OK, I have got to make my mind up on about this page. First it was going to be regular book reviews. Then it turned into an annotated bibliography. Then it started morphing into something else. The madness must stop, I tell you!!!
So, here's what I'm going to try this time: The annotated bibliography is going to become part of the Film & Literature section; it pretty much belongs there anyway. It'll be broken down into two sections: Shakespeare and Everything Else (simple, but effective). I'll keep a link here, just for convenience. This section, though, will revert to being pretty much a regular book review section.
by Denise Giardina
Generally when you think of historical fiction, even good historical fiction, you think of massive tomes that pile fact upon minutiae, as though the writer were writing solely to demonstrate their mastery of the time period. Even period pieces such as Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose has layer upon layer of historical trappings.
Good King Harry stands in stark contrast to most historical novels. Even though the book, written as an autobiography of Henry V, encompasses the entirety of Prince Hal's adult life, Giardina pares away the historical litany to a bare minimum, so that the focus remains squarely on Henry's character. She walks a very careful tightrope: on the one hand, just enough historical detail that we can understand and appreciate the differences between Harry's time and hours--specifically, the sort of absolute power wielded by any medieval monarch; on the other, not so much history that the differences between Harry and us prevent us from identifying with the various dilemmas, private and political, that he struggles to resolve.
The result is a Harry who leaps off the page as intriguing and as vital as Shakespeare's Prince Hal. The classic characters, of course, remain--Sir John Oldcastle (the basis for Shakespeare's triumphant Falstaff--Shakespeare renamed the character when the Oldcastle family threatened legal action), Henry IV--deeply conflicted not only over the legitimacy of his rule, but equally conflicted in his relationship to Harry, and, of course, Harry himself, who beats all odds in succeeding to the English throne, and then further beats the odds by proving to be an effective monarch.