[In Our Time] Is Shakespeare History? The Plantagenets

Is Shakespeare History? The Plantagenets

11/10/2018 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: http://podplayer.net/?id=56706410
Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/5/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p06njw2y.mp3

In the first of two programmes marking In Our Time’s 20th anniversary on 15th October, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare’s versions of history, starting with the English Plantagenets. His eight plays from Richard II to Richard III were written out of order, in the Elizabethan era, and have had a significant impact on the way we see those histories today. In the second programme, Melvyn discusses the Roman plays.

The image above is of Richard Burton (1925 – 1984) as Henry V in the Shakespeare play of the same name, from 1951


Emma Smith
Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, University of Oxford

Gordon McMullan
Professor of English at King’s College London and Director of the London Shakespeare Centre


Katherine Lewis
Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Huddersfield

Producer: Simon Tillotson

I think this was one of the episodes I was listening to as my winter grey mood started to descend, and because of that, I wasn’t able to pay much attention to it or find much interesting. Or maybe Shakespeare is simply overrated. Be that as it may, here’s my attempt at picking out the flashes of interesting bits:

  • I hadn’t realised that Shakespeare had done the entire sequence of Plantagenet kings; not leaving out a single one. Or that they were so close to him in history.
  • I was a little amused at the history professor admitting that if it hadn’t been for a particular book (I, Claudius) which was completely inaccurate as a history, he would never have become interested in history.
  • For some reason, I found it notable that the plays were not written or performed chronologically, but that the printing of the First Folio set them down as a sequence and since then people have thought of them that way.
  • Also interesting: the claim that as Richard Burbage became more of a star, Shakespeare’s plays moved from being ensembles to star vehicles; which explains the choice of kings and when he wrote which and how.
  • And most interesting of all: the discussion about Prince Hal / Henry IV; and how he moves from being a reprobrate prince to a virtuous king as PR; and how Shakespeare might have created a trope of badly behaved princes reforming; that actual princes have followed since then.

Listen Date: 17 October 2018.

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