Discuss shortly the theme and background of Shakespeare's history plays.

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lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

VERY briefly, Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, Henry V, Henry VI Part 1, Henry VI Part 2, Henry VI Part3 and Richard III were plays that focused on what is called The War of the Roses. This was a series of English civil wars featuring two branches of the House of Plantagenet, a British Royal dynasty from which many kings came. The red rose was a symbol of the House of Lancaster and the white rose was a symbol for the House of York, hence the name, War of the Roses. The other history plays, King John, focused on the historical events associated with John, primarily his signing of the Magna Charta. Edward III focuses on King Edward, the Black Prince, and his intrigues with the wife of the Earl of Salisbury. There has been some debate about the true authorship of this particular play, but most scholars attribute it to Shakespeare because its style is similar. Finally, Henry VIII focuses on the early reign of Henry VIII, his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon, his divorce, his leaving the church, his marriage to Anne Boleyn. It ends with the birth of Queen Elizabeth. This play is the most contemporary to Shakespeare’s own lifetime.