Shakespeare’s History Plays

Autumn 2016-2017

16550 / 36550

David Bevington

This course on Shakespeare's English history plays will adopt an unusual stratagem of reading the plays in order of the historical events they depict: that is, starting with King John, who ruled England from 1199 until his death in 1216, then (after a sizable interval of time devoted to the reigns of Henry III, 1216-1272, Edward I, 1272-1307, Edward II, 1307-1327, and Edward III, 1327-1377, not dramatized by Shakespeare), Richard II (reigned 1377-1390), Henry IV Parts I and II (1399-1413), Henry V (1413-1422), Henry VI Parts I-III (1422-1461 and 1470-1471, alternating with Edward IV, 1461-1470, 1471-1483), Richard III (1483-1485), and finally Henry VIII (1509-1547, having succeeded his father, Henry VII, who reigned from 1485-1509 and whose reign is not celebrated by a Shakespeare play). The emphasis will be on the great plays, Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and II, Henry V, and Richard III. My hope is that this approach will enable us to explore Shakespeare's concept of English history over a large sweep of time, leading up to the Tudor dynasty that began with Henry VII's victory over Richard III in 1485 and concluded with the long and successful reign of Elizabeth I, Henry VIII's daughter, whose rule ended with her death in 1603, soon after Shakespeare had completed his writing of all these plays except Henry VIII. We will be reading the plays in the order in which they were printed in the first complete edition of Shakespeare works in the 1623 First Folio. Undergraduate: (D, E) Graduate: (Med/Ren)