‘In memory, perhaps’: Howard Brenton’s stage fictions as historiographical criticism

Keywords: Howard Brenton, Contemporary Drama, History Play, Audience, Society of the Spectacle


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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Author Biography

Vera Cantoni, Università di Pavia

Vera Cantoni è ricercatrice post-dottorato all'Università di Pavia. I suoi principali interessi di ricerca sono la drammaturgia britannica contemporanea, il rapporto tra oralità e dramma, la storia scenica delle opere di Shakespeare. Tra le sue pubblicazioni: New Playwriting at Shakespeare’s Globe (Bloomsbury -Methuen Drama, 2017), “‘Ask the Author’: Notes on Authorial Philology and Contemporary Playwriting” (2020), “History in the Making: Contemporary Politics in 21st-Century History Plays” (2018), “Unpresence. Headlong’s 1984 and the screen on stage” (2018), “Othello in Hip Hop: La traduzione di un classico della letteratura teatrale in una lingua orale del ventunesimo secolo” (2018), “Oralità e teatro in dialogo. Riflessioni teoriche aperte” (2018), “‘I’m juss sayin...’. Street speech on stage and page in Ché Walker’s The Frontline” (2016), “Testualmente. L’elaborazione drammaturgica delle fonti nel teatro verbatim” (2015), “Come all ye theatregoers – L’uso della ballad on alcune histories del XXI secolo” (2015).


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How to Cite
Cantoni, V. (2020). ‘In memory, perhaps’: Howard Brenton’s stage fictions as historiographical criticism. Between, 9(18). https://doi.org/10.13125/2039-6597/3763