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Historical Fiction Discussions > Shakespeare and others.

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message 1: by James (new)

James | 34 comments I am trying to decide if plays fit into Historical Fiction or if only novels should. Opinions?


message 2: by Maggie (new)

Maggie | 33 comments I tend to think of novels only. Plays/drama belongs somewhere else, but I'm not sure where; perhaps a category of it's own?.


message 3: by Bryn (new)

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 279 comments I'm right behind the idea that Shakespeare wrote historical fiction, as did a fair few poets, and I'd like to include them in HF.


message 4: by Listra (new)

Listra (museforsaken) | 2 comments Yup. I also think that Shakespeare's plays - some of them - count as HF. Even John Milton's Paradise Lost, if you believe the Bible as historical, would count as a HF as well, since Milton mixed the events with his own imagination of Heaven etc. Thus Virgil's Aeneid and Homer's Illiad also count (experts comments welcome). Just my opinion.


message 5: by Bryn (new)

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 279 comments And why leave them out, when they're such wonderful examples of HF? When we can claim the Iliad for our own?


message 6: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Zink | 12 comments I think the same. HF! Shakespeare is the reason I got interested in HF to begin with.


message 7: by Shomeret (new)

Shomeret | 230 comments So The Trojan Womenplay by Euripides would also be HF. Then there's Le Cidby Pierre Corneille and of course Cyrano De Bergeracby Edmond Rostand my all time favorite play.


message 8: by James (new)

James | 34 comments That makes some sense, but the Iliad is stretching it a bit I think. It Historical Fiction not Mythological Fiction. They still haven't definitively proven the Trojan War took place.


message 9: by Bryn (new)

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 279 comments James wrote: "the Iliad is stretching it a bit I think."

Homer thought he was writing historical fiction; and though he may have sinned against histfic as we know it, I wouldn't tell him that. Instead, I'd widen our definition. That's me.


message 10: by James (new)

James | 34 comments Hmmmmm...not sure what to make of that. I mean Homer still believed in the Greek Gods.


message 11: by April (new)

April | 187 comments James wrote: "Hmmmmm...not sure what to make of that. I mean Homer still believed in the Greek Gods."

I disagree with that. Most held the Greek Gods as stories, not belief by then. That is why there were so many on them being written down. And so may philosophies being started.


message 12: by James (new)

James | 34 comments April wrote: "James wrote: "Hmmmmm...not sure what to make of that. I mean Homer still believed in the Greek Gods."

I disagree with that. Most held the Greek Gods as stories, not belief by then. That is why th..."


Actually April, even Alexander (about 400 yrs after Homer) still believed in the Gods, and the Romans adopted them centuries later. After Alexander "liberated" Egypt he began to refer to Zeus-Ammon as his true father. His will left instructions for temples to be built as well, so obviously they were not just thought to be stories.

And one other thing most people are not aware of, pretty much every single Greek philosopher was not educated in Greece. The knowledge of the age came out of Egypt, and almost every single famous Greek intellectual spent a considerable amount of time in Egypt being educated.


message 13: by April (new)

April | 187 comments There are plenty of people, including me, who believe that the Bible are stories, yet I participate in church and help build my physical church. Participation does not mean that someone believes that gods are real.


message 14: by James (new)

James | 34 comments April wrote: "There are plenty of people, including me, who believe that the Bible are stories, yet I participate in church and help build my physical church. Participation does not mean that someone believes th..."

In 146 BC the Romans conquered Greece and took much of the existing religion and incorporated it into their own. Whether or not individual Greeks believed in certain stories or not they did in fact believe in the Gods. There are some Byzantine sources that record Sparta remaining pagan until the 10th century AD.

The overwhelming evidence supports that Homer (and generations of Greeks after him) would have believed in the Greek Gods. The fact that you support something you do not believe in is not proof or even evidence that anyone in history did the same. Do you have any evidence at all to support your claim?


message 15: by Ann (new)

Ann Chamberlin | 26 comments If I am a believing Christian and write a novel about the time of Jesus that's not historical fiction? Are you saying religion has no place in our attempts to recreate the past? We're not allowed miracles or the wanderings of gods through the battlefields--if the people believed in them? I'm all for including Homer and Shakespeare--even though he has cannons in Julius Caesar. My only concern would be--do we count poetry and stage plays? --not that it isn't historical fiction.


message 16: by James (new)

James | 34 comments Ann wrote: "If I am a believing Christian and write a novel about the time of Jesus that's not historical fiction? Are you saying religion has no place in our attempts to recreate the past? We're not allowed..."

No I am not. I am questioning the Iliad since we don't even know definitively if the Trojan War occurred. Furthermore, Jesus is be believed to be an actual Historical figure (even by most Atheists), the question of his divinity aside. As a Christian your believe system has not been proved wrong, whereas the ancient Greek Gods are know to be false.


message 17: by Ann (new)

Ann Chamberlin | 26 comments "Now in the name of all the gods at once, upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed--?" as the Bard might say. (Trying desperately to keep on topic.)

We'll have to disagree on our definition of historical fiction then, James, because I think one of the greatest series of novels ever written was that by Mary Renault. The Greek gods exist for her characters. They exist for me when I'm reading those books. That first scene in Fire from Heaven when the God visits the boy Alexander's mother. . . Made a believer out of me. Theseus, a thoroughly mythical character if there ever was one, exists for me in The Bull from the Sea. And that poor schmuck dying for his one God in the arena. He's the deluded one. I hope we're not going to consign Mary Renault to fantasy. Or religious apology?

That's certainly something I try to attain in the fiction I write. I want to understand what it is like to believe in medieval witchcraft as did Joan of Arc. I want to believe in the jinn and the God of a rising Islam, just to see how it feels, how it interprets the howling desert better than anything else around. I don't want my recreations of other times and places to be modern-day apologies for those times and places--"surely this is how they would have behaved if they were as *smart* as we are." Personally, I believe the past has a whole lot to offer us, not the least of which is the metaphor of an Olympus full of gods that people today continue to worship. Mammon, to name one. The modern world, I feel, is really bad at metaphor, requiring literal scientific facts for everything--and missing half of life at least.

If I must be said to be apologizing for the past, it is so I can better understand people today who believe, and Kill and die for--to me--the whackiest things.


message 18: by April (new)

April | 187 comments My comment was to establish that gods such as Zeus most likely were not real people, there for if books include gods interaction with people, not HF.

IF books about Historical people or places, like Jesus, are written that include the person, I think it's HF, whether play, long (epic) poem, or novel.

Julius Caesar by Shakespeare is HF and should be included.
Beowulf, though used for historical support, would not be HF but not because it is an epic poem.

My other point was that the Bible could be considered HF because every story written about people were all written over 50 years after they took place. And since HF is filling in the parts we don't know about a historical person, most of the Gospels are just that. No one was around to record the birth of Christ, yet three of the four Gospels have a birth story.


message 19: by James (new)

James | 34 comments I don't believe a book can be considered HF unless it is about Historical people AND places. That is why I am saying the Iliad probably doesn't fit. There are no characters in it that are proved to be historical, as far as I am aware, and there is no definitive proof that the war happened.

As for the Bible, definitely could be considered HF, depends on your beliefs.


message 20: by C.P. (last edited Sep 27, 2012 04:35PM) (new)

C.P. Lesley (cplesley) | 684 comments Personally, as a historian, I would classify as HF anything that takes place in the past, including mythological, imaginary, or alternative pasts. By my criteria, Shakespeare definitely qualifies (real people, reconstructed for narrative purposes), as does Homer (people living 500 or so years before the narrator, perhaps not "real," whatever that means in fiction, but plausible).

My own HF includes people who did not exist but could have, given everything we know about that time and place, and people who did exist but about whom nothing is known other than their births, deaths, and marriages (maybe). Also events that did not (I think) happen but for which all the preconditions were in place. How is that different from Shakespeare or Homer?

One person's view.


message 21: by Listra (new)

Listra (museforsaken) | 2 comments Talking about Illiad. It is said that a guy named Schliemann actually found the evidence of a great conflict in a place that's supposed to be Troy at the time of the Trojan War. So, the Illiad may or may not be truly based on that war, but there's a possibility of that as well. Well, if Trojan War is really based on historical event then we can safely categorize Illiad, Odyssey and Aeneid as HF.


message 22: by C.P. (new)

C.P. Lesley (cplesley) | 684 comments If you want a lovely contemporary take on Schliemann's excavations, which do indeed confirm the existence of Troy, try Trojan Gold. Probably my favorite of the Vicky Bliss series, with the possible exception of Night Train to Memphis, and that's saying something.


message 23: by Ann (new)

Ann Chamberlin | 26 comments And having walked around the excavations myself, I'd say Schliemann had a very good case. At least enough to build a novel around.


message 24: by James (last edited Sep 30, 2012 01:05PM) (new)

James | 34 comments Listra wrote: "Talking about Illiad. It is said that a guy named Schliemann actually found the evidence of a great conflict in a place that's supposed to be Troy at the time of the Trojan War. So, the Illiad may ..."


Evidence but not proof. Lets look at the individuals in the Iliad before we call it HF. Achillies, invulnerable and the son of a nymph and the King of the Myrmidons, a legendary people that arose from ants. Priam, Trojan king and descendant of Zeus. Ajax, grandson of Zeus. Odysseus, great grandson of Hermes. And the total number of gods featured in the poem...19. The total number of characters in the Iliad that have actually been proven to be historical? Zero.

What else is historically wrong with it? It has been proven that a wooden horse big enough to carry 30 soldiers, with the technology of the age, would not have been possible to move over the ground of the area. The walls at the correct site are not big enough to be the walls in the poem.

What is historical about any of that? It doesn't matter if Homer believed it or not it's still not historical.

I think no matter what definition you use for HF, it must include a historical character.


message 25: by James (new)

James | 34 comments As for Schliemann, his is not the evidence that I eluded to. His evidence has been proven to be garbage. The layer he thought was Troy was proven not to have been from the believed time of the Trojan War. And it was said that his methods were destructive and that "he did to Troy what the Greeks couldn't do in their times, destroying and leveling down the entire city walls to the ground". If he had never been involved there might have been some proof of the Trojan War.


message 26: by James (new)

James | 34 comments C.P. wrote: "If you want a lovely contemporary take on Schliemann's excavations, which do indeed confirm the existence of Troy, try Trojan Gold. Probably my favorite of the Vicky Bliss series, with the possible..."

They do not confirm anything other than that Schliemann didn't know enough about archeology. What he called Troy was from Early Bronze Age, as in much too old to be the Troy of the Iliad. Further more "Priam's Treasure" was also located at a strata hundreds of years older than the area where it should have been found. He discovered the site Troy II. Modern historians and archeologist currently believe that site Troy VIIa is the site with the most evidence of being the Troy from the Iliad.


message 27: by C.P. (new)

C.P. Lesley (cplesley) | 684 comments James, I am aware that Schliemann did not discover Homer's Troy. My point was that before Schliemann, no one believed that Troy had ever existed in any form or at any time. He confirmed the existence of Troy, in the most literal sense.

He also wreaked havoc on Mycenae. But despite his many flaws as an archeologist, he did make a contribution at that very fundamental level. And Elizabeth Peters, who holds a degree in Egyptology and knows something about archeology (probably more than Schliemann), is still worth reading.


message 28: by Alberto (new)

Alberto Ambard This is a very interesting topic and one that creates passion due to its association with religion.

In my opinion and in the context of this discussion, a novel is considered historical if:
a) Narrate or describe historical factual events or their effect, in which case the narrative of Greek Gods does not apply
b) Narrate or describe the role of such beliefs (the Gods) had on society at the time, from a historical perspective..

In any case, the correct definition of what is a historical novel or not is highly controversial. There is a concept by a society of historian writers or so (can't remember the name), that attempted to bring consensus and only created more controversy since their definition is vague and there is additional explanations, etc, etc in their website. This brings me to another topic that should be open... will do


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