William Shakespeare may have been the greatest playwright in the English language, but how does he measure up as a historian? In this brilliant comparison between the events and characters in Shakespeare's history plays and the actual events that inspired them, acclaimed historian John Julius Norwich examines the nine works that together amount to an epic masterpiece on England's most fascinating period.
Beginning with the newly authenticated "Edward III," and proceeding through "Richard II; Henry IV Parts I" and "II; " and "Henry V; Henry VI Parts I, II," and "III; " and finally "Richard III," Norwich holds the plays up to the light of history, answering questions such as: Who was the real Falstaff? How realistic is Shakespeare's depiction of Joan of Arc? At the same time, he provides a vibrant narrative of medieval life from 1337 to 1485, the era of the 100 Years War and the Wars of the Roses. It was a time of uncertainty and incessant warfare, a time during which the crown was constantly contested, alliances were made and broken, peasants and townsmen alike arose in revolt. Here was the raw material that Shakespeare used to explore the role of the monarch and the meaning of statehood.
But where does history stop and drama begin? Norwich concludes that Shakespeare was a reliable enough historian. He was, however, always willing to take liberties with the facts for the sake of his drama. As Norwich explains, "In the vast majority of instances when Shakespeare departed from the historic truth he did so for the best of all reasons: to make a better play." Beyond assessing Shakespeare's accuracy, Norwich provides the crucial knowledge that will enhance everyone's appreciation and understanding of these glorious plays.
No one but John Julius Norwich, praised for his three-part history of Byanztium, could weave drama and history together into such a lucid and absorbing account of a distant yet vitally important era. Illuminating and accessible, Shakespeare's Kings is an indispensable companion to Shakespeare's rich imagination -- an imagination that continues to inform the way we view the past today.
©1999 John Julius Norwich (P)2014 Audible Inc.
author of Lowcountry Legend's series
The British bard had a lot of good reasons for the mistakes in the history plays. One was that he lived and worked in Tudor times--I don't understand how any so called historian could make the claims of this book in this day and time. There is no need to enumerate them all here, one should suffice--the statement goes something like this, "at the advent of the Tudor dynasty, England had its first century of peace an prosperity." What about Henry the Eighth? Bloody Mary? Oh dear, and the worst thing is this book says it will set the record straight---wow, I'd rather listen to the play.
When deciding whether to buy a title I'll often look for a book review online so when I came across a slightly sniffy New York Times review which call this "Lively if not particularly scholarly" I was sold. This is highly engaging and well written without being too demanding which is what I was in the mood for over the Easter break. Norwich paints lively, opinionated portraits of the movers and shakers of medieval England; in each case going on to show us how Shakespeare wrote about them a few generations after the fact. It's a device that worked really well for me; partly because Norwich is good at bringing historical characters to life in a convincing way through the little we know about them and also because we get an insight into the shifting politics of the period by seeing what Shakespeare could and could not safely write about a hundred or more year later under the Tudors.
If you enjoy medieval history this won't break particularly new ground but it's well written, well narrated, it brings characters and the period to life and there's enough in it to enjoyably hold your attention without taxing the brain too much.
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