Theatre, History, Politics

  • Donald G. Watson


Shakespeare’s history plays have been attracting more and more of their fair share of scholarly attention in recent years, but less often than comedies and tragedies are the histories discussed critically from a theatrical perspective. Enlightening studies of their dramaturgical strengths and weaknesses do, of course, exist, but consideration of their technical achievement is far outweighed by examinations of their topical politics, theological issues, world pictures, and ideas of kingship — all most carefully placed against the historical background of Elizabethan England in the 1590s. We can know them as embodiments of Renaissance ideas of political morality, as mirrors of Elizabethan policy, as essays upon the relationship of family and state, as meditations upon the king’s two bodies, as rituals of the ethic of order, as warnings against rebellion, as dramatic treatises about the Tudor myth, as inquiries into the concept of divine providence, as formal developments of the chronicle and morality play, as explorations of the historian’s art. We can know their sources and analyze the playwright’s manipulation of events and personages, memorize genealogical charts, and map out the battles. And we can do much more to know the history plays as plays.


Theatrical Dimension Title Page Public Theater English History Professional Theater 
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    This point has often been made, particularly in response to the adaptation of the methods of New Criticism to the drama. See, for example, John Russell Brown’s “Theatre Research and the Criticism of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries,” Shakespeare Quarterly, 13 (1962), reprinted in his Shakespeare’s Plays in Performance (Baltimore: Penguin, 1969 [1966]), 237–52.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Donald Gwynn Watson 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donald G. Watson
    • 1
  1. 1.Florida International UniversityMiamiUSA

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