Chronicle play: A drama that purports to be based on and to recount historical events. Chronicle plays were at their height in late-sixteenth-century England, particularly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, during the reign of Elizabeth I. The Elizabethan chronicle plays, sometimes called history plays, were based on the Chronicles (1578), tales by Raphael Holinshed and others that offered a patriotic version of English history to a largely uneducated public. Early chronicle plays, which often strung together a series of incidents that occurred during a single ruler’s reign, exhibited a very loose structure and tended to hold audience attention through glitzy displays of pageantry and battle scenes occasionally interrupted by comic interludes. Later chronicle plays showed greater literary sophistication, particularly as manifested in character portrayal and development.
EXAMPLE: William Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays (1597—99), memorable for their portrayals of fat Falstaff and his bad influence on the young Henry, Prince of Wales, the King’s son; Bertolt Brecht’s Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (Mother Courage and her Children) (1939), an anti-war play, set during the Thirty Years War, that Brecht wrote after the Nazi invasion of Poland in World War II.