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This study skillfully weaves together history according to the Tudor chroniclers who provided Shakespeare with his material.
Posted August 14, 2014
I once had a high school English teacher describe Shakespeare's histories as "boring". Part of the reason for that is that it is easy to get lost in the murk of history. The events happened around 600 years ago, and seem like something out of a Renaissance Fair. This is what Dr Saccio's book works to explain. He very succinctly goes through the over 100 years of history discussed in the history plays, Henry IV parts 1&2, Henry V, Richard III, Henry VI parts 1-3. Richard II, King John, and Henry VIII. At times, it's hard to imagine how England could have survived. There were always questions over who was the legitimate heir to the throne, always battles over land, wars with France, arranged marriages, and bills of attainder prosecuting certain people for treason, many times on trumped-up charges. (This last part explains why the drafters of the US Constitution inserted a specific clause prohibiting bills of attainder.) Henry VIII also deals a bit with the Church of England's break with Rome. This is great material for any kind of dramatic play. Dr Saccio shows the differences between the actual history (as far as we know) and Shakespeare's version. Shakespeare occasionally telescopes events, has people present at certain locations who weren't actually there, and ages younger characters to be present for dramatic effect. In this, Shakespeare is no different than modern screenwriters, who will telescope events and composite characters to keep the movie under 2 hours. In Shakespeare's case, he was trying to show general themes--betrayal, murder, greed, incompetence--to show how the history evolved. The original book was written in 1977. Dr Saccio adds an Afterword, written in 2000, to explain the evolution of scholarship on Shakespeare since 1977. If you look at the current situation with England and France today, it's almost hard to believe things were any different.You wonder if all of drama described in Dr Saccio's book was necessary. All in all, this is an excellent book for those who want to know more about Shakespeare's kings.
If you look at the current situation with England and France today, it's almost hard to believe things were different. You wonder if all of drama described in Dr Saccio's book was necessary. All in all, this is an excellent book for those who want to know more about Shakespeare's kings.