Game of Thrones gives a history lesson

Even the dragons in fantasy TV show Game of Thrones can help teach real history, Buxton International Festival heard during a debate on the blurring of lines between fiction and fact when describing the past.

Helen Castor, a BBC TV historian of medieval England and a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, said that if she were teaching the Wars of The Roses, she would use Game of Thrones to demonstrate the double-dealing and plotting that went on behind the scenes.

And the show also gave an insight into the fears medieval people had about the supernatural.

“You can scoff at the dragons (in Game of Thrones) but the medieval chroniclers talked about dragons in the sky,” said Helen, whose latest book is Elizabeth I, A Study in Insecurity.

Game of Thrones does a marvellous job of giving one a sense of living in a world where gods intervene in the world.”

Historians needed to be imaginative when writing about the past, but she warned that readers of historical fiction also needed to be very critical to make sure they could separate the facts from the invention.

However, new research was constantly updating both fact and fiction. William Shakespeare, for example, was often criticised for inaccuracies in his history plays, but the discovery of Richard the Third’s body demonstrated that his “crookback” description of the monarch was more than just Tudor propaganda against a defeated enemy.

“We now know that Shakespeare’s play was much more accurate than we thought about Richard the Third’s disabilities,” said Helen.

But it was history in the making which worried her the most as the line between truth and lies in today’s world of politics became more and more blurred.


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About Buxton International Festival

Buxton International Festival is one of the UK’s leading arts events taking place in July each year; a cultural celebration of the very best opera, music and literature taking place in the beautiful Peak District. The Festival features the most promising rising stars in the arts world, as well as prominent international singers, artists and literary figures performing in a packed summer programme of in excess of 120 events over a 17-day period to an audience of over 30,000.

The Festival produces three operas alongside a series of concerts given by many leading British and international musicians, and a literary series featuring leading writers and thinkers. Festival venues include the exquisite Matcham-designed Buxton Opera House, St John’s Church and the Pavilion Arts Centre. Together with the Buxton Festival Fringe, the spa town is a haven for arts enthusiasts throughout July each year. The Festival also presents an annual autumn Book Weekend and Outreach Programme.

Buxton International Festival has been presented annually since 1979. The brainchild of Malcolm Fraser, the Head of Opera at the Royal Northern College of Music, who had a vision of making the dilapidated Buxton Opera House, which had been used as a cinema for most of its life, into the home of an annual opera festival. With the help of Welsh National Opera conductor, Anthony Hose, he set about making his dream a reality. The Artistic Director is the acclaimed conductor, Stephen Barlow.

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