Historical drama at She Reads Novels

Helen of She Reads Novels does a monthly “Historical Musings” post about “all things historical fiction.” This always brings up some interesting topic for consideration, making me think about the intersection of history and literature.

This month she asks about plays based on historical events (not based on novels, e.g. Les Miserables — but directly inspired “historical drama,” as it were). Have you read or seen any such plays to recommend? I thought of a few, but I’d love to know what you come up with!

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7 thoughts on “Historical drama at She Reads Novels

  1. I love historical dramas. Among my favorites: Shakespeare‘s „histories“ (including the plays he actually designed as tragedies, such as the Roman plays, Richard II, Richard III and King John); Josephine Tey‘s responses to Shakespeare, written under the name Gordon Daviot (Richard of Bordeaux, Dickon), and three plays made into movies, Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, Goldman’s The Lion in Winter, and Anouilh‘s Becket. Some of these, especially Shakespeare‘s plays, take considerable liberties with the historical facts, but they all transcend the idea of a mere history lesson and focus on the human drama and the personalities and conflicts of their protagonists instead, which is ultimately what great theatre is all about.

    1. I’ve read and loved several books by Josephine Tey (including The Daughter of Time, about Richard III) but I wasn’t aware of her historical dramas. I’m sure those would be very interesting too.

      1. I‘m sure you‘d enjoy them. If you‘ve read „The Daughter of Time“, you know her take on Richard III — in „Dickon“ she essentially elaborates on that and tells his life story (or part of it) from his point of view, the way she imagines it to have happened instead of the version popularized by Shakespeare and Thomas More. Similarly, „Richard of Bordeaux“ is a response to Shakespeare regarding the life of Richard II. (It was first produced to considerable success, with John Gielgud starring in the title role.) Btw, I have no idea whether Sharon Kay Penman was aware of „Dickon“ when she wrote „The Sunne in Splendour“, but I think she might have been. And there is little doubt that she had read „The Daughter of Time“.

  2. My mind was blank, other than Shakespeare, until I remembered seeing All the Way, starring Bryan Cranston, about the Civil Rights Voting Act of 1965. It was excellent but when you remember what the real people looked like, it is not completely satisfying to see actors who do not resemble them. I am sure there are others I have seen that I am forgetting.

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