Tag Archives: Narrative

New Historicism in Shakespeare’s Histories

A Portrait of King Henry IV. To what extent can we ascertain the real man through Shakespeare's play?

A Portrait of King Henry IV. To what extent can we ascertain the real man through Shakespeare’s play?

For those new to Shakespeare’s history plays, a swarm of confused questions accompanies the opening passages of I Henry IV, even as the masterful strokes of drama and debauchery tempt readers and viewers into its universe: What, in claiming history, is Shakespeare actually representing? Would the King have spoken anything like this, or any of the characters for that matter? How much of this is factual, or how much fact is even possible in an early modern society with limited literacy to record history? What impulses or visions direct the embellishments? Simply put, what can one confidently tell a friend about history after reading Part I of Henry IV? These questions are more easily left dormant in reading Shakespeare’s other fictional plays, with the casual assumption that the fictions of the play stage fantasized elements of Shakespeare’s real environment. But in a play that aspires to historicity, some theoretical framework is needed to comfortably reconcile this tension between fiction and history. Continue reading