Of all Shakespeare’s plays, only four have plots which originate with him: Love’s Labour’s Lost, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merry Wives of Windsor and The Tempest. These are comedies, and there are written sources for parts of them. But the ten English histories, although taken from the prose chronicles of Holinshed and others, are, as a group, a most original achievement on a very large scale, feeding the Elizabethans’ appetite for plays about the turbulent history of their country. Shakespeare’s histories convert the chronicles’ often ramshackle historical narratives into drama of high quality. These history plays have also had far more offspring than Shakespeare’s comedy and tragedy, giving England an abstract and brief chronicle of its ideas of late medieval England, and providing a prototype for Walter Scott’s invention of the historical novel, and for all the historical fiction that has followed Scott.
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