Saturday, September 29, 2012

Comps Installment 1

It is the start of a new semester. Actually, we are already a few weeks in. I've been devoting the last few weeks to shoring up one of my comps lists on the Early Modern English History Play. So the blog has been a bit quiet of reading responses. I'll be adding a reading response post over the weekend or early next week on some of the Henry VI's, but in the meantime I'd like to share how this list is shaping up.

Shakespeare really corners the market of the English history play. He tops my list by more than ten to one, if we also include those he likely co-authored. I'm excited to be able to order some of these texts on Amazon and others I have access to via EEBO (Early English Books Online).

Shakespeare, William.
1 Henry VI2 Henry VI3 Henry VIRichard IIIRichard II1 Henry IV2 Henry IVHenry VHenry VIIIKing John
And the plays that have been engulfed in the authorship debate lately:
Edward III (New Cambridge Shakespeare)Sir Thomas More (Arden Shakespeare)
And in the firmly, non-Shakespeare camp:
Marlowe, Christoper. Edward II.Ford, John. Perkin Warbeck.Heywood, Thomas. The First and Second Parts of King Edward IV. (EEBO / Revels Plays)
Peele, George. Edward I (c. 1591) (EEBO)
Anonymous. The True Chronicle History of King Leir. (c. 1590)
--. Famous Victories of Henry V.--. Thomas of Woodstock. (Revels Plays)
I'm a little on the fence about including King Leir, but it is billed as a "True Chronicle History" so it seems worth it to have on there at the moment. I can always delete it later on.

I'm really intrigued by adding the following series of poems to my list. Although they don't fit neatly into the category of "history play," it seems clear that they were influential to many of the plays written in this period.
Baldwin, William et al. Mirror for Magistrates. (EEBO)
Since I am also focusing on performance in my dissertation, I have acquired a few of the following already. Some are films, some are filmed stage productions, some I have yet to find but am hoping they are available.
The Hollow Crown. Dir. Richard Eyre and Rupert Goold. BBC, 2012. 
The Wars of the Roses. Perf. Michael Pennington. BBC and English Shakespeare Company, 1989. 
Wars of the Roses. Dir. John Barton and Peter Hall. Perf. David Warner and Ian Holm. Royal Shakespeare Company, 1965.
An Age of Kings. Perf. Robert Hardy, Sean Connery, and Judi Dench. BBC Worldwide, 2009.
Edward II. Dir. Derek Jarman. Perf. Steven Waddington, Kevin Collings, and Andrew Tiernan. Sales Company, 1991. 
Edward II. Dir. Richard Marquand and Tony Robertson. Perf. Ian McKellen and James Laurenson. BBC Worldwide, 2009. 
Richard II. Dir. William Woodman. Perf. David Birney. Bard Productions Ltd., 1982. (Just ordered on eBay!)
I know there is also a 1971 production with Ian McKellen as Richard II, but I have not been able to track that down anywhere. I also believe I found some copies of the NBC Hallmark Hall of Fame TV production (1954) starring Maurice Evans. University of Delaware, UT Austin and UC Berkeley libraries have copies according to I also think I can get a copy of the 1997 production of Richard II starring Fiona Shaw at the NYPL. Included in the BBC Complete Shakespeare Collection should be the 1978 Richard II with Derek Jacobi as Richard. If so, I'll be ordering that on eBay as well.

We're going to need a bigger bookshelf.


  1. Be careful about "corners the market." Certainly in terms of fame and production, but there are many more non-Shakespearean than Shakespearean history plays, esp. if we count lost plays the titles of which survive. Have you seen the "Lost Plays Database"?

  2. Sorry wrong link --

  3. It sure seems though that most authors wrote only one or two English histories. As an individual, Shakespeare is pretty prolific. Are there other authors that I'm missing who wrote so many? I guess that's partly what I meant by "corners the market" -- certainly he's cornered the market of my list here.

  4. RIght, but it's a generational thing, don't forget. By the time Shakespeare got around to Henry V (and probably 2 Henry IV), history, both as print and as drama, was coming under increasing scrutiny by the powers that be. One of the best theories for the difference between Q Henry V and F Henry V, for instance, is that much of the text became politically inconvenient either after composition, or between performance and composition, and that's right around the end of the 1590s.

    By the time we start seeing Middleton, Fletcher, and Decker ascendant on the EM stage, city plays (comedies and tragedies) were on the rise, and different tastes in entertainment were (apparently) in favor. You can see this in Shakespeare's own work: Henry VIII (and arguably Cymbeline) is a history play, but are markedly different from the earlier histories. My guess is that battle field exploits lost most of the allure the Armada victory might have given them after the disasters in Ireland, and an English History play is, at its core, a chance for lots of guys with swords to fight one another.

    Which is all to say that if you're looking for prolific writers of English histories, I suggest looking in the 1590s, and starting with the most prolific writer of the period: Mr. Anonymous.

  5. I really like the Derek Jarman Edward II. I have it on VHS somewhere but it's now in fairly ragged shape. Luckily, it's on YouTube in its entirety on a whole Jarman channel (?!) I was always struck by it's very stark and shadowy style, a style that I can't help but think that Richard Eyre tried to appropriate for his BBC version of Lear with Ian Holm. (Also, the whole production is on YouTube. Wow, what a Science Fiction time we live in, ehh?) I think that Jarman succeeded in presenting the story of the doomed king very much in the manner of the dark nightmare that Marlowe seemed to evoke in the text. The cast is terrific, with an especially strong early showing of Tilda Swinton. So... yeah... I liked this Edward II.

    Glad you're having fun with your collection.


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