Presentation on theme: "History Play Slide Show ENGL 640 Dr. Fike. History Play vs. Tragedy WHAT SETS A HISTORY APART FROM A TRAGEDY? There are various possibilities –Lessons."— Presentation transcript:
History Play vs. Tragedy WHAT SETS A HISTORY APART FROM A TRAGEDY? There are various possibilities –Lessons about politics (see John R. Elliott, Jr.’s “History and Tragedy in Richard II) –Tragic hero –Climactic struggle –Relationship to salvation history –Closure
Historical and Political Lessons The presence of history is not the determining factor. Hamlet contains history too. Rather a history play is about the relationship between office and power. As follows: BeginningMiddleEnd OfficeR2R2Bol PowerR2BolBol YorkR2“neuter”Bol (2.3.159)
Is there a tragic hero in a history play? Not in this case. At first we like Bolingbroke and dislike Richard. Then our sympathies reverse. Time R2negativepositive Bolpositivenegative
Why do we dislike Richard? He is responsible for Gloucester’s murder. He arbitrarily imposes taxes. He denies justice in Act I. He banishes Bolingbroke and Mowbray before they can achieve a reconciliation. He renounces the rights of a lord in taking away Bolingbroke’s inheritance (i.e., he breaks the law). POINT: R2 is guilty of misrule. Bolingbroke seems like the kingdom’s savior.
Why do we dislike Bolingbroke? He is a usurper. He is responsible for the king’s murder. Richard seems to suffer unjustly.
So… If each guy has positives and negatives, who is the tragic hero? THERE IS NO CENTRAL CHARACTER TO IDENTIFY WITH A RESOLUTION. Insofar as the hero is concerned, the history play deals with ambiguities that are not resolved. Since both guys have positives and negatives, it is not clear who is the tragic hero.
What about climactic struggle? We have one in acts four and five of a tragedy. But in R2 Richard shares the spotlight with events in which he plays no part. The struggle at the end has nothing to do with R2 except that Aumerle supports him. This decentering is uncharacteristic of tragedy.
What about the play’s relationship to salvation history? Our first clue is from Bedford 92: “The entire tetralogy may be regarded as an enormous comedy weighted with intense tragic insights.” R2 is a tragic story, yes; however, it is part of a larger comic action that we call salvation history: –Creation –Incarnation –Last Judgment
Check out this timeline: Creation Incarnation R2 ENGL 640 Last Judgment
Ambiguity Our play is ambiguous because we don’t see the workings of Providence over a longer haul. We see instead the machinations of power. We are “maze walkers” rather than “maze viewers” (Penelope Reed Doob).
Do we have closure in R2? Comedy and tragedy achieve closure by enclosing time. R2 throws our attention backward and forward in time. In other words, a history play is open- ended. It is a historical segment bounded by time. Time encloses the play. Therefore, there is no closure.
Re. closure, consider these passages: 1.1.9: Gloucester is killed before the play opens, and there is longstanding antagonism between Bolingbroke and Mowbray. 4.1.135ff.: Carlisle’s prophecy. 5.1.55ff.: Richard’s prophecy. The overthrow of Richard begins the War of the Roses: discontentment continues in the rest of The Henriad. 5.3.1: Hal is in the tavern. POINT: Things happen before the play opens and after it ends.
POINTS R2 is part of a larger historical sweep; therefore, it does not achieve closure. Problems overlap the boundaries of the play. Unlike tragedy: –Hamlet: “The rest is silence” signals closure. There is nothing else to say. All the loose ends have been tied up. –King Lear: Lear, Cordelia, and the bad guys all die; Albany will take over. Enough said.
Summary The presence of history is not a defining factor of the history play because there’s history in tragedy as well. What distinguishes a history play is that it teaches lessons about office and power. Unlike tragedy, a history play may not have a central figure whom we can identify as a tragic hero. Tragedy and history both have a climactic struggle near the end; however, in a history play, it is more ambiguous. Tragedy achieves closure, but a history—like R2—is a tragic segment of an overall comic whole. Therefore, it does not achieve closure.