Shakespeare’s History Plays

As an English teacher and a British citizen I am aware that I am a cliche and biased when I say I LOVE Shakespeare. His writing is simply beautiful and his narratives and plots are still relevant today; you only have to watch a soap opera, or in some cases a Disney film, to see this is true. Unfortunately he has become a much hated and feared name among the vast majority of those who studied him at school, and this is a challenge I look forward to overcoming in my teaching career. However this post is not about that, it is about The History Plays.

As with most people I am familiar with Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies. The National Curriculum in England states that all pupils must study Shakespeare in every year of secondary education, and there are certain plays that are more popular than others, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to name but a few. But The History Plays are not ones that I have ever come across, heard discussed in detail, seen on telly etc…until now. All I can say is God Bless the BBC! They have produced the most amazing series, The Hollow Crown detailing four of Shakespare’s histories, focusing on various British Kings. It started a few weeks ago with Richard II played by the fantastic Ben Whishaw, who is going to be in the new James Bond. His portrayal of the king was superb, and left me eagerly awaiting the next installment. Henry IV Part One did not disappoint. I finally discovered which play the infamous Falstaff is in and learnt about a period in British history I knew very little about. (I am currently reading Philippa Gregory’s The Lady of the Rivers so I am on Henry VI, and it is interesting learning about his family’s rise to the throne. Due to a manic weekend I missed Henry IV Part Two, so I will be Iplayer-ing that tonight and then next week is the final episode with Henry V.

This series has reawakened my love of historical fiction and has me reaching for the history books, and the brilliant Divorced, Beheaded, Died book on all the Kings and Queens of Great Britain to top up my trivia. The cast in the episodes I have viewed so far have been fantastic, and there are so many legendary and well respected actors in this series that it is a joy to watch every second. Yes it is bloody and gory in places, but we all know history has it’s murky moments, so I was expecting some gruesome battles. I am only sad that it is not really on primetime TV, but is on BBC 2, and it even got booted down the schedule because Wimbledon overran, which I think did not do the series the justice it deserves. Hopefully below I will be able to attach a youtube trailer for the series, but I strongly urge everyone to get on to BBC Iplayer and check this out if you haven’t already been following it.

Now although I know very little about The History Plays I did study Richard III at university, and I am ridiculously over excited about the fact I am going to see this play performed at The Globe in August. I can’t wait! I love The Globe Theatre and have been several times, the most memorable one was a performance of Macbeth in 2010, which was brilliantly spooky and well acted. I was a groundling for that performance and had to poke my head out of a black sheet which was used to create atmosphere. The witches were walking around under the sheet scaring the audience, so thank god I didn’t go to see it in the evening – the dark and the creeping about would have scared me to death. My Mum is coming with me this time and it will be her first experience of The Globe, so I am excited for her too.

This is quickly becoming a history obsessed summer, but I am certainly not complaining!