Ask Philippa: The War of the Roses edition

by Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg

Have a question for Philippa? Email pkelly@calshakes.org, or comment below!

The Henry VI and Richard III plays marked the young Shakespeare’s creation of a national history that spanned the rules of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III.  Shakespeare has Henry VI’s infancy mark the beginning of the War of the Roses—the rivalries between England’s bickering nobles in the power vacuum created by the death of a powerful king (Henry V) and the reign of an infant (Henry VI).  We see Shakespeare’s geographical scope contract in the course of the tetralogy—from the looming rivalry with France, we move inward to the bickering within one ruling family, the Plantagenets (Yorkists v. Lancastrians), and then inward again to the corrosion of the York family by Richard Gloucester of York, who clambers up a power vacuum, destroying everyone in his path—even his own brother, nephew and wife—to become Richard III. 

Dr. Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater, is also a professor and author. Her 2010 book, The King and I, a meditation on Australian culture through the lens of King Lear, garnered international praise in its very personal examination of themes of abandonment, loss, and humor).

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