Weapons of Fire and Shakespeare’s Dramatic Trajectory

  • Adam Max Cohen


The military historian Geoffrey Parker recently noted that in Europe the period from 1500 to 1700 was “the most warlike in terms of the proportion of years of war under way (95 percent), the frequency of war (nearly one every three years), and the average yearly duration, extent, and magnitude of war.”1 While warfare or the threat of warfare was constant during Shakespeare’s lifetime, the nature of armed conflict seems to have undergone significant changes. Michael Roberts was the first to claim that a “military revolution” took place in Europe between 1560 and 1660.2 Roberts asserted that the key facets of this revolution were the introduction of the musket and the longbow to replace the lance and the pike, the overall increase in the size of armies, the use of smaller divisions within those armies, and war’s increased impact on the populace. While articulating his military historical paradigm Roberts acknowledged that E. G. R. Taylor’s work on mathematical practitioners had influenced him: “And behind the artillery lay a fringe of scientific laymen and minor mathematicians—those ‘mathematical practitioners’ whose part in educating the seamen, gunners and surveyors of the age has recently been made clear.”3 These early modern mathematical practitioners invented many deadly new technologies, including submarines, gas-shells, an armored fighting vehicle, the first torpedo, multibarreled guns, hand grenades, and saws with silencer attachments. Gunpowder innovations impacted even the rank and file soldier such that, according to Roberts, “the slowly increasing technical complexity of firearms was already beginning the process of forcing the soldier to be (on however primitive a level) a technician.”4


Gunpowder Technology Early Modern Period Military Historian Henry VIII Modern Debate 
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© Adam Max Cohen 2006

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  • Adam Max Cohen

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