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SHAKESPEARE'S KINGS by John Julius Norwich

SHAKESPEARE'S KINGS

The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages: 1337-1485

By John Julius Norwich

Pub Date: March 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-684-81434-X
Publisher: Scribner

Noted historian Norwich (Byzantium, 1989, etc.) takes a brilliantly nuanced look at the relations between England’s kings

and Shakespeare’s plays. Studying only the plays known collectively as the "histories" (and thus omitting King John), he uses

his immense knowledge of English and European history to illuminate the historical background of the plays and to offer an

intriguing look at England in the years of Shakespeare’s writing. Norwich’s analysis of Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry

VI, and Richard III emphasizes factors Shakespeare added for dramatic effect (such as the famed "winter of our discontent"

speech, written for Richard III to deliver during the summer of 1477) and his equally strategic omissions (e.g., the bands of idle

soldiers roaming through the English countryside in 1414 whom Henry V would have to employ in a war so as to avert the unrest

they would otherwise cause at home). Norwich notes other realities Shakespeare recast more subtly, transforming France’s Charles

VI from a doddering fool to a wise voice of reason against the rash voice of Louis, the Dauphin, for example, in order to portray

Henry V’s war against France as just and reasonable. And he reminds us that the historical Richard III was not the hunchback

of Shakespeare but a "great and good man of perfectly normal physique, the fine administrator and far-sighted law giver."

Entrancing historical interpretation, perfectly cast. (Color and b&w illus.)