Tag Archives: Montford Park Players

“Henry V” by William Shakespeare

HenryV

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 unrais
èd 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!!

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Alliteration in “Love’s Labour’s Lost”

LovesLaboursLostI saw in the Entertainment section of the newspaper that the local Shakespeare company was putting on a performance of Love’s Labour’s Lost done as if it were a 1980’s John Hughes film. I thought that was a pretty cool idea, and since I had not read the play before, I quickly read it before going to see the performance.

The interpretation worked really well. The actors did a great job summoning up images of the Brat Pack. And the whole premise of the play, that the guys will swear off women for three years to engage in serious studies, really lent itself well for the interpretation.

As far as the text goes, it was good, but not great like some of Shakespeare’s other comedies. I would not place it in the ranks of A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Taming of the Shrew. I was also puzzled by the ending. It didn’t seem to end as a Shakespearean comedy should end, in my opinion. The fact that the Princess’s father dies, and that all the men have to spend a year in abstinence just seemed strange. I expect marriage at the end of a Shakespearean comedy, not death and abstinence. I’m still scratching my head here.

Now the one thing that I did find very interesting about this play was the use of alliteration. Even before I started reading, the title struck me as alliterative and I wondered whether this would be a literary device used throughout the play. I decided to watch for the use of alliteration and note instances. I discovered, rather quickly, that my hunch had been right, and I soon had to stop noting lines that employed alliteration. Here are just a couple from Act II.

“Some merry making lord belike, is’t so?”

and…

“Fair fall the face it covers.”

This one from Act IV is probably my favorite.

“The preyful Princess pierc’d and prick’d a pretty pleasing pricket.”

The entire play is full of this type of wordplay, and for me, that was the most interesting aspect. It’s definitely a fun and whimsical play, and worth reading, it’s just not a “WOW” play for me. But let’s face it, even an “OK” Shakespeare play is much better than a lot of stuff that’s out there in print. Cheers!

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“The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare

MerchantOfVeniceWhile in college, I wrote my senior honor’s thesis on the subject of “Order and Authority in Shakespearean Comedy.” As a result, I had read The Merchant of Venice many times and analyzed the importance of written law during the Elizabethan period. But, it had been quite a long time since I read the play, hence I decided to read it again.

If you are not familiar with the play, the first thing you should know is that it’s not very funny. Comedy, in the Shakespearean sense, is based upon structure, not humor. Pretty much, if people get married at the end, it’s a comedy; if everyone dies, it’s a tragedy. In this play, no one dies and there is marriage at the end, but don’t expect to laugh while reading this. It’s not at all like A Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Comedy of Errors.

As I read it this time, I really focused on Shylock and how he is portrayed in the text. There is ambiguity here. On one hand, it appears that Shakespeare was presenting Shylock in a way that would make the audience pity him; on the other hand, he also portrays him as despicable. The result is that if one is prejudiced against Jewish people, Shylock will fit the stereotype and support that person’s antisemitic ideas. Conversely, if one feels that Jews are mistreated, that person will also find support in the text.

First, I will cite an example that supports the negative stereotype. In the following passage, Shylock is depicted as caring more about his money than his daughter.

Why, there, there, there, there! a diamond gone,
cost me two thousand ducats in Frankfort! The curse
never fell upon our nation till now; I never felt it
till now: two thousand ducats in that; and other
precious, precious jewels. I would my daughter
were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear!
would she were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats in
her coffin!
Act III: scene i

Contrast that to the way the Christians in the play treat Shylock. First off, they rarely call him by his name, but generally address him as “the Jew” with a derogatory slur attached. There are also examples of abuse that Shylock suffers by the Christians.

Signior Antonio, many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances:
Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,
And all for use of that which is mine own.
Well then, it now appears you need my help:
Go to, then; you come to me, and you say
‘Shylock, we would have moneys:’ you say so;
You, that did void your rheum upon my beard
And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur
Act I: scene iii

There is one last quote I would like to point out. During the trail where Shylock seeks his pound of flesh, he is urged to show mercy and forgive the bond. Shylock then points out the hypocrisy of the fact that the Venetians in the court are slave owners who do not practice the same forgiveness that they are urging from him.

What judgment shall I dread, doing no wrong?
You have among you many a purchased slave,
Which, like your asses and your dogs and mules,
You use in abject and in slavish parts,
Because you bought them: shall I say to you,
Let them be free, marry them to your heirs?
Why sweat they under burthens? let their beds
Be made as soft as yours and let their palates
Be season’d with such viands? You will answer
‘The slaves are ours:’ so do I answer you:
The pound of flesh, which I demand of him,
Is dearly bought; ’tis mine and I will have it.
Act IV: scene i

While I have read this play numerous times, I have not seen it performed. This summer, a local Shakespeare troupe — The Montford Park Players — will be putting on the play. I am curious to see how they will interpret this controversial play. I will certainly be in attendance.

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