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SHAKESPEARE AND THE ENGLISH HISTORY PLAY Bevington, Welsh and Greenwald. SHAKESPEARE: Script, Stage, Screen. (pp. 323-325)

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Presentation on theme: "SHAKESPEARE AND THE ENGLISH HISTORY PLAY Bevington, Welsh and Greenwald. SHAKESPEARE: Script, Stage, Screen. (pp. 323-325)"— Presentation transcript:

1 SHAKESPEARE AND THE ENGLISH HISTORY PLAY Bevington, Welsh and Greenwald. SHAKESPEARE: Script, Stage, Screen. (pp. 323-325)

2 Chronicle plays popular in London after 1588 (Defeat of Spanish Armada) When Elizabeth assumed the throne in 1568, England was in the midst of a religious civil war By the 1590s, England viewed herself as a great nation 1.Military might 2.Expansion into the Americas and elsewhere England still was dealing with “Catholic” problem and an aging Queen with no successor Many immigrants began to build the nation towards a new age of greatness

3 The Defeat of the Spanish Armada

4 Shakespeare’s histories 1.Created the language to examine KINGSHIP 2.Asked questions about nationhood, personal and political morality 3.Dramatized a period of transition from a dynamic kingdom to a modern nation

5 Sources Shakespeare examines the dynastic struggles that began after the death of Edward III (1327-1377), of the house of Plantaganent

6 The War of the Roses The combatants were… The families of Lancaster and their allies the Tudors and Beauforts AGAINST The House of York and its allies, the Mortimers and Nevills

7 Lineage of House of Lancaster

8 The House of York

9 Shakespeare helped to establish the genre of the chronicle play He wrote 10 English history plays in all if we count the incomplete EDWARD III which is included in many modern anthologies He did not write these plays in historical sequence The first FOUR plays were the HENRY VI plays culminating in Richard III

10 Henry VI and Richard III It is believed he wrote these four plays from 1591-1594

11 Second cycle  Richard II (1595-6) Henry IV (1596-8) Henry V (1599) 

12 He borrowed from many sources, but primarily upon two histories  Hall’s UNION OF THE TWO NOBLE AND ILLUSTRE FAMILIES OF LANCASTER AND YORK (1530) (1577)Holinshed’s CHRONICLES OF ENGLAND AND SCOTLANDE AND IRELAND…

13 Holinshed 1.Not only the source for his histories but for four of his tragedies including KING LEAR and MACBETH 2.Holinshed and Hall were considered to be the architects of the “Tudor Myth” in which the bloody events of the War of the Roses were all interpreted as moving forward, through divine guidance, to the foundations of the Tudor dynasty 3.In that view the English nation had to be punished for the murder of Richard II, thus Richard III becomes the scourge of God

14 Henry V and Richard III 1.In Shakespeare’s time, the short-lived victory of HENRY V (Lancaster) over the French was seen as a forecast of the civil virtue and the strength of England under the Tudors 2.In this light, the plays can be read as examples of propaganda 3.“Shakespeare apprehended that civil and cosmic order depend not just upon concepts of heirarchy and class, as set forth in the much-touted Great Chain of Being or Elizabethan World Picture, but also upon the kind of personal relationships that a villain such as Richard III is incapable of sustaining.”

15 Other popular histories Thomas Heywood wrote for the Admiral’s Men. His works included histories of Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth. Sir John Oldcastle by Michael Drayton was written about the same time as Shakespeare’s Henry IV

16 Commonalities The works draw on common sources, borrow and plagiarize one another, or simply incorporate their predecessors’ accounts in their own… “The miracle is that Shakespeare was able to stick as closely to the truth as he did, weaving together all the various strands to create a single epic masterpiece which, for all its minor inaccuracies, is almost always right when it really matters.” (John J. Norwich, SHAKESPEARE’S KINGS, 2000)

17 Did he intend a series?  Probably not. In fact, it was not until the 19 th century when a producer in Weimar, Germany staged them in a sequence that they were even considered as a series  In 2000, London’s YOUNG VIC staged a critically acclaimed Henry VI, part I. It was informed by the company’s research into Philip Henslowe’s records that 20,000 people saw the play in 1592.  Yet the histories were unappreciated and underperformed in their original forms from the 17 th to the 20 th centuries

18 Barton’s WAR OF THE ROSES

19 Recent performances  Gilmore Brown at the Pasadena Playhouse did all 10 plays in historical sequence in 1935  Early in the 1950s, England’s Birmingham Rep presented the three Henry VI plays over several seasons  The Old Vic did Henry VI plays in 1953  John Barton’s famed WAR OF THE ROSES premiered at Stratford in 1963. He added 100 lines of his own and a new trilogy emerged—Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III

20 Recent performances Michael Bogdanov’s English Shakespeare Company did their own WAR OF THE ROSES IN 1988

21 The Plantaganents, RSC (1989) This production was adapted from the Three HENRY VI plays and RICHARD III

22 1990 – The History Plays at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis Garland [Wright] prided himself in being able to anticipate and know everything, but this was a time when I saw him most surprised, and genuinely surprised, by something that happened in the theater. The first time we did the three plays together, in previews, it was a noon curtain for Richard II, 4:00 for Henry IV, and 9:00 for Henry V. At the opening for Henry V -- "O, for a muse of fire." -- the entire company of actors would all come out, fill the stage and just take different parts of the speech and share it around the stage. Well, they all came out and the lights came up and just before they were ready to begin, the audience began to applaud. And then the audience began to stand up and there was a standing ovation at the beginning of the play. It was a completely spontaneous moment, a complete celebration of the theatrical event between audience and actors. It was completely extraordinary. It was true theater. ~ Charles Newell, co-director with Garland Wright of The History Plays, as told in The Guthrie Theater: Images, History and Inside Stories, by Peg Guilfoyle, executive editor Sheila Livingston

23 Guthrie Theatre, Richard II (1990)

24 Guthrie Theatre, Henry IV (1990)


26 Guthrie Theatre, Henry V (1990)



29 2000-1, RSC produced a history marathon…all eight plays over a weekend in historical sequence

30 This modern dress production was part of the RSC's This England: Histories Cycle sequence, in which all of Shakespeare's plays dealing with the reigns of Richard II to Richard III were presented. As King Henry, William Houston built on his performance as Hal in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2. His Henry was a cold man of iron-willed self control until his experiences on the eve of Agincourt disclosed a degree of human vulnerability. Modern battle fatigues were worn by the cast throughout and the design centered around a mobile mine-wheel which, at one point, advanced downstage to become terrifying battle engine. During the siege of Harfleur, the English soldiers invaded the auditorium, carrying their weapons and ladders into the stalls and the circle. Scenes of battle were stylized: punch-bags rather than human bodies were assaulted. The speeches of the Chorus were shared between the acting company, while the invading English were given rousing songs newly written by the left-wing activist, Billy Bragg.

31 2000-1, RSC produced a history marathon…all eight plays over a weekend in historical sequence

32 The Histories of Shakespeare King John Edward III Richard II Henry IV, Part 1 Henry IV, Part 2 Henry V Henry VI, Part 1 Henry VI, Part 2 Henry VI, Part 3 Richard III Henry VIII

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