Orford, Peter Robert (2006)
Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham.
‘Rewriting History’ is a reappraisal of Shakespeare’s history cycle, exploring its origins, its popularity and its effects before challenging its dominance on critical and theatrical perceptions of the history plays. A critical history of the cycle shows how external factors such as patriotism, bardolatory, character-focused criticism and the editorial decision of the First Folio are responsible for the cycle, more so than any inherent aspects of the plays. The performance history of the cycle charts the initial innovations made in the twentieth century which have affected our perception of characters and key scenes in the texts. I then argue how the cycle has become increasingly restrictive, lacking innovation and consequently undervaluing the potential of the histories. Having accounted for the history of the cycle to date, the second part of my thesis looks at the consequent effects upon each history play, and details how each play can be performed and analysed individually. I close my thesis with the suggestion that a compromise between individual and serial perceptions is warranted, where both ideas are acknowledged equally for their effects and defects. By broadening our ideas about these plays we can appreciate the dramatic potential locked within them.
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