Historical Musings #65: Historical Drama

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction! This month, inspired by Lory’s Reading the Theatre, I thought it would be interesting to look at historical plays. Usually, when people talk about historical fiction, they are referring to novels, but it’s not just novelists who write about history – there are also many playwrights who have used real historical figures, events or settings as the basis for their plays.

The obvious place to start is with Shakespeare, the first name most of us probably think of when we think of history plays. I haven’t read any of his histories since I started blogging, so I’m afraid I don’t have any posts to share with you here – but I did re-read Macbeth a few years ago (a tragedy not a history, but very loosely based, of course, on the historical king Macbeth) and put together a selection of quotes.

Other than Shakespeare, I have read or seen very few plays which could be described as historical, although there are some I’m familiar with from the film versions, such as The Lion in Winter and A Man for All Seasons. There are also plenty of examples of stage musicals like Les Miserables, but they started life as historical novels rather than plays, so are not really what I’m looking for here. I’ve found some useful lists on Wikipedia and Goodreads, but I’m sure those of you who are more avid theatre-goers or play readers than I am will have some recommendations.

Have you read or been to see any historical plays? Have you missed going to the theatre during the pandemic?

14 thoughts on “Historical Musings #65: Historical Drama

  1. setinthepast says:

    I’ve got mixed feelings historical plays because they tend to be inaccurate – especially Shakespeare! – but I’m really missing the theatre and the cinema. I’ve got loads of films in my Sky Planner and my Amazon Prime watchlist, but I don’t tend to sit and watch films at home, because I always feel as if I should be doing something else at the same time.

  2. Calmgrove says:

    Hmm, do we count The Crown as historical drama?! As Prince Harry would say, it’s not a documentary! Other than that I can’t offhand think of anything I’ve watched that would count, though I’ve watched quite a few historical docs on telly recently by the likes of Alice Roberts and Janina Ramirez, for example. Theatre? No, not here in Wales anyway, in fact nothing live for well over a year…

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I think we can count The Crown! Speaking of historical documentaries, although they don’t quite fit the subject of this month’s post, you may have given me an idea for a future post…

  3. jessicabookworm says:

    I have really missed going to the theatre! However now you’ve got me thinking, I don’t think I have been to see any historical plays, that weren’t based on books, such as: The Diary of the Anne Frank: The Play and The Woman in Black. Before lockdown though my last trip to the theatre was to see a wonderful history talk by Neil Oliver on his then new book The History of the British Isles in 100 Places, which I am reading now. šŸ™‚

  4. Judy Krueger says:

    I have not been attracted to the theater for many years. Even movies of Shakespeare plays are hard for me to get through. Fences, the 2016 movie made from a play by August Wilson was the best historical drama I have seen in a while.

  5. Lory says:

    Nice idea for a topic! The Madness of King George by Alan Bennett springs to mind. And how about Amadeus by Peter Shaffer, Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, and of course Hamilton …

  6. Books and livres (@AndLivres) says:

    I haven’t missed much going to the theatre during the pandemic because I live in a small country village and the nearest theatre is… far. But I used to enjoy a lot watching theatre on TV, especially the BBC Shakespeare plays that were broadcasted when I was a teenager šŸ™‚

    • Helen says:

      Thanks for those, Jeanne! I haven’t read or seen any of the original plays, though I’m familiar with some of the film versions of course.

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