"An improbable fiction": The marriage of history and romance in Shakespeare's Henriad

Marcia Eppich-Harris, Marquette University


This study concerns how historical narrative is formed in Shakespeare's second tetralogy, Richard II; Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part 2; and Henry V. I argue that the influence of romance narratives within this set of plays is important to the overall series because Shakespeare's focus on individuals, rather than the state, subverts the epic agenda of the plays, and opens them to the motifs and concerns of romance. Some of the distinct romance narratological devices used in these plays include narrative anachronies, digressions, and extradiegetic narratives. Gerard Genette's Narrative Discourse is my theoretical focal point, because like Genette, I am interested in how narratives are formed and structured. However, this study goes beyond a structural exploration. I also use close reading to investigate romance themes within these history plays, including the tension between providence and contingency, the prodigal son theme, and the ethical problems of self-interest. While scholars have acknowledged for some time that genres do not have impermeable boundaries, I argue that applying the classifications of romance to the history plays helps us to gain a better understanding of Shakespeare's project, and characters, on the whole. As part of my project, I include the previously apocryphal play, Edward III , in my analysis as a prequel to Richard II . Essentially, adding Edward III to the canon has made it possible to look at the history plays as a cycle that not only follows the Lancastrian line through the usurpation of Richard II's throne through the Wars of the Roses but also as a series that documents the entire Hundred Years' War as a romance drama. In order to show connections between the history and romance genres, I use Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde , Robert Greene's Pandosto , and John Lyly's Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit , among others, for comparison with Shakespeare's Henriad .

Recommended Citation

Eppich-Harris, Marcia, ""An improbable fiction": The marriage of history and romance in Shakespeare's Henriad" (2008). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3306508.