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  • Shakespeare Studies and Criticism


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The Folio distinguishes ten of Shakespeare's plays as Histories. These are the English history plays: King John, Richard II, 1 and 2 Henry IV, Henry V, 1, 2 and 3 Henry VI, Richard III, and All is True (Henry VIII). Shakespeare also drew on British history for Macbeth, Cymbeline, and King Lear. The plays about Roman history are grouped with the Tragedies.

Eight of Shakespeare's English history plays fall naturally into two groups. In 1, 2 and 3 Henry VI and Richard III he dramatizes a consecutive sequence of events, and in Richard II, 1 and 2 Henry IV, and Henry V, which he wrote later, he does the same with an earlier historical period. Each group of four plays is often referred to as a tetralogy, though the degree to which Shakespeare thought of them as sequences is disputed. In performance, the first two tetralogies are often most effective when played as a cycle of plays; this is particularly true of Richard III where Richard's dominance is tempered by Margaret.

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism.

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