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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: November 2010

The Troublesome Reign, Richard II, and the Date of King John: A Study in Intertextuality


Scholars continue to be increasingly aware of the extent to which Shakespeare habitually drew upon earlier drama for the verbal details, staging effects, dramatic situations, thematic ideas and even plot elements of his own plays. The playwright's use of prior dramas seems to have been especially pervasive among the chronicle histories. Much of this assimilation was undoubtedly unconscious, at least in the case of verbal echoes, since Shakespeare seems to have known many of the plays from practical experience in the theatre, although he probably consulted playbooks and even published dramas as well. It is well known, for example, that The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth (c.1586) lies behind 1 and 2 Henry IV and Henry V, and many scholars believe that The True Tragedy of Richard III (1590–1) was a source for Shakespeare's play on the same subject. Despite MacDonald Jackson's strong argument that Woodstock (1592–3?) postdates Richard II (1595), many scholars still contend that Shakespeare echoed the anonymous play for his dramatization of Richard's fall; Marlowe's Edward II (1591–2) is also an undoubted source for numerous passages in the same play. And as I have recently argued, The True Chronicle History of King Leir (1589–93?) served the dramatist not only as a source for his most cataclysmic tragedy but also for the verbal texture of both Richard III and Richard II. Shakespeare seems to have imitated Kyd’s Spanish Tragedyfor at least one phrase referring to Richard II (‘that sweet lovely rose’) in 1 Henry IV (1.3.175).