Shakespeare’s histories and counter-histories

In the Renaissance, the archetype for history was the classical muse Clio, a much-painted figure in an era when the 'history painting' was one of the predominant genres in European visual art. One Renaissance dramatist and poet who never made reference to Clio was William Shakespeare. This book is about official and unofficial versions of the past, histories and counter-histories, in Shakespeare's works and their subsequent appropriations. It builds on a long period in which those of us working in literary and theatre studies have developed an awareness of the extent to which conventional recreations of the past are mediated through the fictionalising structures of narrative. The book explores how the history plays construct counter-historical representations of the dead. It argues that the 'dislocutionary' threat of grief and the performance of the suffering body is a version of the kind of spectator/spectre relationship drawn in any ritualised encounter with the cult of the ancestor. The book combines four historicist readings which explore counter-histories in the early modern period. It examines the relationship between Shakespeare's history plays and alternative dynastic histories. The book also explores questions of history and identity, particularly as they can be configured through performance. It challenges the view that women become progressively marginalised across the histories by arguing that Shakespeare's warlike women enact a power onstage which forces us to rethink official, patriarchal history.

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