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The making and remaking of history in Shakespeare's History Plays

Thomas, Alun Deian 2012. The making and remaking of history in Shakespeare's History Plays. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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History is a problem for the history plays. The weight of ‘true’ history, of fact, puts pressure on the dramatic presentation of history. Not fiction and not fact, the plays occupy the interstitial space between these opposites, the space of drama. Their position between the binary opposites of fact and fiction allows the history plays to play with history. They view history as a problem to be solved, and the different ways in which each play approaches the problem of history gives us a glimpse of how they attempt to engage and deal with the problem of creating dramatic history. Each history play rewrites the plays that preceded it; the plays present ‘history’ as fluid and shifting as competing narratives and interpretations of the past come into conflict with each other, requiring the audience to act as historians in order to construct their own narrative of events. In this way the plays dramatise the process of remaking history. This can be seen in the relationship between the two parts of Henry IV, which restage the same narrative in a different emotional key, and the way that Henry IV’s retelling of the events of Richard II from his own perspective at the conclusion of 1 Henry IV forces the audience to re-evaluate the events of the earlier play, reinterpreting the dramatic past and imaginatively rewriting the play in light of the new perspective gained on events. The history plays thus create a new, dramatic history, a history without need for historical precedent. The plays deliberately signal their departure from ‘fact’ through anachronism, deviation from chronicle history and wholesale dramatic invention. In this sense the plays deliberately frustrate audience expectations; knowledge of chronicle history does not provide foreknowledge of what will happen onstage. History in the theatre is new and unpredictable, perhaps closer in spirit to the uncertainty of the historical moment rather than the reassuring textual narrative of the chronicles.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2016 23:11

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