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Leicester Special Collections

Section 2: 'The history of my knowledge'

Edward Hall's Chronicles

Frontispiece of Edward's Hall's Chronicles. Hall covers the period of the War of Roses, from the fall of Richard II to the beginning of the Tudor dynasty. 1550.

Elizabethans and Jacobeans had an understanding of history that was fundamentally different from our current view of History as an academic discipline. For people in Shakespeare’s time, more important than factual accuracy were the lessons to be learned from the past, the ethical and moral principles embedded in history which, if attended to, would help them understand their present and shape their future. 

The distinction between history and stories was then not clear cut. This explains why readers and audiences did not fret over the factual or fictional existence of legendary kings and heroes. Whether they really existed or not was not the most important issue. What mattered was what they could learn from their lives, actions, and supposed ideas. It was in this spirit that Shakespeare turned to the history books available to him as sources for his plays.

(Cymbeline, 3.5)

Section 2: 'The history of my knowledge'