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Stage Histories

Post-War British Historical Drama

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Paweł Schreiber

The book presents post-war British historical drama not only as a phenomenon within literature and theatre, but also as an alternative form of representing the past, not as much competing with historiography as complementing it. The author shows how some of the central concerns of late twentieth-century methodology of history were also crucial for the historical drama of that time by applying Hayden White’s classification of categories determining the shape of historical writing to the plays of Robert Bolt, David Hare, Howard Barker and Tom Stoppard. The plays discussed in the book offer not only different visions of past events, but also different visions of historiography itself.
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1. Introduction

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Extract

The title significantly contains the word ‘histories’ - in the plural. One of the discoveries made in the twentieth-century humanities was that the monolythic nature of history has to be regarded as an illusion. In the place of a single, all-encompassing narrative describing past events, there appeared a number of accounts, not only different from each other, but very often incompatible. In the post-war world, together with the fading of colonialism, the tales of the European conquerors became supplemented by those of the conquered, originating in Asia and Africa. The shock connected with the Soviet and Nazi totalitarian regimes forced many to look closer at the abuse of history in their propaganda, and ultimately search for alternative visions of the past. With the increase in literacy and the growing level of education, many social groups which had not had their own audible voice in the pre-war world started to explore their identities and compiling their own histories, often opposed to those offered by the rest of society. The growing need for pluralism has led to a great emphasis on the differences between the various points of view possible in the reconstruction and interpretation of certain events. Describing this state of things, Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt and Margaret Jacob (1997: 217) write in the introduction to their book Telling the Truth about History: “Since no one can be certain that his or her explanations are definitively right, everyone must listen to other voices. All histories are provisional; none will have the...

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