Asheville’s local Shakespeare company, the Montford Park Players, are getting ready to open their 2014 season with Henry V. Since I make it a point to attend all their plays, and since I have never read this one before, I decided to squeeze it in amid all my other reading.
Overall, I liked this play, although I confess it was not one of my favorites. Still, there were some great parts and it is certainly worth reading. I think what was a bit of a let-down for me was the chorus, which appears at the beginning of each act. While I have nothing against the inclusion of a chorus part to provide background to the plot, the chorus in this play essentially pleads to the audience to overlook the shortcomings of the play, which basically is that it is impossible to put on a huge spectacle on a small stage. I have to be honest; it sounded a little pathetic to me.
But pardon, gentles all,
The flat and unraisèd spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object.
(Act I: Prologue)
Now that I have that out of the way, I can say that as a character, I liked King Henry. He is depicted as strong, just, and merciful, all qualities which are requisite for a good leader. It is expressed that the citizens of England were happy under Henry V’s rule.
Never was monarch better feared and loved
Than is your Majesty. There’s not, I think, a subject
That sits in heartgrief and uneasiness
Under the sweet shade of your government.
(Act II, scene ii: lines 25 – 28)
In Act II, scene iii, we are told about the death of Sir John Falstaff. Although Falstaff does not make an appearance in this play, his death is mentioned. When the question arises whether he is in heaven or hell, the hostess of an inn asserts that she believes him to be in heaven.
Nay, sure, he’s not in hell: he’s in Arthur’s
bosom, if ever man went to Arthur’s bosom. A’ made
a finer end and went away an it had been any
christom child; a’ parted even just between twelve
and one, even at the turning o’ the tide: for after
I saw him fumble with the sheets and play with
flowers and smile upon his fingers’ ends, I knew
there was but one way; for his nose was as sharp as
a pen, and a’ babbled of green fields. “How now,
Sir John!” quoth I “What, man! Be o’ good
cheer.” So a’ cried out “God, God, God!” three or
four times. Now I, to comfort him, bid him a’
should not think of God; I hoped there was no need
to trouble himself with any such thoughts yet. So
a’ bade me lay more clothes on his feet: I put my
hand into the bed and felt them, and they were as
cold as any stone; then I felt to his knees, and
they were as cold as any stone, and so upward and
upward, and all was as cold as any stone.
Another thing that I found very cool about this play is how Shakespeare captures and incorporates different languages and dialects. There are numerous sections written in French, which, since my French is limited to a handful of words, I basically skipped over. But the dialects are excellent. For a great example of this, look at Act III, scene ii. Here we have dialog that includes a Welshman, an Irishman, and a Scot. It’s very witty and Shakespeare plays with the words to capture the subtleties of the language. It works very well and I found it interesting to read, imagining the sound of the words in my mind. I look forward to seeing this scene performed. It’s too long to post here, but definitely take a look at it on your own.
I think for me, though, the high point of the play was King Henry’s speech in Act IV, scene iii. He is speaking to his princes as they are preparing to fight the French army, which greatly outnumbers them. It’s a great speech, but the part that really struck me was a section where he talks about memory, and that it is the stories of their actions that will live on after they die. All things pass away, but it is the story and its connection to memory that lives on. As long as the stories are retold, then we never really perish.
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
In conclusion, I suspect that this is a play that works better on stage than on the page. That said, it is still very good and worth the read. Thanks for stopping by, and keep on reading!!