When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
Examining the embodied experience of early modern audiences leads to a more complete interpretation of history plays. In order to show this, the dissertation investigates the very different world of the 1590’s playgoers. Audiences were much more socially diverse and less literate and their prior knowledge of both plays and history very different. Entrance was relatively much less expensive and the amphitheatres much larger. Plays themselves had evolved; there was increased characterisation to make actors more realistic and techniques to make the audience more familiar with the action by use of language, location and colloquialisms from their own time.
This document uses both theories of contemporaries and twentieth century reception theory to examine the expectations of those early modern spectators, why and in what respect their experience was different and how this adds to a nuanced understanding of Shakespeare’s second tetralogy. Richard II maintained the tradition of former history plays in that it was the nobility that made history, so as a fallen prince, the monarch keeps playgoers at a distance. The two parts of Henry IV bring royalty and the court into close proximity with their subjects. In Henry V the valiant past was very much in the foreground; although the king maintains a certain distance from them, the king depends on his people (and playgoers) to participate in creating the legendary victory at Agincourt. History plays were not only a relief from the concerns of the day; the experience was an opportunity to share the complexity of the past and reflect on its relevance to the present.
This paper argues that the use of informed imagination can transport us sufficiently into the past to enable a refreshed re-evaluation of Shakespeare’s second tetralogy through the eyes and ears of early modern playgoers in order to investigate the extent to which the stage participated in the formation of a collective memory of the nation at a critical time when Shakespeare was exploiting the new genre of the History play before the Bishop’s Ban of 1599.