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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: October ::
Off the Beaten Path
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0870.  Sunday, 30 October 1994.
 
From:           Robert George <
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Date:           Saturday, 29 Oct 1994 15:56:15 EST
Subject:        Off the beaten path
 
The recent conversations of Prospero, authorship, et al. have been both
fascinating and informative.  But as the moment (in the U.S., at any rate)
is filled with ghouls and silliness of the Hallowe'en season (as well as
this writer's date of birth--10/29), I choose to stray from the current
path and share the following from the "Style Plus" page of the 10/28/94
Washington Post.  The "Why Things Are" column runs every Friday.  Mr. Joel
Achenbach is the "answer man" to varied queries--some serious, some not so.
The transcript follows: Apologies in advance for any possible typos.
 
{Q: Why did Shakespeare write plays about Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI and
Henry VIII but not Henry VII?
 
 A: Shakespeare didn't write about every English king--it only seems that
way.  The Why staff is constantly getting the events of Henry VI Part 3
mixed up with the events of Henry IV Part 2, and we're extremely annoyed
Richard III isn't the sequel to Richard II.
  (Henry IV Part 1 is the sequel to Richard II -- which is why we
personally call Henry IV Part 1 "Richard II 2," the literary experts be
damned.)
  There is one way to understand Shakespeare's history plays in a single
nugget of near-wisdom:  Most of them were about the events leading up to
and including the Wars of of the Roses, a civil war that lasted for decades
in the 1400s.
  Shakespeare was writing at the end of the 1500s.  From his standpoint
the Wars of the Roses were roughly as far in the past as the American
Civil War is to us today, and similarly crucial to English history.  You
might say Shakespeare was the Ken Burns of his time.}
 
(...factual passage on the Henry plays hereby deleted.  Achenbach
continues...)
 
{  Henry VII didn't get a Shakespeare play because his reign was kind of
boring.  He ended the civil war.  Henry VII was part of the House of
Lancaster, which had been warring with the House of York for a century.
He married Elizabeth of York.  The Lancastrians and Yorks thus came
together in wedded bliss.  Good for England, bad for drama.  Shakepeare
was no dummy, he wasn't going to write a history play without lots of
swordplay, evisceration and fiery speeches about letting slip the dogs of
war.
  The Bard's writing (he also threw in the Henry VIII play near the end of
his career) helped explain the basis of the Tudor family's claim to the
crown.
  "It's almost a kind of propaganda for the ruling family," says
Georgianna Ziegler, reference librarian at the Folger Shakespeare
Library.
  Phyllis Rackin, an English professor at the University of Pennsylvania
who specializes in Shakespeare's histories, points out that Shakespeare
may have had a simple motive for writing about those kings:  They sold
tickets.
  "He thought people would want to come to see them and he thought he
could make money and make his reputation," Rackin says.
  Some people will write anything for a buck.}
 
Accompanying Achenbach's column is a cartoon that carries the caption,
"Big Soliloquy from "Henry VII" by that William Shakespeare."
 
{King (to Attendant):  "I decree an end to war & strife & melodrama!
Let us instead have calm, probity, family values, quality time with the
kids, bland cuisine, continuing adult education, cholesterol tests,
Lotto & performances by Up With People!"
 
Attendant:  "Cool"}
SHAKESPERians may critique the column with all the vigour they can muster
and with all the seriousness it demands. ;-)
 
Seasonal best wishes to all!
 
Robert George
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