The History Plays

William Shakespeare wrote two tetralogies of so-called history plays, dealing with English history from the reign of Richard II (1377-99) to that of Richard III (1483-85). These are:

Richard II; Henry IV, Part I; Henry IV, Part II; and Henry V


Henry VI, Part I; Henry VI, Part II; Henry VI, Part III; and Richard III

These are, of course, dramatizations of English history – they are far more important for their psychological portraits of various characters – but Shakespeare was (and remains) so influential that English historians have been working against him ever since the sixteenth century. Nigel Saul’s Richard II and Ian Mortimer’s Fears of Henry IV both take Shakespeare as their starting point, and if you think that the Bard gave Richard III a raw deal, you can join the Richard III Society, which exists to prove “that something as esoteric and as fragile as reputation is worth campaigning for.” Having said that, the history plays are captivating and edifying, and if you’re keen on seeing a recent enactment of them you can do no better than the BBC’s Hollow Crown series – now with Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III!

We recently learned for the first time how Richard III died, and now we also know how the famed British monarch will look as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch.

The “Sherlock” star is set to play the historic royal in the ongoing miniseries “The Hollow Crown,” and BBC Two offered the public its first look at Cumberbatch in the role Wednesday, as filming on his scenes commences in the U.K.

Cumberbatch appears in the photo riding a black horse in a wooded area while sporting matching garb.

It was also revealed that Cumberbatch’s “Sherlock” co-star Andrew Scott has signed on to play King Louis, a rival to Richard III — the last King of England to die in battle, over 500 years ago.

(Although note that no Hollow Crown of Henry VI, Part III is planned.)