‘In memory, perhaps’: Howard Brenton’s stage fictions as historiographical criticism
Historical drama embodies the conflict between factual truth, the artistic fiction of representation and the reality of people and objects on stage. It can therefore be employed, especially when realistic in form, to support a version of events, by letting everybody see its repetition. But by highlighting fictionality or conventions it can also be harnessed to challenge the reliability of any reconstruction of the past.
The latter possibility, widely employed in contemporary playwriting, is investigated here by focusing on the exemplary case of Howard Brenton. His works often show up the opaqueness and unreliability of documents and accounts (The Romans in Britain, 1980; H.I.D. – Hess Is Dead, 1989; In Extremis, 2006). And they combine the patent fiction on stage and the intimate human reality of actors and spectators so as to question the received image of iconic figures (The Churchill Play, 1974; Anne Boleyn, 2010; Lawrence after Arabia, 2016).
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