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Henry V (2004)

Henry V (2004)
Rating
3.85 of 5 Votes: 3
ISBN
0743484878 (ISBN13: 9780743484879)
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English
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publisher
washington square press
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Henry V (2004)
Henry V (2004)

About book: Even for those whose introduction to Shakespeare has afforded them a positive experience -- thanks, perhaps, to a solid production of "Macbeth" or "Midsummer's Night's Dream" -- I think there's some trepidation about the history plays. I was no exception, feeling that my complete ignorance of the British monarchs would leave me unable to understand or enjoy the stories as told by Shakespeare. I felt that way until my wife and I started seeing productions at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Although I'd previously seen "Richard III," "Henry VIII" and even the rarely performed "King John," what really clinched it for me was the story of Prince Hal becoming King Henry V, which is magestically told in "King Henry IV, Part I," King Henry IV, Part II," and "Henry V." We've seen the first two. They are extraordinarily rich plays: They're exciting, they're surprisingly funny, and at times deeply moving. The trilogy includes one of the most emotionally devastating moments I've seen in any of the Bard's histories: Henry V's rejection of Falstaff at the end of "Henry IV, Part II." I read the first two prior to seeing the shows, and I've now finished reading "King Henry V." It's a terrific play, thanks largely to the unique role played by the Chorus, whose introduction to each act allows Shakespeare to keep a tight focus on only the most crucial action -- the debate over whether to go to war, the conspiracy, the siege of Harfleur, the Battle of Agincourt ("We few, we happy few, we band of brothers") and finally, the King's wooing of the French Princess Katherine. One can see, right from the opening lines of the Chorus, that even Shakespeare himself was in awe of the material that brings the trilogy to a close, the Battle of Agincourt: "O for a Muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention, a kingdom for a stage, princes to act, and monarchs to behold the swelling scene!" Storytelling doesn't get any bigger than that. Neither do any of the Bard's characters; If you count the lines spoken in all three plays, Prince Hal/King Henry easily has the most dialogue of any Shakespearean character. Sorry, Hamlet. I know that "Henry V" is widely regarded as the most "patriotic" of Shakespeare's histories; there's good reason why Lawrence Olivier got out of the British Navy during World War II so he could mount a film adaption. He had already been asked by Churchill to deliver the Saint Crispin Day speech on the radio to rally the troops. But nothing is so simple in Shakespeare, and having now read it, what I'm struck by is the fantastic complexity and depth ... the attitudes expressed by many types of characters about war, power, even class, of all things. There is also the death of Falstaff: Why did Shakespeare choose to have this larger-than-life character die offstage? Especially after having promised at the end of "Henry IV, Part 2" that he would return? Did Shakespeare feel that Falstaff, like Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet," threatend to take over the play? That he would upstage the star? Or that he was so larger than life that there was no way to do his death scene justice? Who knows? These are the sorts of questions that make Shakespeare, for me, so stimulating. We have no journal writings or memoirs in which the greatest writer in the English language provides insights to these and a thousand other questions. We just have the plays, which raise the questions. For this reader, that's more than enough.

A somewhat unexpected development at at the end of a four-play series ("The Henriad"). Shakespeare comes across as remarkably cynical in the first three plays, yet in this one he takes as mostly sincere the moral reformation of Henry V, and the superiority of English/British honor (while peppering the play with a bit of ethnic humor, Shakespeare upholds the honor of the Welsh, whose main defect is merely that they speak a bit funny). To a large extent the play seems most like a "history play" among this series of history plays: events from history are enacted on stage and offstage with a "chorus" to keep us updated--and speaking of "chorus," Shakespeare seems to exercise his wit here by employing a "chorus" of one person to illustrate his main function as a reminder that every man on stage is taken to represent dozens or thousands. The play seems didactic and even propagandist in comparison to the other more ambiguous plays. But I was somewhat thankful to have put behind the silliness of Henry IV 1&2. And one rather large ambiguity seems to stand out dramatically to me, as the big riddle of the play which goes uncommented. Why do the English triumph at Agincourt? Here, Shakespeare leaves us to do our own philosophizing, and I believe that's entirely deliberate. He has encouraged us to entertain three theses which are not necessarily exclusive to one another:-They triumph through the will of God.-They triumph through the character of men (Henry's moral reformation and the honorable character of those who emerged from the earlier British civil wars being the deciding factors).-They triumph through an accident of blind, inconstant fortune.The epilogue mentions fortune, which was a theme oft repeated in the play cycle and an obsession to the medieval mind, but God's will and the reward of human virtue are also oft repeated themes so that on a philosophical level Shakespeare seems to have offered us three Henriads without any means to arrive at one True Henriad.P.S., the theses which are entirely left off the table, perhaps even mildly ridiculed through the honorable foolishness of the character of Fluellin, are that the English may have triumphed through strategy or technological superiority (historians might point to the use of the longbows, for instance). To Shakespeare, such prosaic explanations of military victory are not to be taken seriously.
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Reviews
João Fernandes
(The Battle of Agincourt, 15th century illustration)Edward II (you may remember him as the annoying whiny prince from Braveheart) married Isabella of France, daughter of King Charles VI. From their unwanted marriage sprung King Edward III, who apparently is the wet dream of English chivalry (we can't go half a play without hearing someone praise this guy).Edward III claims the throne of France against his distant cousin Philip and the seemingly eternal conflict known as the Hundred Years War begins.Now, Richard II was much too troubled with Irish rebels and Bolingbroke, and Bolingbroke too distracted dealing with rebels and dreams of holy crusades.But now reigns Harry Monmouth, and it is time to claim the throne of France for the Plantagenets.I love this play. I love Henry as a nigh perfect king, and I love his sweet interactions with Catherine. However, in this review all I want to point out is how incredibly biased this play is. Of course, this is an English play about the forefathers of the contemporary Tudor dynasty. The French were never going to be the heroes and the English invaders. But next time you read the play, see how the clergy, nobles and his father's last words have driven Henry to conquest.See how, in the perspective of a French commoner at the time, Henry is nothing more than an invader come to kill them, to break their peace and fertilise French soil with French blood. Think about how all this is based on God's will and the right of one type of law over another. How every French lord and the Dauphin just happen to be wimpy, cocky pricks. Think about how many widows cursed Crispin and Crispianus for having abandoned France on their day.How whilst in England St. Crispin's Day is celebrated with the heroes showing their battle scars just like Harry describes in his incredible speech, in France widows and orphans cry in anguish at the memory of the fallen.Harry would have been a great king for France had he lived longer, but if the heavens overlooked his father's faults at Agincourt, they soon repaid them to his son, doomed to lose an empire he hadn't even won yet.In perspective, was Agincourt really worth anything at all?
Jordan
"For God, Harry, and St George!"Lord, what a play. Shakespeare is often times enjoyable, but I love to refer to this as the ultimate coming of age story. Every young man in the world deserves to see this performed. The play is really, in my opinion, a cluster of insecurities facing young men. From his mockery at the hands of the Dauphin, to his proving his worth in combat, to the pressure put on him as king, the judgments he is forced to make, and maybe even a little romance, you will see Harry go through the trials of adulthood to prove himself as a noble king.I truly recommend reading the two Henry IV plays beforehand just so you appreciate what Harry is sacrificing in his role as Henry V. He makes leaps and bounds in so short a time, and with his famous St. Crispin's Day speech rises into manhood in one of the most marvelous ways I've ever seen in a drama.Beautifully moving, ingeniously thought provoking, and forever memorable. Easily the greatest play I've ever seen in my entire life.
David Sarkies
An English Hero13 January 2011tI originally read this play because it was set during the Hundred Years War and I wanted to use it as a primary source. Unfortunately it is not a primary source since it was written 150 years after the events depicted and the essay was about the English Parliament's influence on the war, which this play has nothing to do with. This is another example of why I would love to go back and redo those classes to see how well my essays come out now that I know a lot more. I am still surprised that I managed to pass.tThis play is a piece of propaganda - it depicts Henry V as a hero. Well, to the English he is a hero as he revived the flagging war against France with a number of decisive victories, the greatest being Agnincourt, the battle upon which the play is focused. The play forms part of Shakespeare's War of the Roses cycle which begins with Richard II and ends with Richard III.tI won't go into too many details about whether Henry V deserves his title as a hero, because, as mentioned, to the English he is a hero. He defeated the French and almost conquered France (though this was really an extension of the Norman Conquest, because when the Normans conquered England they retained their capital at Rouen, and as the nation developed, the Norman lands became part of England). Further, this play focuses only on Agincourt, the lead up to the battle, the battle itself, and it's aftermath. Also in this play we see Shakespeare's rather crude humour with the French Princess attempting to learn English (and failing). The play ends with Henry taking his prize: the French Princess.tReally, there isn't all that much to this play. It is simply a retelling of history by the victors, and even though the French did end up kicking the English out of France, England still ended up as the victors, and were able to write the history of the war to suit their own purposes. It was only because of the rise of Joan of Arc that the English lost, though it is interesting to note that England probably could never have controlled France simply because every bit of France that they took there would always be more France to take, and the further they move the more dispersed their forces became and thus the more difficult it become to put down rebellions.tI recently saw a performance of Henry V (twice) and you can read more about this play here.
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