I never really got into the histories, during high school Shakespeare. We read a selection of histories – I remember Richard II, and at least some of the Henry’s. I don’t remember much about Falstaff. I remember Richard II being a big deal because of the poetry.
You know what I think the problem was? Maybe it’s a high school curriculum thing, but we were taught the *history* first. Like, “Here’s what was going on that Shakespeare was trying to write about … and here’s what Shakespeare wrote.”
I know what I love about this stuff, and it’s the exact opposite of that. Give me Prospero over Henry IV (that is, an entirely fictional construct over a historical one) any day. I love talking about whether Gertrude had a thing going with Claudius before the play, and what Hamlet’s relationship was to his dad, and any other number of questions that Shakespeare never answered but yet go toward the bigger purpose of making the characters real. Ironic, then, that I could care less if you start the lesson by saying, “Ok, this character here was actually a real person.”
I will take the opportunity to note that “Julius Caesar” and “Anthony and Cleopatra” had a special place for me, because I was also a Latin geek. I was all about the ancient history. It was the history of England that I hated.
Anyway, here’s my big idea. What if you took all that “here’s how the stories map to real history” stuff and just chucked it out the window? Treat the histories like they’re entirely fiction, stuff that Shakespeare just made up out of his brilliant head. A very large epic, like a Robert Jordan Wheel of Time sort of thing. Just play after play that all sort of ties together, with a couple of overlapping characters.
I know that there are history buffs that would *hate* that. They’re the ones that are the exact opposite of me, they want to know every last detail about the political landscape when Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, where he snuck in the satirical bits and what he was trying to say. That’s huge to them. Heck, there’s an entire society out in the world dedicated to shedding the image of Richard III as a bad guy.
But that’s not me. I prefer fiction. Let me read the story front to back, get into it, appreciate the characters for who they are, and *then* tell me, “This is based on true stories.” Then you’ll have my attention. But to do it the other way, and give me the boring *real* people first? And then the Shakespeare creations? Mistake.