Family Trees for Shakespeare’s Histories

September 19th, 2014

My monthly Shakespeare reading group is gearing up to do the history plays. For the next eight months, starting this Sunday, we’re going to be working our way through the two tetralogies.

Shakespeare, working in the late sixteenth century, was writing about his own country’s history spanning most of the fifteenth century. He could assume his audience was familiar with the stories and the characters to some degree. Our perspective, over four hundred years later and in another country, does not provide the same level of context.

Imagine we were watching a play about the American Civil War and characters made various passing references to “the president,” “Lincoln,” and “Honest Abe.” We would understand these are all the same person, no explanation needed. But someone unfamiliar with our history might get confused. In Shakespeare’s histories, characters refer to each other by last name, nickname, and title interchangeably, and their iconic status in English memory requires very little exposition. When we do actually get a first name, it’s usually one of the same six or seven names recycled endlessly throughout the generations, relying again on context for specificity.

Thus, in order to facilitate the readings, I have created a family tree for the Plantagenets that spans all eight plays. For each play, I have put together a version of the tree that shows the current state of the family as the action begins. It shows who’s living, who’s dead, who’s related to whom, who is actually in the play, and what names might be used to reference them. What’s more, it all fits on one page, so it makes a convenient handout for a reading.

It was quite a project, but now that I’m finished, it’s my pleasure to share the results with the Shakespeare Teacher community:

Whether these charts end up providing more clarity or only more confusion will remain to be seen. I’ll be field testing them with my group and may find a need to do a rewrite in eight months time. If anyone out there sees anything seriously wrong or just has a helpful suggestion, please leave a note in the comments so I can address it in the next round of revisions.

A few notes may be helpful. A shaded box means that the character is dead before the play begins. A bold-faced box means that the character appears in the current play. Each space represents the same character across all eight plays, but there are two characters (Anne Mortimer and Isabella Neville) that are duplicated on the chart because they married across family lines. These are represented by circled numbers.

For the most part, Shakespeare sticks with history as far as the genealogy and chronology are concerned, but where he breaks with history, I generally went with Shakespeare’s version. I did this because the purpose of the chart was to make the readings easier. So if Shakespeare, for example, refers to a character by a title he technically didn’t have yet, I used that title on my chart.

One major exception to this is the case of Edmund Mortimer. Historically, there were two different men named Edmund Mortimer in this story: Sir Edmund Mortimer, and his nephew Edmund, Earl of March. An Edmund Mortimer appears in Henry IV, Part One and an Edmund Mortimer appears in Henry VI, Part One. It appears that Shakespeare has conflated the two men into a single character, as he ascribes to the character biographical details from both men in both plays. I went with the more historically appropriate choice to put Sir Edmund in 1H4 and the Earl of March in 1H6, but you should know that when using these charts with those plays.

A lot of the information in these charts were taken from the plays themselves. But the charts also include a lot of historical information, and for that, I used other sources. I took advantage of the excellent genealogical tables in The Riverside Shakespeare (G. Blakemore Evans, ed.) as well as the Arden editions of Henry V (T.W. Craik, ed.) and Henry VI, Part Three (John D. Cox and Eric Rasmussen, eds.). I found The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s History Plays (Michael Hattaway, ed.) very helpful. I also consulted the official website of the British Monarchy, as well as other online sources as needed.

Enjoy!

The End

Thursday Morning Riddle

September 18th, 2014

I’m a lemon-scent polish you wipe with a rag;
A recruit that fraternity brothers might snag;
A donation you make for a PBS bag;
And an oath you recite to our national flag.

Who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by Asher. See comments for answer.

The End

Thursday Morning Riddle

September 11th, 2014

I’m the third piece in suits you remove when you’re hot;
To endow with a power, like tying the knot;
Keep your cards close to me, or they’ll see what you’ve got;
I’m flotation at sea; or protection when shot.

Who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by Jason. See comments for answer.

The End

Thursday Morning Riddle

September 4th, 2014

I’m a listening device that’s among a spy’s tricks;
I’m an insect you step on, like spiders or ticks;
I’m a glitch in the software you may need to fix;
And a yen for a hobby that fervently sticks.

Who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by Asher. See comments for answer.

The End

Thursday Morning Riddle

August 28th, 2014

I’m a summit for peace; group of teams who play ball;
Teacher meeting with parents; a multi-way call;
Presentation of papers to peers in a hall;
And engaging the press with your back to the wall.

Who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by Asher. See comments for answer.

The End

Shakespeare Anagram: The Two Gentlemen of Verona

August 23rd, 2014

From The Two Gentlemen of Verona:

This weak impress of love is as a figure
Trenched in ice, which with an hour’s heat
Dissolves to water and doth lose his form.

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

If she is listed, his challenge is she must pour ice water over her head or vow to donate cash.

Oh man, if this fad works, it wins.

For more information, visit the ALS Association website.

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Thursday Morning Riddle

August 21st, 2014

I’m a spot in the stable where horses will stay;
A malfunction in engines that causes dismay;
I’m a space in the rest room; deliberate delay;
And a seat near the choir where clergy can pray.

Who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by Jason. See comments for answer.

The End

Thursday Morning Riddle

August 14th, 2014

I’m the wood of a trunk when you cut down a tree;
To accrue flying hours for pilots-to-be;
If your sleep has gone deep, then you’re sleeping like me;
And in natural states, I’ve a base set to e.

Who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by Asher. See comments for answer.

The End

Thursday Morning Riddle

August 7th, 2014

I am dragging your feet; I’m a step used in tap;
I’m to randomize cards; I’m a Super Bowl rap;
I’m the smallest of iPods; mix songs in the app;
And a daily routine for that Party Rock chap.

Who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by Asher. See comments for answer.

The End

Thursday Morning Riddle

July 31st, 2014

I’m the songs in a show; I help painters prosaic;
The mob’s betting racket; the fourth book Mosaic;
The terms’ coefficients in strings algebraic;
And Apple’s own app for all things formulaic.

Who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by Bronx Richie. See comments for answer.

The End