Playing the Past: Approaches to English Historical Drama, 1385-1600

Playing the Past: Approaches to English Historical Drama, 1385-1600


By (author) Benjamin Griffin


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  • Publisher: D.S. Brewer
  • Format: Hardback | 208 pages
  • Dimensions: 160mm x 238mm x 24mm | 481g
  • Publication date: 1 August 2001
  • Publication City/Country: Cambridge
  • ISBN 10: 0859916154
  • ISBN 13: 9780859916158
  • Illustrations note: Cloth over boards

Product description

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.

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Author information

Dr BENJAMIN GRIFFIN was a post-graduate student at Magdalene College, Cambridge.

Review quote

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

Table of contents

Prolegomena to the study of the history play; saint, sacrifice and reformation; the festive victories; "formlessness" and historical drama; history plays of the 1590s; "which oft our stage hath shown".