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Shakespeare's English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama [Kindle Edition]

Peter Saccio
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Far more than any professional historian, Shakespeare is responsible for whatever notions most of us possess about English medieval history. Anyone who appreciates the dramatic action of Shakespeare's history plays but is confused by much of the historical detail will welcome this guide to the Richards, Edwards, Henrys, Warwicks and Norfolks who ruled and fought across Shakespeare's page and stage. Not only theater-goers and students, but today's film-goers who want to enrich their understanding of film adaptations of plays such as Richard III and Henry V will find this revised edition of Shakespeare's English Kings to be an essential companion.
Saccio's engaging narrative weaves together three threads: medieval English history according to the Tudor chroniclers who provided Shakespeare with his material, that history as understood by modern scholars, and the action of the plays themselves. Including a new preface, a revised further reading list, genealogical charts, an appendix of names and titles, and an index, the second edition of Shakespeare's English Kings offers excellent background reading for all of the ten history plays.

Editorial Reviews


Praise for the previous edition: "So well written is this book that one does not need a purpose to pursue it. Even so, it makes excellent background reading for all of the Shakespearean history plays."--New York Times Book Review


Praise for the previous edition: "So well written is this book that one does not need a purpose to pursue it. Even so, it makes excellent background reading for all of the Shakespearean history plays."--New York Times Book Review

Product Details

  • File Size: 1380 KB
  • Print Length: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2 edition (February 28, 2000)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00524ZNWE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #186,224 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
45 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Straightforward History April 4, 2002
I think I would have enjoyed this book more had I not read Norwich's book on Shakespeare's kings before I read this one. Norwich did a much better job of going through the history and, in particular, of comparing the history to Shakespeare's plays. Plus, Norwich's writing was much more vivid and engaging.
On the other hand, Saccio does a very good job of going through the history of Shakespeare's kings in a logical manner. He does not waste words and presents a story that is quick and easy to digest. Like Norwich, Saccio focuses mainly on the kings from Richard II through Henrys IV, V, and VI to Richard III. Unlike Norwich, however, Saccio also discusses King John and Henry VIII.
For anyone who is interested in knowing what really went on in the lives of these Shakespearean kings, this book is an excellent tool. Saccio points out some of the most important fallacies in the plays and is fair in presenting honest assessments of the realities of these characters even when they conflict with the dynamic images drawn by the Bard. This second edition also has a nice afterward that comments on some of the Shakespearean scholarship of the past 25 years. It is a worthwhile read.
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Shakespeare, more than any professional historian, is responsible for the way we think about the English Plantagenet kings. As Peter Saccio argues, "It is he who has etched upon the common memory the graceful fecklessness of Richard II, the exuberant heroism of Henry V, the dazzling villainy of Richard III."
We recognize that Shakespeare created plays for entertainment, not tutorials for history lessons. But somehow Shakespeare's English kings seem so authentic, so much more real than the kings of history texts. And recent historical research and reinterpretation now indicates that Shakespeare's characterizations indeed appear more accurate than we had previously realized. Saccio states, "Shakespeare knew how his late medieval characters looked at things."
Dr. Saccio (Dartmouth College) has created a delightful book that explores how Shakespeare's imagination and actual history are tightly intertwined. He examines history as understood at the time of Shakespeare, as we understand English history today, and how Shakespeare knowingly revised history for dramatic impact.
Saccio's style is very engaging. This book is not only a guide to more fully appreciating Shakespeare's plays, but it is also an enjoyable look at English history. I highly recommend this book for all readers - those new to Shakespeare's histories and those quite familiar with Shakespeare's English kings.
I previously reviewed Desmond Seward's "The Hundred Years War, the English in France, 1337-1453" and suggested that it would serve as a useful background for understanding Henry V. I still recommend reading Seward's book and I still believe that a four star rating is appropriate. I only wish now that I could give Saccio's "Shakespeare's English Kings" more than five stars. I cannot recommend it too highly.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quick and easy history on the Histories March 20, 2000
Great book for those looking to get a quick background on the historical events behind Shakespeare's History Plays. Saccio covers all the major points in each King's life and contrasts them very well against Shakespeare's dramatic choices. Presents a wonderful starting point for anyone interested in medieval English history and Shakespeare without tons of time or resources to dedicate. Perfect for students. A must in any Shakesperean enthusiast's library.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and informative June 11, 2001
By FS Mom
I have been recommending this book for years. Informative, insightful, and entertaining, this book is a must-read for English majors and Shakespeare fans. Saccio does a marvelous job of putting the English history plays in the context of the contemporary understanding of the events and people Shakespeare portrayed, with a discussion of the primary source texts. Along with this, the book examines the political situation of Shakespeare's own day, with which Shakepeare's audience would find parallels to the events of the plays. Saccio also addresses the more recent understandings of the underlying historical events. While the book is offers a detailed and knowledgeable analysis, it is accessible and engaging for a casual reader. Saccio as an essayist is second only to Saccio as a professor!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good balanced book October 9, 2003
Peter Saccio's Shakespeare's English Kings is a concise, balanced review of the history behind the kings referred to in Shakespeare's Canon. Each of the kings (plus other important figures) receives coverage so that the reader has a good understanding for the background for each of the 10 history plays. Shakespeare had limited historical references (mostly Holinshed), and he was biased at times by the need to curry to Tutor propaganda (especially in Richard III). Saccio explains this with good research, ably explained. Serious students would benefit from reading this book, as would the casual theater buff. A good book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This reviewer first became acquainted with Dr. Peter Saccio by viewing his 36 class course on Shakespeare in the Learning Company DVD series.

Intrigued by his skill in making Shakespeare understandable I picked up a copy of Shakespeare's English Kings. This slim volume provides the historical knowledge needed of each of the king's reigns to enhance appreciation of the Shakespearean plays.

The kings covered are:

Richard II-The Fall of the King

Henry IV-The King Embattled

Henry V-The King victorious-deals with his victory at Agincourt in 1415.

Henry VI-a good survey of this weak headed king's long and disastrous reign.

Henry VI-Edward IV-Deals with the War of the Roses rivalry between the dynastic houses of Lancaster and York.

Richard III-the last Plantagenet-Shakespeare made use of several myths about this king who was nevertheless anything but a boy scout!

John-the Angevin king who succeeded his brother Richard of Lionheart as King-Magna Charta and all that!

Henry VIII-The dissolute but astute Tudor king who made England a modern nation through diplomacy, governmental reform and dissolution of papal ties.

Some readers will be perplexed by all the Richards, Edwards, Henrys and

become confused. A close reading will help as well as ample use of the dynastic geneological charts provided by Saccio.

The book was written in 1977 and revised over twenty years later. If I was teaching a course on the English history plays this book would be required reading.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitely get this book! It was great to read before attempting to...
Very helpful for reading of Shakespeares plays about the english kings. I read all of his historical plays and this book was very helpful.
Published 4 months ago by pinkbink
5.0 out of 5 stars Book looks good.
Book arrived in time. Book looks good.
Published 8 months ago by Ellen Phelps Hickle
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview.
I once had a high school English teacher describe Shakespeare's histories as "boring". Part of the reason for that is that it is easy to get lost in the murk of history. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Joseph McGarry
5.0 out of 5 stars A handy history...
I teach Shakespeare and have over the years so appreciated Saccio's carefully researched history. I am glad that the work is back in print.
Published 14 months ago by Gwen Livingstone Pokora
3.0 out of 5 stars Problems with the kindle version
The book's content is a valuable help for reading Shakespeare's history plays. It is well written, informative and very entertaining. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Shakespearean Royalty in Sharper Focus
Although I am an "Oxfordian"-- and suspect that Saccio is (or WAS) Orthodox Stratfordian, he presents historical facts of various British rulers of whom many non-UK readers... Read more
Published 16 months ago by R. A. Sheehan, Ph.D.
4.0 out of 5 stars A great tour of Shakespeare and English histiory
A great tour of both Shakespeare's and English history. As a fan of both this was a great read. Reccomended
Published 17 months ago by Michael D ONeall
5.0 out of 5 stars An instructive historical read
The author provides an invaluable resource to assist the reader in understanding the actual historical events surrounding the English Kings as opposed to Shakespeare's plays which... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Grace Sterrett
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent account of the historical background to Shakespeare's...
Well presented, immensely helpful for anyone reading the history plays who's curious about the (confusing) historical background. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Louis L. Cornell
3.0 out of 5 stars a lot of history, told very briefly; more details and/or analysis of...
It's a good source for a brief overview of the history behind Shakespeare's "history" plays ... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Mike House
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