Changing Histories - Rethinking the Early Modern History Play


King’s College London, hosted by the London Shakespeare Centre, 4th–5th July 2019

Confirmed plenary speakers: Tracey Hill (Bath Spa University); Paulina Kewes (University of Oxford); and Emma Smith (University of Oxford)

Detail from ‘A True Chronology of all the Kings of England from Brute’ (c.1635)

We are delighted to announce that registration for Changing Histories: Rethinking the early modern history play is now open. Please click here to register.

The conference fees are:
• £25/day (Standard Rate)
• £15/day (Concessionary Rate: for students or unsalaried delegates)

Changing Histories is a two-day conference that aims to offer a reappraisal of the early modern history play.  Critical accounts of the “history play” have tended to concentrate on the categorization of plays in Shakespeare’s First Folio and to define the genre as the dramatization of medieval English monarchical history. However, early modern dramatists, audiences, publishers, and readers looked far beyond Shakespeare and these parameters.  Changing Histories seeks to explore the application of the term “history” during the period, question enduring critical views of historical drama, and examine the interconnections between texts representing a range of different pasts – including classical, biblical, pre-Christian British, European, Middle Eastern, and recent histories.

Changing Histories offers a rich programme of contributions from UK-based and international scholars, and includes keynote papers from Tracey Hill (Bath Spa), Paulina Kewes (Oxford), Emma Smith (Oxford), and Emma Whipday (Newcastle). It also features a practice-as-research performance workshop, led by James Wallace, Artistic Director of The Dolphin’s Back, which will explore how casting, staging, and reading practices can help shape our understanding of early modern historical drama.

A draft programme is available on our website.
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Changing Histories is generously supported by grants from the London Shakespeare Centre, the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at KCL, and the Society for Renaissance Studies.


Provisional Programme 

Day 1: 4th July

9:00 – 9:30 Registration

9:30 – 10:30 Keynote 1

Paulina Kewes (University of Oxford) – ‘Hamlet and the Staging of Danish History’

10:30 – 11:50 Panel 1: Originating Histories

Romola Nuttall (King’s College London) – ‘Mythical history and historic myth: Thomas Hughes’ The Misfortunes of Arthur’

Fraser McIlwraith (University of Oxford) – ‘An entrance for all disorders’: Macbeth and the Jacobean response to Robert Persons’s A Conference about the Next Succession to the Crown of England (1594/5)’

Sofie Kluge (University of Southern Denmark) – ‘Problematizing History: Lope de Vega’s Columbus-Play and Dramatic Historiography in Golden Age Spain’

11:50 – 12:50 Lunch

12:50 – 14:10 Panel 2: Playing Histories

Stephen Longstaffe (University of Nottingham) – ‘After Shakespeare: William Kemp and the medieval English history play’

Elizabeth Tavares (Pacific University Oregon) – ‘Men on Wire; or, The Queen’s Players and Their Extratheatricals’

Gerit Quealy (Independent Scholar) – ‘Duelling Histories: Insights and Insults from Philip Sidney to Thomas Nashe’

14:10 – 15:30 Panel 3: Speaking/Feeling Histories

Ann Kaegi (University of Hull) – ‘Traumatic Histories: Replaying the past on the English Renaissance stage’

Molly Clark (University of Oxford) – ‘Histories Transformed: Subversive verse form from Horestes to Edward IV’

David Hasberg Zirak-Schmidt (Aarhus University) – ‘“Sad Stories of the Death of Kings”: A Computationally Assisted Approach to Mourning in Shakespeare’s History Plays’

15:30 – 15:50 Coffee/Tea

15:50 – 17:10 Panel 4: Counselling Histories

Lorna Wallace (University of Stirling) – ‘Classical Counsel as Negative Example in Matthew Gwinne’s Nero’

Nicolas Thibault (Sorbonne Université) – ‘“What’s done was with advice enough”: Questioning the authority of the royal word in four late Elizabethan histories’

Nicole Mennell (University of Sussex) – ‘Natural History in the History Plays: The Case of the Lion King’

17:10 – 18:10 Keynote 2

Tracey Hill (Bath Spa University) – ‘“Bones of mee then I haue heard lyes": Civic history and the invention of Dick Whittington’

Wine reception

Day 2: 5th July

9:00 – 10:00 Keynote 3

Emma Smith (University of Oxford) – ‘True History: Tautology or Paradox?’

10:00 – 11:20 Panel 5: Fragmenting Histories

Jessica Chiba (Royal Holloway University) – ‘To the ending of the world’: The World-Historical perspective in Henry V’

Felicity Brown (University of Oxford) – ‘“Various historie”: The Misfortunes of Arthur’

Johannes Schlegel (University Würzburg) – ‘“Turning th’accomplishment of many years / Into an hour-glass”: Relating History in King Henry V’

11:20 – 11:40 Coffee/Tea

11:40 – 13:00 Panel 6: Stuart-ing Histories

Warren Chernaik (King’s College London) – ‘History as Warning: Middleton, Massinger, and the Censors’

Jitka Štollová (University of Oxford) – ‘Shaping Richard III after Shakespeare’

Martin Moraw (Boǧaziçi University) – ‘Middleton’s Aleatory Allegory’

13:00 – 13:50 Lunch

13:50 – 15:10 Panel 7: Sourcing Histories

Kit Heyam (University of Plymouth) – ‘Christopher Marlowe as historiographer: Shaping early modern narratives of Edward II’

Niall Allsopp (University of Exeter) – ‘Contingency and Consent: 1660s Heroic Dramas as History Plays’

Andrew Duxfield (University of Liverpool) – ‘“so honourable and stately a historie”: Tamburlaine the Great and Narrative Verse History’

15:10 – 16:40 Coffee/Tea and Workshop

The Dolphin’s Back: Henslowe’s Histories (led by James Wallace)

16:40 – 18:00 Panel 8: Performing/Refashioning Histories

Hailey Bachrach (King’s College London) – ‘Genre Trouble: How Female Characters Reshape Shakespeare’s Histories’

Jakub Boguszak (University of Southampton) – ‘Casting histories’

Hester Lees-Jeffries (University of Cambridge) – ‘“How it must have been”: History plays and the novels of Hilary Mantel’

18:00 – 19:00 Keynote 4

Emma Whipday (Newcastle University) – ‘“The most here present, know this to be true”: Domestic Tragedy as “Horrible” History’

Dinner (at Bryn Williams, Somerset House)


Critical accounts of the early modern “history play” have tended to use the classification of plays in Shakespeare’s First Folio to define the genre and align it with the dramatization of medieval English monarchical history. However, early modern dramatists, audiences, publishers, and readers looked far beyond these parameters. If our definition of the “history play” is expanded to incorporate a wider range of histories (including material that was believed to be historical), then the genre explodes both geographically and temporally. It would include, for example, classical history, biblical history, pre-Christian British history, European and Middle Eastern history, and recent history. This approach to the genre closely reflects how history was actually used, debated, and dramatized during the period, and draws attention to the connections and shared influences between plays engaging with very different historical subjects. It encourages a close examination of repertory patterns and evidence for lost plays (which have been overlooked in discussions of the history play) and raises crucial issues of reception, such as whether the agency for defining “history” ultimately lay with the individual spectators and readers of the plays. King Lear as an account of the lived past would appear very differently to a playgoer reliant on plays and ballads for their understanding for the past than it would to a reader of Camden’s sceptical Britannia.