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William shakespeares portrayal of richard ii and henry vi

Backgroundy Stuff William Shakespeare was born in 1564 and came to prominence as a major playwright in the 1590s and by the time he died in 1616, he had written or, in some cases, co-written about 38 plays, of which 11 relate to English history. However, a long-lasting career could not be built purely on simplistic, throw-away yarns with some last nods to contemporary issues.

A company would not, like today, perform the same play for months on end, but would instead change performance on a daily basis, introducing some new works and reviving old favourites. There was an almost constant pressure for new and more challenging material. Shakespeare was part of a generation of playwrights pushing each other on to write bigger and better things, with the more sophisticated and complex tragedy Tamburlaine by Christopher Marlowe an early historical blockbuster of the time.

Christopher Marlowe was the first great playwright of the Elizabeth age and a major influence on Shakespeare Shakespeare, then, was by no means writing in isolation with his history plays but what marks him out as a great playwright is not the choice of stories but the way that he tells them. His lead characters are not simply two-dimensional stereotypes used as props for exciting battles and swooning romances; they are conflicted, they ask themselves questions, they grapple with questions of morality and philosophy.

On one level, Shakespeare is actually rather unoriginal when it comes to his stories as they are almost always based in some way on earlier texts. Indeed, he was not even the first to write a popular play about Henry V.

Shakespeare may have done it better, but he was not the first to write about Romeo and Juliet The good news for Shakespeare when it comes to his history plays is that he drew extensively from chronicles and histories. This was actually the work of multiple authors but it was an important and extremely popular work because such a comprehensive history had not been published before for the British Isles.

These histories were far from perfect in terms of accuracy, but they were the best sources available and Shakespeare did as much as was possible in the 1590s to research the real history. The history plays are full of references to people and events at court as well as reflecting a very particular interpretation of recent history that would not pass muster with modern historians.

He was also the ancestor of William Brooke, the current Lord Chamberlain, who objected to his celebrated ancestor being portrayed as a comic buffoon. Shakespeare clearly wanted a familiar name and the link to the young Henry but had no interest in accurately depicting the real man. Indeed, although Shakespeare did change the name from Oldcastle to Falstaff, he also wrote another play for Falstaff called The Merry Wives of Windsor in which there is a jealous husband who calls himself Brooke, so it seems likely that Shakespeare was very deliberately poking fun at the Lord Chamberlain!

Sir John Falstaff — not quite the image the Lord Chamberlain had in mind for his revered ancestor More serious is the accusation that he is effectively producing Tudor propaganda. The Tudors were keen to promote the idea that from the deposition of Richard II to the defeat of Richard III, England was a country mostly william shakespeares portrayal of richard ii and henry vi chaos and civil war known as the Wars of the Roses due to the evils of rebellion and usurpation against a rightfully anointed king.

In reality, the Lancastrians did not wear a red rose during the conflict but rather Henry VII used it for symbolic purposes to create the Tudor rose both white and red to symbolise william shakespeares portrayal of richard ii and henry vi unity. If we are to read each play as being part of a whole then the message becomes somewhat inconsistent.

Henry VI is at times portrayed as a rather saintly character which some would contend is due to his status as a Lancastrian monarch and Tudor ally and yet in Henry VI Part 2 he is seen as unfit to rule and the Yorkists come out rather more favourably.

Henry VI, Part 2

Kelly has argued that Shakespeare is consistent within the context of each individual william shakespeares portrayal of richard ii and henry vi but not necessarily between different plays evidenced by the fact that he wrote them out of chronological order. The history plays are not intended as a serial drama in the modern sense and Shakespeare is more interested in the troubles and motivations of the characters in each drama than he is in painting a one-sided narrative of the whole period.

So are they right? Is Shakespeare guilty of a terrible historical injustice for the reputation of Richard III, or should the society leave him alone? In his own play, he schemes to engineer the execution of his brother Clarenceusurps and murders his nephews the Princes in the Tower and poisons his own wife before justice is finally done when he is defeated and killed by Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth.

Prior to his accession, Richard was seen as a loyal and well-respected noble and in his short time as king he did enact laws to the benefit of the common people. His oldest brother, Edward IV, is considered responsible for ordering the execution of Henry VI and Clarence who was, in fairness, not above a spot of treason.

Richard had known his wife since childhood and genuinely grieved her death, which was due to tuberculosis rather than poison. In reality, Richard lost his horse whilst charging bravely at Henry Tudor himself, but he refused the offer of a horse that would have let him ride to safety.

William Shakespeare's Works/Histories/Richard III

Even some of his most ardent critics among the Tudor historians admitted that he fought bravely, so this one is all on Shakespeare. There were contemporary rumours about Richard poisoning his wife and the jury is still out on the fate of the Princes in the Tower. Shakespeare did not invent the idea of Richard as a murderous, conniving hunchback but was following earlier Tudor writers such as Sir Thomas More. For centuries, his body was considered lost until it was discovered under a Leicester car park where once had stood the church!

This was the last published of his main history plays, written in 1599. However, the events of the play are actually surprisingly accurate. The implication that Henry went to war because the French teased him with tennis balls is, of course, a fanciful invention and he omits the presence of a French cavalry charge at Agincourt due the limitations of portraying this on stagebut the events in the play did occur largely as described by Shakespeare albeit over a longer period of time in reality.

Indeed, it is unfair to characterise the play as pro-war. This is in large part because of the context in which the play was written, with England preparing for a war against Ireland led by the Earl of Essex for which there was limited enthusiasm. Shakespeare also includes the real-life murder of French prisoners at Agincourt by Henry when it appeared the French were regrouping.

Although like the others the events are somewhat quickened, they are essentially correct.

  • A ruler who succeeds in creating such an image of himself will enjoy a fine reputation; and it will be difficult to plot against him or to attack him;
  • Here Richard is stabbed with a boar spear by the Earl of Richmond;
  • This philosophy seems to be a combination of Tudor and Machiavellian theories on the nature of kingship and power;
  • In constructing his history plays, Shakespeare most likely relied upon the Chronicles of Froissart, and, primarily, Holinshed, but he altered and embellished the material found in these sources.

Shakespeare often merged historical figures occupying the same position e. The most significant change, however, was the invention of the character Exton for the murder of Richard II — it is generally thought that Richard was left to starve to death, almost certainly on the orders of Bolingbroke who became Henry IV.

Although the events are mostly accurate, Shakespeare has been criticised for being too kind to Richard II. This is his only play written entirely in verse, making it a much more lyrical affair than some of his other works, thus imbuing Richard with a certain dignity that many feel he does not deserve.

Throughout, Richard is afforded great eloquence as he struggles to come to terms with what it means for him to lose the crown and he is forced to come to terms with the harsh realities of not being a divinely ordained king but a usurped man. Conclusion — Fact or Fiction?

William Shakespeare as Historian

Like anyone dramatising historical events, Shakespeare was not shy in changing things to suit dramatic purpose. The dialogue was elevated far above what would have been spoken at the time, events were quickened to tell a better story and characters were sometimes merged to make things simpler.

Shakespeare read the chronicles and captured the history as best he could but he was no historian — rather, he used history to find the human stories that made for great drama. Our pilot episode is going to be focused on Richard III himself and there is a Kickstarter campaign running throughout August 2017 to raise the funds needed to make this possible.

Please check us out here and see the great rewards you could get by pledging to donate to the animated show and see Richard III come to life in cartoon form.