Shakespeare and Medieval History

Igor Djordjevic

in The Oxford Handbook of Holinshed's Chronicles

Published in print December 2012 | ISBN: 9780199565757
Published online January 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

 Shakespeare and Medieval History

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  • Literature
  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)
  • Shakespeare Studies and Criticism


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This chapter begins by tracing how history plays recover thematic unities from Holinshed's Chronicles. Shakespeare translated into the medium of drama four major political themes and messages taught by Holinshed and his successors who enlarged the 1587 text: the ideal and decorum of English kingship, the role of France in English public discourse, the idea of Englishness, and the idea of the commonwealth. These ideologemes place both Holinshed's narrative and Shakespeare's histories in the context of Tudor uses of historical memory, reflecting how sixteenth-century English people conceived of their nation's coming into being – both as a patria defined by ethnicity and culture, and as a polity, a commonwealth. The second part explores Shakespeare's rearticulation of the historical role of the commons in Holinshed's English medieval history, and especially how popular displeasure and political critique are expressed.

Keywords: English history; history plays; medieval period; Middle Ages; Chronicles; English kingship; France; commonwealth

Article.  8595 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800) ; Shakespeare Studies and Criticism

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