The History Plays of Shakespeare Essay

The History Plays of Shakespeare Essay

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The term History Play is commonly used to denote the plays (whether tragedies or comedies) in which the action and the major themes of the play are primarily political rather than individual or social. Though Shakespeare did not distinguish between the genres of his plays, when the collected works of Shakespeare was published by his own colleagues in the Chamberlain's- King's company as the First Folio in 1623, the plays, the editors divided them into Comedies, Histories and Tragedies. Though some historical plays show the characteristics of tragedy or comedy, they are different from the regular tragedies and comedies in that they deal only with political matters without straying into other social or metaphysical matters. Thus only the political dimensions of the actions and relationships alone are presented.

Shakespeare wrote ten plays dealing English history and four with Roman history. Though the Roman plays can also be included under history plays, usually those plays which represent the political history of England were termed history plays. The history plays developed from the Morality plays of the early centuries. It was the patriotic spirit which prevailed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth because of the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the threat of foreign invasion, which gave rise to this form of drama. The history plays were popularized by the University wits during this time. Shakespeare's professional rivalry with these dramatists like Marlowe, Greene and others made him try his

hand in this field. These plays were also known as chronicle plays as they were based upon the English Chronicles of Raphael Holinshed and others.

The history plays were more realistic than the other plays of Shakespeare ...

... middle of paper ...

...idents and characters for simplification and dramatic effect. The plays were intended as mirrors for the Elizabethan society into the intricacies of politics. These plays cannot be regarded simply as historical studies but as studies into the nature of human character with respect to history and politics.


Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. India: Harcourt Asia Ltd, 2000.

Campbell, Lily B. Shakespeare's Histories: Mirrors of Elizabethan Policy. Great

Britain: Methuen, 1980.

Frye, Roland M. Shakespeare: The Art of the Dramatist. London: George Allen

and Unwin Ltd, 1982.

Prasad, Birjadish. A Background to the Study of English Literature. New Delhi:

Macmillan India Limited, 2000.

Tillyard, E.M.W. Shakespeare's History Plays. Great Britain: Penguin Books,


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