Shakespeare’s English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama (2nd ed.), by Peter Saccio

My Copy: 9780195123197 (image from

NOTE: I’m interrupting the flow of my The Oxford Shakespeare reviews because this month’s been hell on concentration (between jobs, sleep-deprivation, jury duty, and an ER visit). So instead I decided to review a Shakespeare-related book for this weekend that I’d just finished instead of posting it at the end of the year and re-tackle “King John” for later. I wish like hell I’d found BEFORE I started reading the histories. Dear readers, if you’re a novice like me, get this one and THEN tackle the histories!

On to the original review…

I gotta admit, I’m plenty pleased with this book, and only disappointed that I didn’t start reading it BEFORE tackling the history plays! Either way, it confirmed some questions I had with the timing of events, and even who was there.

Shakespeare’s English Kings is a book worth looking at if you’re someone not well versed in British history (being a Yank, that’s probably natural). The world between the dark ages and early modern Europe is very complex, steeped in power struggles and successions, marriages and legitimate children, and the “blueblood” aspect of living.

Mr. Saccio gives a great layout of the popular plays regarding English monarchs. He gives some general background information about the ruler and those around him (and will remind us if certain people have cropped up in previous chapters, or will be expounded on later). Then he goes into Shakespeare’s possible sources of information and what the Bard focused on for his storytelling. Afterward is a truth vs. fiction clarification of the man and the times he lived in, and how fast and loose the bard might’ve played with history.

I have to say, it makes me appreciate the Bard more to read this. He didn’t make up quite as much as I thought he would have, though there is plenty of evidence that he fudged the timeline of events quite a bit, and even several characters (who may have been deceased or not old enough to take part).

And let’s just say the chapter about the notorious Richard III may leave you wondering and wanting to understand more. And the choices made regarding King John’s story (and the infamous Magna Carta) may leave you wondering, as it did me.

My inner historian was ready to be angry at such license, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. However, I would have a hard time recommending that a person who wanted to learn more about British historical figures through Shakespeare’s plays.

If they decided to pair Shakespeare’s English Kings with a book of the Bard’s works, though, I’d recommend away. Literature and other forms of media are products of their times. Shakespeare’s work aptly demonstrates this, working the line between truth and the audience (especially the monarchical audience that funds you!)

This is a worthy book for college students, anyone interested in the Bard, British history, genealogy, and great stories of love and marriage, war and death. You know, life itself, in a way. I think it’s a very important resource, and easily found with online used booksellers.


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