As they are in the first folio , the plays are listed here in the sequence of their action, rather than the order of the plays' composition.
Short forms of the full titles are used. Set in ancient Rome, Titus Andronicus dramatises a fictional story and is therefore excluded as a Roman history. As with the Roman plays, the first folio groups these with the tragedies. Although they are connected with regional royal biography, and based on similar sources, they are usually not considered part of Shakespeare's English histories. The source for most of the English history plays, as well as for Macbeth and King Lear , is the well known Raphael Holinshed 's Chronicle of English history.
Shakespeare's history plays focus on only a small part of the characters' lives, and also frequently omit significant events for dramatic purposes. Shakespeare was living in the reign of Elizabeth I , the last monarch of the house of Tudor , and his history plays are often regarded as Tudor propaganda because they show the dangers of civil war and celebrate the founders of the Tudor dynasty. In particular, Richard III depicts the last member of the rival house of York as an evil monster "that bottled spider, that foul bunchback'd toad" , a depiction disputed by many modern historians, while portraying his successor, Henry VII in glowing terms.
However, Shakespeare's celebration of Tudor order is less important in these plays than his presentation of the spectacular decline of the medieval world. Some of Shakespeare's histories — notably Richard III — point out that this medieval world came to its end when opportunism and Machiavellianism infiltrated its politics. By nostalgically evoking the late Middle Ages, these plays described the political and social evolution that had led to the actual methods of Tudor rule, so that it is possible to consider the English history plays as a biased criticism of their own country.
Shakespeare made use of the Lancaster and York myths, as he found them in the chronicles, as well as the Tudor myth. The 'Tudor myth' formulated by the historians and poets recognised Henry VI as a lawful king, condemned the York brothers for killing him and Prince Edward, and stressed the hand of divine providence in the Yorkist fall and in the rise of Henry Tudor, whose uniting of the houses of Lancaster and York had been prophesied by the 'saintly' Henry VI.
Henry Tudor's deposing of Richard III "was justified on the principles of contemporary political theory, for Henry was not merely rebelling against a tyrant but putting down a tyrannous usurper , which The Mirror for Magistrates allowed". The later chroniclers, especially Polydore Vergil , Edward Hall and Raphael Holinshed , were not interested in 'justifying' the Tudor regime by asserting the role of Providence; instead they stressed the lessons to be learned from the workings of Providence in the past, sometimes endorsing contradictory views of men and events for the sake of the different lessons these suggested, sometimes slanting their interpretations to draw a parallel with, or a moral for, their time.
Consequently, though Hall in his Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancastre and Yorke saw God's curse laid upon England for the deposing and murder of Richard II, God finally relenting and sending peace in the person and dynasty of Henry Tudor, and though Holinshed's final judgement was that Richard Duke of York and his line were divinely punished for violating his oath to let Henry VI live out his reign, the chroniclers tended to incorporate elements of all three myths in their treatment of the period from Richard II to Henry VII.
According to Kelly, Shakespeare's great contribution, writing as a historiographer-dramatist, was to eliminate the supposedly objective providential judgements of his sources, and to distribute them to appropriate spokesmen in the plays, presenting them as mere opinion. Thus the sentiments of the Lancaster myth are spoken by Lancastrians, the opposing myth is voiced by Yorkists, and the Tudor myth is embodied in Henry Tudor.
Shakespeare "thereby allows each play to create its own ethos and mythos and to offer its own hypotheses concerning the springs of action". Where the chronicles sought to explain events in terms of divine justice , Shakespeare plays down this explanation. Richard Duke of York, for example, in his speech to Parliament about his claim, placed great stress, according to the chronicles, on providential justice; Shakespeare's failure to make use of this theme in the parliament scene at the start of 3 Henry VI , Kelly argues, "would seem to amount to an outright rejection of it".
Tillyard and A. As for suggestions of a benevolent Providence, Shakespeare does appear to adopt the chronicles' view that Talbot's victories were due to divine aid,  where Joan of Arc's were down to devilish influence, but in reality he lets the audience see that "she has simply outfoxed [Talbot] by superior military strategy". Accordingly, Shakespeare's moral characterisation and political bias , Kelly argues, change from play to play, "which indicates that he is not concerned with the absolute fixing of praise or blame", though he does achieve general consistency within each play:.
Shakespeare meant each play primarily to be self-contained. Again, Henry IV, at the end of Richard II , speaks of a crusade as reparation for Richard's death: but in the next two plays he does not show remorse for his treatment of Richard. Kelly finds evidence of Yorkist bias in the earlier tetralogy. As for Lancastrian bias , York is presented as unrighteous and hypocritical in 2 Henry VI ,  and while Part 2 ends with Yorkist victories and the capture of Henry, Henry still appears "the upholder of right in the play". The Duchess of York's lament that her family "make war upon themselves, brother to brother, blood to blood, self against self"  derives from Vergil and Hall's judgment that the York brothers paid the penalty for murdering King Henry and Prince Edward.
In the later tetralogy Shakespeare clearly inclines towards the Lancaster myth. The plan in Henry IV to divide the kingdom in three undermines Mortimer's credibility. The omission of Mortimer from Henry V was again quite deliberate: Shakespeare's Henry V has no doubt about his own claim.
Shakespeare's retrospective verdict, however, on the reign of Henry VI, given in the epilogue to Henry V , is politically neutral: "so many had the managing" of the state that "they lost France and made his England bleed". John F. He implies that rebellion against a legitimate and pious king is wrong, and that only a monster such as Richard of Gloucester would have attempted it. In these plays he adopts the official Tudor ideology, by which rebellion, even against a wrongful usurper, is never justifiable. Hotspur and Hal are joint heirs, one medieval, the other modern, of a split Faulconbridge.
Danby argues, however, that when Hal rejects Falstaff he is not reforming, as is the common view,  but merely turning from one social level to another, from Appetite to Authority, both of which are equally part of the corrupt society of the time. Of the two, Danby argues, Falstaff is the preferable, being, in every sense, the bigger man. In Hamlet king-killing becomes a matter of private rather than public morality — the individual's struggles with his own conscience and fallibility take centre stage.
Hamlet, like Edgar in King Lear later, has to become a "machiavel of goodness". Macbeth is clearly aware of the great frame of Nature he is violating. The older medieval society, with its doting king, falls into error, and is threatened by the new Machiavellianism; it is regenerated and saved by a vision of a new order, embodied in the king's rejected daughter.
By the time he reaches Edmund, Shakespeare no longer pretends that the Hal-type Machiavellian prince is admirable; and in Lear he condemns the society we think historically inevitable. Against this he holds up the ideal of a transcendent community and reminds us of the "true needs" of a humanity to which the operations of a Commodity-driven society perpetually do violence. This "new" thing that Shakespeare discovers is embodied in Cordelia. Cordelia, in the allegorical scheme, is threefold: a person; an ethical principle love ; and a community.
Until that decent society is achieved, we are meant to take as role-model Edgar, the Machiavel of patience, of courage and of "ripeness". Chronicle plays — history-plays based on the chronicles of Polydore Vergil , Edward Hall , Raphael Holinshed and others — enjoyed great popularity from the late s to c.
By the early s they were more numerous and more popular than plays of any other kind. King John was of interest to 16th century audiences because he had opposed the Pope; two further plays were written about him in the late 16th century, one of them Shakespeare's Life and Death of King John. Patriotic feeling at the time of the Spanish Armada contributed to the appeal of chronicle plays on the Hundred Years' War , notably Shakespeare's Henry VI trilogy, while unease over the succession at the close of Elizabeth 's reign made plays based on earlier dynastic struggles from the reign of Richard II to the Wars of the Roses topical.
Plays about the deposing and killing of kings, or about civil dissension, met with much interest in the s, while plays dramatising supposedly factual episodes from the past, advertised as "true history" though the dramatist might know otherwise , drew larger audiences than plays with imagined plots. The chronicle play, however, always came under close scrutiny by the Elizabethan and Jacobean authorities. Playwrights were banned from touching "matters of divinity or state",  a ban that remained in force throughout the period, the Master of Revels acting as licenser.
The chronicle play, as a result, tended ultimately to endorse the principles of 'Degree', order, and legitimate royal prerogative, and so was valued by the authorities for its didactic effect. Ward pointed out that the elaborated, unhistorical and flattering role assigned to an earlier Earl of Oxford, the 11th , in The Famous Victories of Henry V c. The early chronicle plays such as The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth were, like the chronicles themselves, loosely structured, haphazard, episodic; battles and pageantry, spirits, dreams and curses, added to their appeal.
The scholar H. Charlton gave some idea of their shortcomings when he spoke of "the wooden patriotism of The Famous Victories , the crude and vulgar Life and Death of Jack Straw , the flatness of The Troublesome Reign of King John , and the clumsy and libellous Edward I ". Marlowe himself turned to English history as a result of the success of Shakespeare's Contention.
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Shakespeare then took the genre further, bringing deeper insights to bear on the nature of politics, kingship, war and society. He also brought noble poetry to the genre and a deep knowledge of human character. Uncertainty about composition-dates and authorship of the early chronicle plays makes it difficult to attribute influence or give credit for initiating the genre.
Some critics believe that Shakespeare has a fair claim to have been the innovator. In E. Pitcher argued that annotations to a copy Edward Hall 's Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancastre and Yorke that was discovered in the volume is now in the British Library were probably written by Shakespeare and that these are very close to passages in the play.
Courthope ,  E. In practice, however, playwrights were both 'influencers' and influenced: Shakespeare's two Contention plays —90 , influenced by Marlowe's Tamburlaine , in turn influenced Marlowe's Edward II , which itself influenced Shakespeare's Richard II.
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Of later chronicle plays, T. Eliot considered Ford 's Chronicle History of Perkin Warbeck "unquestionably [his] highest achievement" and "one of the very best historical plays outside of the works of Shakespeare in the whole of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. In some of the chronicle-based plays, as the various contemporary title-pages show, the genres of 'chronicle history' and 'tragedy' overlap.
Several causes led to the decline of the chronicle play in the early 17th century: a degree of satiety many more chronicle plays were produced than the surviving ones listed below ; a growing awareness of the unreliability of the genre as history;  the vogue for 'Italianate' subject-matter Italian, Spanish or French plots ; the vogue for satirical drama of contemporary life ' city comedy ' ; the movement among leading dramatists, including Shakespeare, away from populism and towards more sophisticated court-centred tastes; the decline in national homogeneity with the coming of the Stuarts, and in the 'national spirit', that ended in civil war and the closing of the theatres Late 16th and early 17th century 'Roman history' plays — English plays based on episodes in Virgil , Livy , Tacitus , Sallust , and Plutarch — were, to varying degrees, successful on stage from the late s to the s.
Their appeal lay partly in their exotic spectacle, partly in their unfamiliar plots, partly in the way they could explore topical themes safely detached from an English context. In Appius and Virginia c. Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and his pseudo-historical Titus Andronicus were among the more successful and influential of Roman history plays.
In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries there have been numerous stage performances, including:. Many of the plays have also been filmed stand-alone, outside of the cycle at large. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
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Main article: History theatrical genre. Retrieved 7 August Rowse , Discovering Shakespeare London, , pp.
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W Shakespeare's History Plays. New York, , p. Logan and Denzell S. Smith, eds. William Shakespeare. The Passionate Pilgrim To the Queen. Shakespeare's plays. Shakespearean tragedy. William Shakespeare 's Antony and Cleopatra.
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