(Nunn’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/12.)
On day one of rehearsals, and in a crowd-pleasing attempt to explain to my company of actors just what it was that we were taking on, I told them that with his early history plays, Shakespeare had invented the box set. Much mirth of course, but actually, this claim is not far wide of the mark. At the very beginning of his writing career (which in my view started after he had begun his acting career), he wrote, or collaborated on, a play called Henry VI. It was popular and clearly created a craving in the playhouse audience to know what happened next. So he (they) wrote Henry VI, Part II – just like The Godfather, Part II – satisfying the demand for more. Further success and further demand produced Henry VI, Part III, and by then young William was almost certainly getting the sole writing credit. And so of course, he then followed them up (perhaps announcing that it was “the finale”) with the last part, Richard III.
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