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The source for the Roman history plays is Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans Compared Together, in the translation made by Sir Thomas North in 1579.
Shakespeare's history plays focus on only a small part of the characters' lives, and also frequently omit significant events for dramatic purposes.
examines political bias and assertions of the workings of Providence in (a) the contemporary chronicles, (b) the Tudor historians, and (c) the Elizabethan poets, notably Shakespeare in his two tetralogies, (in composition-order) Henry VI to Richard III and Richard II to Henry V.
According to Kelly, Shakespeare's great contribution, writing as a historiographer-dramatist, was to eliminate the supposedly objective providential judgements of his sources, and to distribute them to appropriate spokesmen in the plays, presenting them as mere opinion.
Political bias is also clear in Henry VIII, which ends with an effusive celebration of the birth of Elizabeth.
However, Shakespeare's celebration of Tudor order is less important in these plays than his presentation of the spectacular decline of the medieval world.
The Duchess of York's lament that her family "make war upon themselves, brother to brother, blood to blood, self against self" derives from Vergil and Hall's judgment that the York brothers paid the penalty for murdering King Henry and Prince Edward.In the first tetralogy, Henry VI never views his troubles as a case of divine retribution; in the second tetralogy, evidence for an overarching theme of providential punishment of Henry IV "is completely lacking". Again, Henry IV, at the end of Richard II, speaks of a crusade as reparation for Richard's death: but in the next two plays he does not show remorse for his treatment of Richard.Again, where the chronicles argue that God was displeased with Henry VI's marriage to Margaret and the broken vow to the Armagnac girl, Shakespeare has Duke Humphrey objects to Margaret because the match entails the loss of Anjou and Maine. As for the Henry VI plays, the Yorkist view of history in 1 Henry VI differs from that in 2 Henry VI: in Part 1 the conspiracy of the Yorkist Richard Earl of Cambridge against Henry V is admitted; in Part 2 it is passed silently over.Some of Shakespeare's histories – and notably Richard III – point out that this medieval world came to its end when opportunism and Machiavellianism infiltrated its politics.By nostalgically evoking the late Middle Ages, these plays described the political and social evolution that had led to the actual methods of Tudor rule, so that it is possible to consider the English history plays as a biased criticism of their own country.
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Shakespeare made use of the Lancaster and York myths, as he found them in the chronicles, as well as the Tudor myth.