History and Tragedy in Richard II
How valid is the distinction between history and tragedy in Richard II?
An attempt to sort Shakespeare's plays into neat categories may appear to have its benefits when striving to understand his work, but even a superficial reading of Richard II indicates that this approach is largely futile and sometimes misleading. While it cannot be doubted that the play is of a historical nature, based on events recorded in Holinshed's Chronicles of 1577 and named after an actual king, a sense of true Shakespearean tragedy is also present throughout. Instead of trying to analyse or appreciate the differences between these two forms, it is more interesting to understand how they complement each other. Shakespeare vividly brings the past to life in Richard II, and it is surely the careful mingling of historical fact and tragic elements that is responsible for the great dramatic value of the play.
Knowledge of the period of history from which the play is drawn means that the audience is prepared for Richard's fate, for example, and this only serves to illuminate the tragic inevitability of his downfall. The audience is aware that Richard II is only the first in a series of history plays, and will be followed by Henry IV (parts one...
Join Now to View Premium Content
GradeSaver provides access to 726 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 4228 literature essays, 1406 sample college application essays, 171 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.
Already a member? Log in