Playing the Past

May 2001
205 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9780859916158
Format: Hardback
BISAC LIT015000, LIT013000

Playing the Past

Approaches to English Historical Drama, 1385-1600

Benjamin Griffin

The history plays of the late 16th century are shown as neither a Shakespearean nor an Elizabethan invention, but as a development of medieval drama.
Two overlapping areas of English historical drama are examined in this study. The first is the large group of plays dramatising the lives of powerful people in the past of the English nation (native-subject drama), from the end of the fourteenth century to the end of the sixteenth, and the second is the select group of these plays produced in the 1580s, at the height of their flourishing. Griffin charts the development of historical drama from the Mass and Saint plays on Thomas Becket, through the Reformation and its legacy, to the later history plays, showing that the history play is neither Shakespeare's nor an Elizabethan invention, but has its roots in medieval drama. The use made by Shakespeare and Marlowe of the various types of historical drama - the sacrificial, the festive and the formless genealogical - is discussed, and the decline of the history play examined, reviewing and amending critical explanations of the extinction of the genre.BENJAMIN GRIFFIN was educated at the University of California, Berkeley, and Cambridge University.


The first extended critical treatment of the early modern history play form since Ribner (1957)... a valuable extension of the field and a tempting overview of the different directions taken in 17th-century historical drama. NOTES AND QUERIES