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Much of the tetralogy's historical information is based on the
chronicles written by Halle and Holinshed that not only
documented British history but offered an interpretation that
Shakespeare often relied on. It is important to note that while
Shakespeare relied on historical facts and events of this period, he
also interpreted them with quite a bit of latitude and therefore,
these plays are more fictitious than historical documents and often
focus on the tragedy of one particular character rather than
covering the historical events that make up history. Although the
cast of these plays is numerous and often confusing, Shakespeare
concentrates only on a handful who carry over from play to play.
Time lapses have been compressed and characters and
relationships developed in depth in order to not only create
dramatic interest, but to also present a view of history that is
particularly Shakespearian in nature.
The events covered in these four plays span over sixty years and
are marked by conventional scenes of battles, rivalry, and revenge
killings, yet they are also marked by more unconventional scenes
as those particularly unreal or supernatural such as the sighting of
three suns at the beginning of Act II in Henry VI, Part 3. These
scenes are trademarks of Shakespearian drama and that which
gives his historical accounts a rare and mesmerizing beauty.
Because of the nationalistic and patriotic nature of the time,
historical plays were all the rage during Elizabethan England.
Tudor England was enjoying peace and prosperity and glory in its
achievements and plays were often staged to increase this feeling
of pride and satisfaction. Although Shakespeare was not
particularly taken with the genre, he did produce many of them in
his lifetime. Many of them can be interpreted as being anti-war and
reveal the suffering that occurs on and off the battlefield during
times of social and political unrest. This tetralogy contain his
earliest attempts at historical plays and while they may be wanting
in some areas such as stage transitions and eloquent dialogue, this
series of plays ends in the first of his masterpieces, Richard III.
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