, France

Henry IV, Parts I & II                      England

Merry Wives of Windsor                  Windsor

Richard II                                         England

Richard III                                        England

King John                                         England

Henry VIII                                        England

Love’s Labors Lost                           Navarre (Spain)












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