CALL FOR PAPERS: 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)

CFP deadline: 31 January 2019

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















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.