The interpretation of history mattered to Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Not only did the legitimacy of the Elizabethan regime under which they lived depend on a very particular reading of history, but retelling stories about the political past was a recognised way of talking obliquely about the political present. This course will look closely at two of Shakespeare's plays, Richard II and Henry V, asking what interpretation they make of history, and what they have to say about the ways in which history is shaped by interpretation, not only in retrospect but at the very time when it is being made.
Aims of the course:
- To introduce students to critical study of two of Shakespeare's most important history plays, Richard II and Henry V, in both of which the interpretation of historical events is a central concern.
- To show students how these dramas have played a role in the interpretation of English history, both in Shakespeare's day and in our own.
- To enable students to assess the merits of some established critical views of the plays, and to engage critically with modern productions (including readily available film versions)
Course content overview:
- Students will learn how these plays, rather than merely recounting a particular version of history, themselves explore how important historical events come to be differently and often tendentiously interpreted, both at the time when they occur and in retrospect
- Attention will be given to the ways in which a play's interpretation of history could prove disquieting to the authorities of the day, and hence dangerous to those who staged it.
- In weeks 1-3 the text is Richard II, with special emphasis on its significance and reception in Shakespeare's own time in weeks 4-5 the course will turn to Henry V, revisiting questions from weeks 1-3 but also moving on to consider the interpretation of a Shakespearean history play (and of history itself as received through Shakespeare) in modern times, especially on film, from World War II on.
- Induction Week: 10-16 February 2014
- Teaching Weeks: 17 February-23 March 2014
- Feedback Week: 24-30 March 2014
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