Shakespeare is sometimes said to have invented the history play, but it is truer to say that he brought a new and simple genre to a high state of perfection. This is not to belittle his Greek and Roman histories (classed in the Folio as tragedies), but there had been such classical plays before. Shakespeare wrote ten English histories in all, listed in the Folio in the order of the reigns of the kings in their titles. The reign order was not the order of composition. The first tetralogy was written in 1590-3, in order of composition: Few hermits or confessors will pick up this book, but many contemporary readers are able to say that some of their most pleasant and vivid learning about the possibilities of human life has come to them through their experience of Shakespeare’s plays.
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Prof. Michael Alexander
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