Forum on 15 – Shakespeare’s Bohemia: Terror and Tolerance in Early Modern Europe

Date / Time

December 4, 2018

4:00 pm - 6:00 pm


Shakespeare’s Bohemia: Terror and Tolerance in Early Modern Europe Alfred Thomas argues that far from being ignorant of the location and significance of Bohemia in his play “The Winter’s Tale” (as Ben Jonson famously stated), William Shakespeare could easily have heard about this landlocked country’s ecumenical reputation for religious toleration from English players returning to London from central European cities like Danzig, Koenigsberg and Prague, where they performed their plays in English. In the same year that “The Winter’s Tale” was performed at court in London (1609), Rudolf II issued his “Letter of Majesty” which granted religious toleration to his Protestant subjects within the Habsburg territories. This lecture argues that this was no coincidence and that Shakespeare’s plays “King Lear” and “The Winter’s Tale” can be read as impassioned appeals not only for religious toleration in an intolerant age but also provide a powerful contrast between the oppressiveness of English religious politics and the more enlightened situation in France and Central Europe in the early years of the seventeenth century.
Alfred Thomas, University of Illinois, Chicago
Alfred Thomas is a professor at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois. He gained his PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Cambridge University. In 2014 he was the inaugural Kosciuszko Foundation Visiting Professor at the University of Warsaw, Poland. His research focuses on the cultures of pre-modern and modern Central Europe and on literary links between England and Bohemia in the medieval and early-modern period. He has published broadly in the area (e.g. Shakespeare, Dissent and the Cold War, 2014; Cultures of Forgery: Making Nations, Making Selves, 2005; Reading Women in Late Medieval Europe: Anne of Bohemia and Chaucer’s Female Audience, 2015). His teaching interests are broad, comparative, and cover the medieval and early modern periods.
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