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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2010

E 392M • Shakespeare's History Plays

Unique Days Time Location Instructor


Course Description

Meeting time, location: (Official course schedule)

The English history play, a genre Shakespeare virtually invented, was perhaps the most distinctive cultural production of the Elizabethan age. Shakespeare turned the chronicle accounts of medieval dynastic struggles into vivid examinations of politics, power, family, war, and kingship. The plays' relevance to Elizabethan political concerns was so apparent as to be positively dangerous. In the past century, these plays have again become central in Shakespeare's work, both as compelling dramas in themselves, and as opportunities for staging provocative questions about social conflict.


We will read all of Shakespeare's English histories, but will focus on the two groups of plays sometimes known as the first and second tetralogies (Henry VI-Richard III; Richard II-Henry V). One question we will address is the utility of considering these plays as individual works or as epic cycles relating a grand narrative of English history, a "Tudor myth." We will study how the plays both endorse and subvert Elizabethan state power. We will also consider Marlowe's Edward II, and possibly one or two other non-Shakespearean history plays. We will pay particular attention to issues of religious conflict in conjunction with the Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies.

While our focus will be on the plays themselves, we will also consider Shakespeare’s chronicle sources, and the competing views of history that lie behind the plays: a conservative notion of divine providence and a radical, Machiavellian examination of pragmatic politics. We will also consider the plays’ changing meanings in stage and film performance, and in Shakespeare criticism. Our reading will include critical works ranging from E. M. W. Tillyard and Jan Kott to Stephen Greenblatt, Phyllis Rackin, Alan Sinfield, and Barbara Hodgdon, among others.


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