Yan Brailowsky deposited Ab ovo or in medias res? Rewriting History for the Early Modern Stage Or, How Elizabethan History Plays Collapsed Referentiality on Humanities Commons 3 years, 3 months ago
Shakespeare’s representations of history often have replaced history itself in the popular imagination: Julius Caesar, Margaret of Anjou, Henry V, Richard III — popular recollections of their lives and deaths are intimately linked with Shakespeare’s accounts of their stories, despite the playwright’s deviations from historical facts. In order to “make” history through the power of words, as suggested by the Prologue of Henry V, Elizabethan history plays continuously altered history, deviating both from facts and classical rules of dramatic writing. This contribution will discuss the several referential crises created and embodied by Elizabethan history plays, showing how Shakespeare’s disregard for the rules of mimesis inherited from Aristotle, and from the rules of historiographic writing, allowed the dramatist as well as his contemporaries to rival and challenge God’s Creation — much to the dismay of Puritan antitheatricalists. Elizabethan history plays made and unmade history, providing competing accounts of the past, using anachronism to express their nostalgia for a past which, even when it is relived on stage, remains but an “airy nothing”.