Prologue: ‘The Histories’ and History
The question of genre seems unproblematical when applied to that group of Shakespeare’s plays which dramatizes the course of English history from 1398 to 1485. Confidently grouped in chronological order and designated as ‘histories’ as early as the First Folio of 1623, they were evidently assimilated quite naturally to a nondramatic category, that of historiography. Each play, bearing the title of a particular king, stands as the equivalent of a chapter of one of the Tudor chronicles; the whole series forming an integrated narrative of historical process. Unlike other genres such as comedy and tragedy, which have their origins in religious ritual, that of ‘chronicle’ produces a dramatic fiction directly based in the secularized representation of supposed historical fact. The mediating authority of the Tudor chronicles themselves links the plays indissolubly to the concrete history of the society they both address: so the two related terms ‘English’ and ‘history’ appear to define with sufficiently lucid certainty both the generic and the sociological categories to which these plays belong.
KeywordsHistorical Consciousness English History Secularized Representation Historical Drama Renaissance Culture
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