12718181_1181726771858017_2565305258683164561_nUNDERSTANDING SHAKESPEARE’S HISTORY PLAYS

| by Andee Kinzy |

Here at ImprovEd Shakespeare, we firmly believe you should get to know the story before jumping into a Shakespeare play. In honor of our spring production, Witchcraft In Their Lips: The Women of Shakespeare’s History Plays, we want to share some resources with you.


If you like YouTube, we have a playlist on our channel:
Studies: Shakespeare History Plays

For a short written summary:

  • PBS did a series called “The Hollow Crown” with Richard II, Henry IV (Parts 1 & 2), and Henry V. They have a link to a .pdf Hollow Crown Educator’s Guide on their site. It includes a synopsis of the different stories.
  • No Sweat Shakespeare gives a brief overview of the History Plays
  • Minimized Shakespeare has brief overviews of the different History Plays. You can also follow the links to slightly more and more in-depth summaries.
  • Shmoop** – Start with Richard II and then do a search on the site for: Henry IV (Parts 1 & 2); Henry V; Henry VI (Parts 1, 2, & 3), Richard III, Henry VIII. King John is the first play, but it’s one of the lesser known plays.
    **Note: Okay, this site depends on the family. Shmoop is very tongue-in-cheek. There are lots of subjective comments inserted into the summary and a few “older” annotations (like “PITA” and “WTF?”). However, it’s entertaining for a quick overview of the story. And, yes, Shakespeare academics barf at this.

Interesting articles:

For alternative versions:

Entire play:

  • MIT has all of Shakespeare’s works available for free online
  • Or visit your local library! As to the editions/publishers? It’s up to you, but:
    • Henry IV (Part 1) (No Fear Shakespeare)
      Follow links on the site for Henry IV (Part 2), Henry V, and Richard III. No Fear Shakespeare has a useful modern translation next to the original text. (Although, many Shakespeare academics barf at the modern paraphrasing. Grin.) However, we like No Fear for younger readers. Some people hate it, because they feel the paraphrasing is inadequate; but we think it’s highly readable if you want to quickly get the gist of the story.
    • Arden Shakespeare
      Many actors like the footnotes in the Arden editions.
    • Folger Library Shakespeare
      Quite a few readers like the layout of the annotation in the Folger editions. Many high schools use this edition.
    • Simply Shakespeare
      Similar to No Fear: a modern translation side-by-side with the original verse. You can only find it used, though.

A short note about “modern translations.” Serious Shakespeare academics and scholars feel that starting kids off with these versions is abhorrent. At ImprovEd Shakespeare, we appreciate the modern translations. We view them as a jumping off point. Sometimes you come across a phrase that just doesn’t make sense. Without being immersed in Shakespeare’s language, it can be hard to understand. A modern translation helps a-plenty. It helps you to appreciate the beauty of Shakespeare’s words.

In any case, there’s no one right way to approach Shakespeare. The trick is to find what works for you.

We hope these resources are helpful to get you started on your journey with this play!