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date: 18 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This article first describes John Bale's King Johan as a forerunner of the Elizabethan history play. However, Bale's late revisions to the text and its probable revival for performance before the Queen around 1560 mean that it is also itself the first Elizabethan history play. Chronologically, the text in its final state stands roughly midway between the original of the 1530s and Shakespeare's early chronicle plays of the 1580s, and it would be foolhardy to rule out the possibility that it had some influence over the latter. Attempts to demonstrate a direct link between King Johan and Shakespeare's King John have met with limited success. Yet clearer echoes of Bale's play may perhaps be detected elsewhere among Shakespeare's early histories. With its melding of aspects of the morality Vice onto real historical individuals, and with its paranoid questioning of the reliability of all historical sources, King Johan begins to look less like an early version of King John, and more like a prototype for Richard III.

Keywords: Elizabethan history play, Shakespeare, King John, morality, vice

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