ABSTRACT

The 2010 issue of Shakespeare Survey, “Shakespeare’s English Histories and their Afterlives,” opens with an article by Christy Desmet that provides a “meta-biography” of Shakespeare the historian. Desmet argues that the concept of Shakespeare the historian has been difficult to sustain in the face of post-Romantic images of Shakespeare as literary icon, and notes that, while E. M. W. Tillyard “completed the apotheosis of Shakespeare the Historian” in the mid-twentieth century, the tendency of new historicism, cultural materialism and recent biographical works has been to downplay Shakespeare’s historiography. 1 Desmet mentions the enhanced availability of Shakespeare’s sources through Early English Books Online (EEBO) as one factor that might foster a reconsideration of Shakespeare’s engagement with his sources. 2 I would suggest that EEBO is the tip of the iceberg with regard to the potential for electronic resources to revitalize our conceptions of Shakespeare’s historiography. The process of editing the two parts of Henry IV for the Internet Shakespeare Editions 3 (ISE) has led me to suspect that the phenomenon of digital Shakespeare will engender a stronger sense of these plays as interventions in the business of constructing and interpreting British history. Scholarly electronic editions have an innate capacity to highlight relationships between the history plays themselves and between the plays and the historical accounts on which they draw.