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REWRITING HISTORY: EXPLORING THE INDIVIDUALITY OF SHAKESPEARE S HISTORY PLAYS PETER ROBERT ORFORD

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REWRITING HISTORY: EXPLORING THE INDIVIDUALITY OF SHAKESPEARE S HISTORY PLAYS by PETER ROBERT ORFORD A thesis submitted to The University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY The Shakespeare
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REWRITING HISTORY: EXPLORING THE INDIVIDUALITY OF SHAKESPEARE S HISTORY PLAYS by PETER ROBERT ORFORD A thesis submitted to The University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY The Shakespeare Institute The University of Birmingham January 2006 University of Birmingham Research Archive e-theses repository This unpublished thesis/dissertation is copyright of the author and/or third parties. The intellectual property rights of the author or third parties in respect of this work are as defined by The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 or as modified by any successor legislation. Any use made of information contained in this thesis/dissertation must be in accordance with that legislation and must be properly acknowledged. Further distribution or reproduction in any format is prohibited without the permission of the copyright holder. Abstract Rewriting History is a reappraisal of Shakespeare s history cycle, exploring its origins, its popularity and its effects before challenging its dominance on critical and theatrical perceptions of the history plays. A critical history of the cycle shows how external factors such as patriotism, bardolatory, character-focused criticism and the editorial decision of the First Folio are responsible for the cycle, more so than any inherent aspects of the plays. The performance history of the cycle charts the initial innovations made in the twentieth century which have affected our perception of characters and key scenes in the texts. I then argue how the cycle has become increasingly restrictive, lacking innovation and consequently undervaluing the potential of the histories. Having accounted for the history of the cycle to date, the second part of my thesis looks at the consequent effects upon each history play, and details how each play can be performed and analysed individually. I close my thesis with the suggestion that a compromise between individual and serial perceptions is warranted, where both ideas are acknowledged equally for their effects and defects. By broadening our ideas about these plays we can appreciate the dramatic potential locked within them. i Dedication Derick W. Orford In life, my father encouraged and provided for me to go to university, and I would never have started my PhD without his support. Since his death, I have endeavoured to honour his investment in me. This thesis is dedicated to his memory. Me thinks tis prize enough to be his son. (3HVI ) ii Acknowledgments I cannot imagine a better place to undertake a research degree than the Shakespeare Institute. I am indebted to the staff and students for their time, experience and camaraderie. Thanks must go to my supervisors. Pamela Mason guided me through the first year of research, helping me to find and establish my opinion amongst an overwhelming critical background. John Jowett has proved an exacting and rewarding supervisor, with an uncanny knack for always being right, and an endless supply of further reading suggestions. His support has been extensive, inspiring and vital, especially towards the close of my research. Additionally Rebecca White and Juliet Creese have provided administrative support above and beyond the call of duty. Martin Wiggins has been an inspiring mentor, with informative and constructive feedback. I have been fortunate in the excellent service I have experienced in the library. My thanks go to Jim Shaw and Kate Welch of the Shakespeare Institute library, as well as the staff of the Shakespeare Centre and the Birmingham Central library, for kindly providing me with help and advice, as well as a wealth of resources and reading to make the long winter evenings just fly by. Robert K. Sarlos incorrectly assumed that the readers of his essay would be able to understand German quotations: I am especially grateful therefore to Kerstin Woerster of the Shakespeare bookshop for translating these passages. Equally I am thankful to Richard Pearson for his time and insights into adapting the histories. I must also thank my friends and family for their support and proof-reading, for which thanks are also due to Jami Rogers and Andy Kesson from the Shakespeare Institute for their useful notes. Finally my greatest thanks must go to my wonderful wife Jodie. When I started my PhD I didn t even know her, now as I finish my thesis I don t know how I ever managed without her. For her unconditional support, both academic and emotional, I offer my eternal gratitude. iii Contents Abstract i. Dedication Acknowledgments Contents ii. iii. iv. List of Tables v. Introduction: Rewriting the Histories 01. Part One: Making the Cycle 17. Chapter One: 18. Critical Histories Chapter Two: 83. Theatre Histories (or: One Hundred Years of Multitude) Part Two: Breaking the Cycle 147. Chapter Three: 148. I am Myself Alone: Richard II, Henry V and Richard III Chapter Four: 184. Three Glorious Suns: Individuality in Henry VI Chapter Five: 227. Two Stars keep not their Motion in One Sphere: Henry IV Epilogue: 267. Other Histories: Beyond the Boundaries of the Cycle Appendices 309. Bibliography 312. iv List of Tables Table 1: Appendix 1 (p. 295) Appearances of Hal and Hotspur in Henry IV Part One Table 2: Appendix 2 (p. 296) Structural Comparison of Henry IV Part One and Two v Introduction: Rewriting the Histories Shakespeare might have written a great and closely integrated cycle of plays on English history from Richard II to Richard III. But he did not. He wrote eight plays, each capable of standing by itself, though to varying degrees related to others. 1 This comment, from Stanley Wells introduction to Richard II, offers a brief consideration of the phenomenon we now regard as Shakespeare s history cycle, a grand series of plays running from Richard II through the two parts of Henry IV to Henry V, then on through the three parts of Henry VI to its finale in Richard III. Wells analysis strikes a cautionary note, and contrasts the popular theory of the cycle with the practical experience of presenting any one of these eight plays alone on the stage. But the context of the comment itself provides a contradictory interpretation, for the introduction, along with Wells edition of the play, has since been repackaged in 1994 amongst an edition of Shakespeare s histories, presenting what was once an individual text alongside Henry IV Part One, Henry IV Part Two and Henry V. No rationale was given in the collected edition for why these plays should have been presented together, save a cursory note on the back cover which claimed that while Each play possesses its own distinctive mood, tone and style [ ] together they inhabit the period of change from the usurpation of Richard II by Bolingbroke to the triumph [ ] of heroic kingship in Henry V. The balanced views of Wells edition were absorbed into a larger volume with little explanation: in this example the concept of the cycle has absorbed the individual presentation into its larger framework. 2 1 Stanley Wells, ed., William Shakespeare, Richard II, New Penguin Shakespeare (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), p Stanley Wells and others, eds, William Shakespeare, Four Histories: Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, Henry V, New Penguin Shakespeare (London: Penguin, 1994) In the pages that follow I shall explore the theories surrounding the history cycle: its beginning, its justification and the consequent effects upon our critical and theatrical perception of each drama. My thesis comes at a curious time when to argue for the individuality of the plays is to be in the minority. For many centuries discussions of links between the history plays were sporadic and brief, and on stage the histories were performed individually, but my argument must be read in the wake of an incredible revolution which has taken place in our approach to Shakespeare s history plays. It is astounding that the first history cycle on the English stage can be as recent as 1901, and yet the idea of a continuing saga stretching from the narrative of Richard II through the reign of kings to Richard III has now monopolised the way in which we approach and appreciate these eight plays. I do not wish to suggest that the plays cannot be performed as a cycle; indeed, while reviewing the many productions of the history cycle on the English stage, I have been able to appreciate the pioneering spirit and exploration of themes which some of these productions have offered. Equally, however, I have also seen the strain and limitations that a cycle can inflict upon individual plays and characters: the plays are unfairly accused of having poor structure, weak characterisation and no conclusion and are thus considered as inferior to Shakespeare s other works. When the English Shakespeare Company presented their history cycle, The Wars of the Roses, in the late 1980s, the director Michael Bogdanov noted the unsatisfactory consequences of presenting epic Shakespeare: The problem with getting even 75% of The Wars of the Roses right, however, is that while out of twenty-four hours eighteen might be - 2 - passable, that still leaves six whole hours that are naff! That s two whole plays! 3 Bogdanov identified the feat of producing twenty-four hours of sustained high-quality drama as too much to expect from a director; ultimately some of the production would be below standard. Unfortunately, what can seem to be just a dull patch from the director s viewpoint of the complete cycle, can, from an audience perspective, translate to an entire evening at the theatre. The sheer length of an epic cycle can prove to be a deterrent to many audiences; Michael Ewans notes of Aeschylus tetralogy, Oresteia, that These plays present an almost intolerable challenge to any subsequent dramatist; for [ ] such uncompromising works have never since proved capable of holding the attention of a mass audience in the west. 4 The presentation of a large amount of material under the pretence of a coherent unit can prove too arduous an undertaking for some, especially when they are presented, as the RSC has chosen to do on numerous occasions, as all-day marathons. Robert Shaughnessy rightly comments that Attending a morning to midnight cycle of histories [ ] is a day s work rather than a good night out. 5 Furthermore, the presentation of the plays as a continuous whole can weaken the clarity of each individual play. Criticism of the histories as an endless repetition of battles arises from a consideration of them as one story, rather than individual dramas of a common genre. The history parody 1066 and All That accordingly offers the following summary of the reign of Richard II: Richard II was only a boy at his accession: one day, however, suspecting that he was now twenty-one, he asked his uncle and, on learning that he was, mounted the throne himself and tried first being 3 Michael Bogdanov and Michael Pennington, The English Shakespeare Company (London: Nick Hern, 1990), p Michael Ewans, Wagner and Aeschylus: The Ring and the Oresteia (London: Faber and Faber, 1982), p Robert Shaughnessy, Representing Shakespeare: England, History and the RSC (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1994), p a Good King and then being a Bad King, without enjoying either very much: then, being told that he was unbalanced, he got off the throne again in despair, exclaiming gloomily: For God s sake let me sit on the ground and tell bad stories about cabbages and things. Whereupon his cousin Lancaster (spelt Bolingbroke) quickly mounted the throne and said he was Henry IV Part I. 6 Though intentionally elaborating upon points of confusion, the passage nonetheless highlights some of the barriers which prevent an audience from understanding the histories; we find it difficult to extract the plot of one individual play without becoming confused by the wealth of events, characters and names which permeate the entire cycle: Lancaster is Bolingbroke is Henry IV Part I. But to what extent is such confusion selfinflicted? Gary Taylor suggests that confusion and concerns of inconsistencies within the histories bother us less if we respond to the plays not as fragments of a tetralogy but as whole, individual plays. 7 I would argue that any criticism of structure or clarity in the histories may be remedied if we were to focus on each play individually rather than in the context of a grand saga. To offer a parallel, suppose a student unfamiliar with Shakespeare was presented with a summary of ten tragedies in one lesson. If that student were then asked later that day to define Macbeth, he would have difficulty differentiating between the many similarities of event and character that the tragedies as a corpus present: Banquo s ghost might become confused with that of Hamlet s father, the villainess of Lady Macbeth with Tamora, Macbeth s doubts with those of Brutus. By presenting all of these plays as one group, the task of discerning the individual characters and events of each individual drama is going to be rendered more difficult, regardless of genre. 6 W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, 1066 and All That (London: Methuen, 1930), pp Gary Taylor, The Fortunes of Oldcastle, Shakespeare Survey, 38 (1985), (p. 87) The question of conclusion is a matter which, at first glance, seems to differentiate the histories from the other plays in the canon: at its most simple level, comedies are plays with happy endings, tragedies have sad endings, whilst histories appear to have no ending. David Oyelowo remembers the reaction of the audience to the close of Michael Boyd s Henry VI Part One in 2000: The main reason I loved hanging back to watch that ending was to see the wave of disappointment and anticipation that rippled through the audience as they realised that the lights were going down and they would have to wait till Part II to see what happens. 8 Oyelowo summarises the key emotions that the apparent inconclusiveness of the histories evokes: disappointment and anticipation. The dissatisfaction that many feel with the lack of closure each play offers is answered by anticipating the next instalment. Challenging this theory, David Scott Kastan discusses the open-endedness of the histories as a key element of their form and structure, arguing that it is organically related to the perception of historical time : Individual actions may be brought to completion, but the openendedness of the history play recognises the impossibility of isolating the action from its place on the temporal continuum. 9 Kastan believes the plays actions rest in a historic, not a dramatic context, and specifically rejects the view that any inconclusiveness in the plays suggests merely their organisation into the two so-called tetralogies (p. 51), yet he is outnumbered by the 8 David Oyelowo, Actors on Shakespeare: Henry VI Part One, (London; Faber and Faber, 2003), p David Scott Kastan, The Shapes of Time (London: MacMillan, 1982), p many critics who have drawn precisely on the open-endedness of the histories as a means of determining the need for a sequel or series. This reading in turn has fostered an inability to appreciate each play on its own merit, and as a consequence, the histories are criticised for their poor structure. Robert C. Jones counters this by arguing that there is a difference between a form that calls attention to its inconclusiveness and an absence of any form at all. 10 I believe that the quick-fix cure of using a sequel to conclude a history play has disabled us from appreciating how an individual history may achieve closure by itself. Our reliance upon a continuing narrative to link the plays has consequently drawn our focus towards a narrative conclusion, whereas we may find greater satisfaction by searching within the boundaries of each play for character growth, or a thematic resolution, rather than national actions. I also believe that whilst our reliance on sequels has focused attention on the openendedness of the histories, they offer no less conclusion than Shakespeare s other plays. Indeed, if we were to work through the other plays of the canon, there would be very few that could be said to have a satisfactory conclusion; Macbeth ends without fulfilling the witches prophecy concerning Banquo s sons, Twelfth Night leaves Malvolio s revenge unresolved, and Hamlet ends with the royal family dead and a former invader on the throne. But these plays are successfully presented alone precisely because we do not concern ourselves with the greater context of each play, nor do we expect the plot to continue after the end of the fifth act. Paulina Kewes challenges the assumption that history plays use a range of strategies which prompt the audience to look beyond the 10 Robert C. Jones, These Valiant Dead: Remembering the Past in Shakespeare s Histories (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991), p. xvi confines of the play and contemplate the broader historical significance of the plot by querying why the same contemplation does not occur with the Roman plays: Why should these assumptions hold true for representations of the native past, which thus earn the label history plays, and not for those dealing with foreign matter, which, perforce, must be labelled tragedies? 11 The concept of open-endedness is one that can be asked of all Shakespeare s plays, but is specifically asked of the histories not because it is more apparent in them, but because we ourselves approach these plays with a different mentality: we look for aspects of history itself in the plays. If we focus on the here and now, rather than what is to come, we can find moments of great drama in the history plays. Accusations of inconclusiveness in each of the histories can be best answered with an individual production; equally, the majority of open endings in the histories at the theatre are present only because of the desire to continue the story in a following play. As an example, take two productions of Richard II from recent years: the first, by Michael Attenborough at The Other Place in 2000, and the second by Tim Carroll at the Globe Theatre in The 2000 production was offered as part of the RSC s This England season, so the ending was deliberately incomplete. David Troughton s Bolingbroke, left alone on stage, began to recite Richard s speech from the tower, linking himself with the tragic king, and ending with an indication that further resolution was necessary: 11 Paulina Kewes, The Elizabethan History Play: A True Genre? in A Companion to Shakespeare s Works, ed. by Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard, 4 vols (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), II (The Histories), pp , (p. 178) I have been studying how I may compare This prison where I live unto the world; And for because the world is populous, And here is not a creature but myself, I cannot do it. Yet I ll hammer it out. ( ) The production left the character alone, weeping on stage; the tone was foreboding and suggested that the tragedy was to continue, encouraging the audiences to see Troughton continue the role in Henry IV Part One. In contrast the Globe s production of Richard II was not performed as part of a cycle, and the ending left no dissatisfaction. Richard was the play s tragic figure, and his death a conclusion of the narrative. After he died, and Bolingbroke had lamented, all of the cast entered the stage and took part in a jig to mark the end of the play. As part of this, Richard and Bolingbroke took hands and danced together at the front of the stage. The dance showed Bolingbroke and Richard in harmony, and provided an upbeat conclusion to the production. The audience applauded and left satisfied, without the feeling that they needed to return to see the story continued. The unresolved ending which Troughton s solitary, weeping king brought to the RSC production was not an inherent part of the play, but a construct which sought to incorporate the play into a cycle. However, what concerns me most of all is the level of faith which so many critics and theatre practi
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