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            This is a remarkable passage. It refers to the Crusades and kings such as Richard I

            who fought for decades to recover Jerusalem from Islam. What is remarkable is that
            Shakespeare seems to compare England with Jerusalem, asserting that the English
            are just as “renowned” and as cherished “for her reputation through the world”. On
            medieval world maps such as the Mappa Mundi in Hereford Cathedral, it is
            Jerusalem, capital of the chosen people, that is placed squarely and symbolically in
            the centre; just as symbolically, Britain is on the bottom edge (even though the
            Narrow Sea is depicted only as wide as a river). But this speech presents the fame
            and reputation of the English as being on a par with that of Jerusalem.


            Thus, the English, as well as enjoying every blessing, are comparable to the original
            “chosen people”, the Israelites. . Can we conclude from this that the English had
            come to consider themselves as a chosen people? Shakespeare may not have shared
            this view personally, but he clearly thought enough of his audience would get the
            point. This is definitely not a people who considered themselves “on the edge” of
            things.


            Shakespeare’s patriotic empathy
            What then did Shakespeare himself believe? As we’ve seen, a major theme of his
            plays is fear of political chaos and instability, from which the Tudors had rescued us .
            Given that Elizabeth was an aging queen without an heir or designated successor, this
            was a live issue for Shakespeare and his audiences (who included the Queen herself).
            But Shakespeare had to be careful. To be openly critical of the monarchy was
            unthinkable. Plenty of people were keen to shut down the theatres as dens of sin and

            pleasure. But Shakespeare didn’t just want to write Tudor propaganda. Thus, as a
            playwright he was walking a tightrope. His most patriotic play was Henry V, the victor
            of Agincourt and triumphant conqueror of France. But Shakespeare couldn’t resist
            pointing out that all of his glorious conquests were soon lost; so was the human cost
            worth it? Just as in John of Gaunt’s speech, Shakespeare both expresses and
            interrogates patriotism.


            Above all, Shakespeare keeps his eye on the big picture. The questions he poses are
            of universal significance. As one Shakespeare scholar, Austen Tichenor, puts it, by
            combining patriotism with empathy, he communicates a more profound and
            nuanced message: “The practice of empathy is at the heart of what happens in the
            theatre, both onstage and in the audience, and at the heart of how Shakespeare
            managed to navigate his sharply divided political era. Perhaps it also illustrates how
            we might navigate ours.”
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