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    Dean, Paul 1997. Shakespeare's historical imagination. Renaissance Studies, Vol. 11, Issue. 1, p. 27.

  • Print publication year: 1990
  • Online publication date: March 2007

Truth and Art in History Plays


Since the First Folio says that Shakespeare wrote history plays I think there is a great deal to be said for assuming not only that he did so but did so in the plays thus designated and no others; let evidence precede definition. It is true of course that the evidence available is mixed; Elizabethan generic vocabulary is notoriously spongy: contemporary title pages give us such hybrids as The Tragedy of Richard II, The Tragedy of Richard III, The History of Troilus and Cressida, The True Chronicle History of King Lear, A Pleasant Conceited History called The Taming of a Shrew. The Folio's generic divisions seem to belong, however, to a different mode of discourse: F1 is a company volume, and I have no doubt that its division of plays into Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies reflects company understanding of the repertory, and so, I take it, the understanding of that good company man, William Shakespeare.

Academic critics inevitably prefer definitions to be less blandly empirical, for what space for dazzling reinventions, for pulling rabbits out of hats, not to mention a name in lights, is left available by so preconditioning an acceptance? As professional systematizers we like to be seen to generate our definitions from general principles and our first chapters from titles such as 'What is a history play? Some problems and answers'.

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Shakespeare Survey
  • Volume 42: Shakespeare and the Elizabethans
  • Edited by Stanley Wells
  • Online ISBN: 9781139053198
  • Book DOI:
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