Shakespeare's kings : the great plays and the history of England in the Middle Ages, 1337-1485 /
John Julius Norwich.
New York : Scribner, c1999.
xviii, 401 p. : ill. (some col.), geneal. tables, maps ; 25 cm.
More Details
New York : Scribner, c1999.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. 379-382) and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter


The authentification of Edward III came to me as a godsend. For Edward was the royal patriarch, from whose loins all the subsequent rulers in our story directly or indirectly sprang. Virtually nothing in Shakespeare's mighty epic -- not the Hundred Years War nor the Wars of the Roses, not the deposition of Edward's grandson Richard II nor the murderous ambition of his great-great-grandson Richard III -- can be properly understood without going back to him. His story had somehow to be told; now, through Shakespeare, I could tell it.

Copyright © 2000 John Julius Norwich. All rights reserved.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2000-07-01:
Beautifully illustrated and engagingly combining daring candor, charming imagination, and fascinating facts, this volume strives to bridge the gap between England's royal history of 1337-1485 and Shakespeare's nine-part epic, the plays from Edward III through Henry VI, Part 3. Norwich acknowledges that purpose--to establish how close the dramatist came to historical accuracy without making that his principal aim: the play is always the thing. Like Norwich's trilogy on Byzantium (Byzantium: The Early Centuries, CH, Sep'89; ... The Apogee, 1991; ... The Decline and Fall, 1996) and books on Venice and Sicily, Shakespeare's Kings is designed for cultivated readers with cosmopolitan interests and thus lacks the full critical apparatus scholars expect (source citations, for instance). Still, it deserves a place in academic libraries, particularly those serving undergraduates, for its exemplary and inspirational value to students learning to write about history and literature. J. H. Sims; emeritus, University of Southern Mississippi
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2000-01-31:
This is a painstakingly sensible book, suitable for die-hard Shakespeare lovers. The author of the massive, three-part Byzantium turns here to the equally byzantine world of late medieval England, providing a complex context for the bard's nine Histories (including the recently authenticated Edward III) and asking: How accurate were Shakespeare's royal portraits? The canvas stretches from the Hundred Years War to the end of the Wars of the Roses. Norwich, structuring his book as political narrative, helpfully fills in gaps between the action of the plays. The book will be useful as a historical primer for those already familiar with the plays (or films: many will associate Henry V with Kenneth Branagh, or Richard III with Ian McKellen), but it lacks intellectual muscle, and the awkwardly intermittent analyses of accuracy obscure the natural flair of the author's prose. Norwich is conscientious in reconstructing detail, but his larger claims are meager. We learn, for instance, that Shakespeare has a "cavalier approach to chronology" and that his portraits sometimes fall prey to personal prejudice, but that with the great exception of Richard III (already vilified by Thomas More), the bold historical outlines are generally on the money. In his epilogue, the author briefly places the Histories against the backdrop of new Elizabethan self-confidence: England, "the only possible hero" in this long, sordid drama, craved the telling of its tale in the most accessible literary form of the day. Yet the elusive intellectual prey--the making of national identity--escapes through the thickets of history. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 2000-02-15:
From extraordinary times came extraordinary drama--Shakespeare's historical plays--and Norwich's goal is to provide a nonspecialist audience with an assessment of their historical accuracy, most notably regarding the Richard and Henry plays. Although Norwich (A Short History of Byzantium) presents an interesting account of Shakespeare's sources, he does not always give a clear picture of what, other than dramatic license, might have influenced Shakespeare to paint English history in a certain way. (That Shakespeare's history conformed to the propaganda needs of the Tudor-Stuart dynasties should have been made explicit.) Indeed, Norwich's last chapter, which provides an interesting analysis of the conflicting images of Richard III and also places the play into good historical context, is the most successful in meeting the book's stated purpose. In addition, Norwich often goes into great detail about the history of the English kings without reference to his main theme. Appropriate for a general readership at larger public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/99.]--Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This item was reviewed in:
Library Journal, November 1999
Globe & Mail, January 2000
Kirkus Reviews, January 2000
Publishers Weekly, January 2000
Library Journal, February 2000
Booklist, March 2000
New York Times Book Review, April 2000
New York Times Book Review, May 2000
Choice, July 2000
New York Times Book Review, March 2001
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