Shakespeare as history
October 16, 2006 2:53 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a list of Shakespeare's plays in chronological order -- in historical rather than production order. Beginning with the Roman plays right through the British histories ...

Obviously this is a nonsense -- not all of the plays even have a historical setting and many of those that do almost completely rewrite reality. But I would be interested to see if people have tackled the challenge and the results. I've tried googling many different ways without much success.
posted by feelinglistless to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
The first thing I thought of was Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare. I look through it a fair amount. He arranged the plays chronologically in their groups (Greek, Roman, Italian, English), but makes references in each play that helps place them in the larger context.
posted by Wink Ricketts at 3:12 PM on October 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


This is rough and probably has some errors. It would be fund if others could refine it.

Troilus and Cressida (from Homer)

Coriolanus

Pericles (the historical Pericles lived around 450BC)

Timon of Athens (lived durning the Peloponnesian War, 431-404BC)

Comedy of Errors (based on a Plautus play. Plautus lived from 254-184BC)

Julius Caesar

Anthony and Cleopatra

Titus Andronicus -- trouble is, he's fictional (mentioned in Ovid. Ovid lived during the time of Augustus Caesar, successor to Julius. So would we place Titus before Julius (since it's a story, probably set in the past) or after?)

[ King Lear (based on possibly prehistoric king) ]

Cymbaline (the historical Cymbaline ruled from 10AD to 41AD)

Hamlet (the historical Hamlet lived at around 700AD)

Macbeth (the historical Macbeth lived c. 1005 - 1057)

King John

Merry Wives of Winsor (I'm placing it here because Falstaff is in it. He's also in the two Henry IV plays, which I assume take place later in his life.)

Henry IV, part I

Henry IV, part II

Henry V

Henry VI, part 1

Henry VI, part 2

Henry VI, part 3

Richard III

Henry VIII

I think the rest take place outside of history -- or are set during Shakespeare's own time.
posted by grumblebee at 4:13 PM on October 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


Theseus is mentioned in The Odyssey, so I guess you could place Midsummer Night's Dream around the same time as Troilus and Cressida.
posted by grumblebee at 4:29 PM on October 16, 2006


Edward IV and Edward V were king between Henry VI and Richard III. Henry VII was king between Richard III and Henry VIII.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:25 PM on October 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


kirckaracha, I don't know my Homer well enough to place Theseus, but he's in the Odyssey, right (not the Illiad). Which places him After the Trojan War. So "Midsummer" should come after "Troilus" (I know, I know, "Midsummer" is a silly play to place in a historical context.)

Also, depending on whether or not you believe these plays were written -- or partially written -- by Shakespeare, you could add in "Edward Ironside" (Edward II) (1307ā€“1327), "Edward III" (1327ā€“1377) and "Sir Thomas More" (1478-1535).
posted by grumblebee at 5:40 PM on October 16, 2006


change "but he's in the Odyssey, right (not the Illiad)" to "but he's in 'The Odyssey' not 'The Illiad', right?"
posted by grumblebee at 5:41 PM on October 16, 2006


This is a HUGE stretch, but you could place "The Tempest" in 1609. Some believe it was based on ("influenced" would be a better word) the shipwreck of the Sea Venture, which occurred in 1609.
posted by grumblebee at 5:44 PM on October 16, 2006


If sticking to plays that have some real (or mythological!) history in them, I think Grumblebee's list is pretty good. The only one that should be in there would be Richard II (just after King John).

I got my Asimov off the shelf and typed in the ToC. I'm sure there's a lot of interpretation involved, but usually he gives some historical justification. As an example of how he guessed/estimated the order, here's what he said about Romeo and Juliet:

"(I)f we consider Verona, we find that in the play it is treated as an independent principality, something which it was in history only between 1260 and 1387"

GREEK PLAYS
Venus and Adonis
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Two Noble Kinsmen
Troilus and Cressida
Timon of Athens
The Winter's Tale
The Comedy of Errors
Pericles

ROMAN PLAYS
The Rape of Lucrece
Coriolanus
Julius Caesar
Antoy and Cleopatra
Titus Andronicus

ITALIAN PLAYS
Love's Labors Lost
The Taming of the Shrew
Two Gentlemen of Verona
Romeo and Juliet
Merchant of Venice
Much Ado about Nothing
As You Like it
Twelfth Night
All's Well that Ends Well
Othello
Measure for Measure
The Tempest

ENGLISH PLAYS
King Lear
Cymbeline
Hamlet
MacBeth
King John
Richard II
Henry IV, part 1
Henry IV, part 2
The Merry Wives of Winsor
Henry V
Henry VI, part 1
Henry VI, part 2
Henry VI, Part 3
Richard III
Henry VIII
posted by Wink Ricketts at 5:46 PM on October 16, 2006


FYI: "The Rape of Lucrece" is a poem, not a play.
posted by grumblebee at 5:54 PM on October 16, 2006


Thanks, feelinglistless. This is a fun thread.

Via this page, you can (possibly -- and roughly) date "Merchant of Venice":

While Jews did not settle in Venice until the 13th century, many Jewish merchants and moneylenders visited and worked in the city beginning with the 10th century. Jews were mentioned in documents in 945 and 992 forbidding Venetian captains from accepting Jews onboard their ships. In 1252, Jews were not allowed to settle in the main part of the city, so they settled on the island of Spinaulunga, which later became Giudecca.

In 1290, Jewish merchants and moneylenders were allowed to work in Venice, but were forced to pay a special tax of five percent on all their import and export transactions. The Jewish moneylenders received permission to settle in the city in 1385. They were given a piece of land to be used as a Jewish cemetery in 1386.

The Senate decided to expel the Jews from the city in 1394 due to fears of Jewish encroachment in certain economic spheres

posted by grumblebee at 5:58 PM on October 16, 2006


grumblebee writes "kirckaracha, I don't know my Homer well enough to place Theseus, but he's in the Odyssey, right (not the Illiad)."

He's mentioned as a shade that Odysseus wanted to consult during his visit to the underworld, but he never gets around to it. In the Homeric reference frame, Theseus was long dead, a great hero from Athens' past. So MND before T&C.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:14 PM on October 16, 2006


It doesn't change the order (the play would still come after Coriolanus) but Timon of Athens was around in the 3rd century BCE, not during the Peloponnesian war. Lucrece doesn't quite count since it's a poem not a play, but the events concerned happened in 509 BCE.
posted by greycap at 11:26 PM on October 16, 2006


grumblebee: Also, depending on whether or not you believe these plays were written -- or partially written -- by Shakespeare, you could add in "Edward Ironside" (Edward II) (1307ā€“1327) ...

Not a biggie (because I don't think anyone other than Eric Sams would claim it's Shakespearean), but this hinky little manuscript play is actually Edmond Ironside, and it's based on the life of the Anglo Saxon king Edmund II, taking place around 1014–1016.

I had to read it while writing my master's thesis a few years ago, and it was an exercise in pure pain.
posted by Sonny Jim at 11:44 PM on October 16, 2006


Gosh, that's all fantastic, and very unexpected. I've attempted to conflate everything together below making value choices whenever possible -- although Merry Wives is a pain isn't it? One of the problems is that I suspect that to place some correctly would require some textual analysis and I'll certainly pay attention next time I'm watching or listening to some of these -- although it's amazing how much you're guided by seeing productions of these plays that pick an era -- Branagh's Much Ado for example. Anyway here's the chronology based on what I've seen in this thread. Please hurl rocks at anything I've misunderstood.


1300-1200 BC
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Two Noble Kinsmen

1300-1200 BC
Troilus and Cressida

450 BC
Pericles, Prince of Tyre

431-404 BC
Timon of Athens

400 BC
Coriolanus
The Winter's Tale

254-184 BC
A Comedy of Errors

44 BC
Julius Caesar

30 BC
Antony and Cleopatra

40 AD
Cymbeline

300-400 AD
Titus Andronicus

400 AD
King Lear

700 AD
Hamlet

1005-1057 AD
Macbeth

1199-1216 AD
King John

1200s AD
Love's Labors Lost
The Taming of the Shrew
Two Gentlemen of Verona

1260-1387 AD
Romeo and Juliet

1300s
Merchant of Venice
Much Ado about Nothing
As You Like it
Twelfth Night
All's Well that Ends Well

1327-1377 AD Edward III
1377-1399 AD Richard II
1399-1413 AD Henry IV
1413-1422 AD Henry V
1422-1471 AD Henry VI
1483-1485 AD Richard III
1509-1547 AD Henry VIII

late 1500 AD
Othello
Measure for Measure

1609 AD
The Tempest
posted by feelinglistless at 2:33 PM on October 17, 2006


This thread lead to a debate between a friend and me about "Comedy of Errors." I thought it was supposed to be set in (Elizabethan cartoon version of) ancient Rome. I thought this, because the source play is an ancient Roman play, and Shakepeare kept the Roman characters. So I assumed that he kept the time period too (in his typically anachronistic way).

Me friend did some research and sent me this email:

Not Rome. Ephesus, in western Turkey. Actually, I stand corrected, somewhat:

"The Goths destroyed both city and temple in AD 262, and neither ever recovered its former splendour. The emperor Constantine, however, erected a new public bath, and Arcadius rebuilt at a higher level the street from the theatre to the harbour, named after him, the Arkadiane. A general council of the church, held at Ephesus in 431 in the great double church of St. Mary, condemned Nestorius and justified the cult of the Virgin as Theotokos (Mother of God). A few years later, according to legend, the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus (a group of 3rd-century Christian martyrs) were miraculously raised from the dead. They too became the object of a famous cult. The emperor Justinian built the magnificent basilica of St. John in the 6th century. By the early Middle Ages, the city was no longer useful as a port and fell into decline; late Byzantine Ephesus, conquered by the Seljuqs in 1090, was merely a small town. After brief splendour in the 14th century, even this was deserted, and the true site of the Artemiseum remained unsuspected until 1869."

I don't know how much Shakespeare knew of the history of Ephesus, but it seems that, chronologically, the action of the play *must* have occurred before the Middle Ages, even though there isn't anything in the play that screams "ancient world" to me. Antipholus of Syracuse, a thriving young merchant, probably wouldn't have bothered to come to a
declined port.
posted by grumblebee at 2:47 PM on October 17, 2006


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