The English History Play in the Age of Shakespeare

The English History Play in the Age of Shakespeare

The English History Play in the Age of Shakespeare

The English History Play in the Age of Shakespeare

Excerpt

The need for a re-examination of the Elizabethan and Jacobean history play has long been apparent, for there has been no full scale treatment of the subject since Professor Felix E. Schelling's volume of 1902. Recent years, however, have shown a remarkable revival of interest in Shakespeare's histories, and to the work in this area of Professors E.M.W. Tillyard, Lily B. Campbell, and J. Dover Wilson I am deeply indebted. My reliance upon the pioneer work of Professors Schelling and William Dinsmore Briggs will appear on every page. I have found their studies invaluable, in spite of my differing point of view. I further have had to assist me what to Schelling and Briggs was unavailable, the volumes of Sir Edmund K. Chambers and the publications of the Malone Society, without which this volume would have been virtually impossible.

Before any meaningful discussion of the history play is possible, we must have a workable definition of the genre. This I have attempted to formulate in my initial chapter. In the remaining chapters I have largely limited myself to three objectives: to present as much factual information about each play as I could, to show how each play conforms to the concept of the history play which I have proposed, and to demonstrate that the plays together form a continuous dramatic tradition which extends from the Middle Ages to the dosing of the theaters in 1642. I have not been primarily concerned with aesthetics, for to evaluate every play as a work of art and to discuss its particular effectiveness as drama would require a volume many times the size of this. I have tried to deal almost exclusively with those factors with regard to each play which may cause us to include it in the large category of the history play.

The arrangement of the plays is roughly chronological, but with so amorphous and heterogeneous a body of literature as the history play, chronology alone will not serve as a satisfactory principle of organization. Chronology is thus disregarded at times so that important larger movements within the history play genre . . .

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