There were many popular works available in the late sixteenth century that Shakespeare was able to draw on for material. These included The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth (published in 1580s), The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York written by Edward Hall (1548), and Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1577).
Much of the historical detail is included accurately in the play, but Shakespeare was first and foremost a playwright and he manipulated some of the historical facts to enhance the dramatic action of the play.
For example, in reality Hotspur was almost twice Hal’s age, and Hotspur’s victory at Holmedon, which in the play takes place at the same time as Mortimer’s defeat by Glendower, actually occurred three months later. Shakespeare made these alterations to heighten dramatic effect and to create conflict and balance. To capture audience interest, Shakespeare compressed time and presented an engaging story where significant characters navigated events, faced and overcame challenges, and built relationships through interaction with others.
In addition, the play reveals that Shakespeare was in tune with some of the contemporary preoccupations. The prospect of civil division and the question of succession were major concerns to an Elizabethan audience.Towards the end of her reign, Elizabeth I faced dynastic challenges, uncertainties of succession, restlessness in the outlying areas of her kingdom, and military threats.
Next: The History Plays
Raphael Holinshed. The firste volume of the Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande. London, 1577