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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: June ::
Re: Henry V in the Park
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0454.  Tuesday, 18 June 1996.

(1)     From:   John W. Mahon <JWM1%
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        Date:   Monday, 17 Jun 96
        Subj:   SHK 7.0446 Re: Henry V in the Park

(2)     From:   Brooke Brod <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 18 Jun 1996 10:08:04 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0446 Re: Henry V in the Park


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Mahon <JWM1%
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Date:           Monday, 17 Jun 96 19:20:55 EDT
Subject: Re: Henry V in the Park
Comment:        SHK 7.0446 Re: Henry V in the Park

Monday, 17 June 1996

Dear SHAKSPEReans,

I hope people won't mind my answering my own question, but, heck, this is a
slow time of year on SHAKSPER.  After asking about Adrian Noble's 1984
production of HENRY V, I did some research and came up with the answer to my
question:  Noble did indeed include the "Kill the prisoners" episode in his
production, and he made it clear that Henry violated the rules of chivalric
engagement, as Shakespeare's text shows, merely because he suspected that the
French were re-grouping and his army remained at a serious numerical
disadvantage.  My Iona colleague and co-editor on THE SHAKESPEARE NEWSLETTER,
Tom Pendleton, referred me to an article by Chris Fitter in SHAKESPEARE LEFT
AND RIGHT, ed. Ivo Kamps (New York:  Routledge, 1991).  In "A Tale of Two
Branaghs:  HENRY V, Ideology, and the Mekong Agincourt," Fitter compares
Noble's 1984 RSC production, in which Branagh performed the title role, to
Branagh's 1989 film version;  he argues that Noble's production is faithful to
what he sees as Shakespeare's essentially subversive intention while Branagh,
who deletes the "Kill the prisoners" episode, in this and other instances
"rehabilitates" Henry V against the intent of the original.  Fitter concludes:
"What Shakespeare has demystified, Branagh, persuasively, affably, immorally,
has resanctified" (275).  A less tendentious view that also supports Noble's
"subversive" reading can be found in the excellent program book issued by the
RSC at the time of the production:  this overview includes objective essays by
several historians and useful excerpts from contemporary accounts of the Battle
of Agincourt.

Perhaps more interesting, however, are some other historical details I
discovered as I explored my files on HENRY V.  In the current NEW YORKER piece,
Lawrence Weschler describes how Douglas Hughes has decided to stage the crucial
passage.  Pistol and his recent French captive, le Fer, will be among those
following the king as he enters in 4.6.  When Henry gives the order, "Then
every soldier kill his prisoners," there will be a moment of stunned inaction,
Henry will repeat the order, and then he will look meaningfully at Exeter as he
delivers the next line, "Give the word through."  Pistol will be the first to
act, crying "Coup la gorge" as in the bad quarto version of the play and
simultaneously cutting le Fer's throat, adding, for good measure, a shouted
"Hal," to make certain that the king has observed his obedient behavior.  The
textual scholars will gag on all of this, but it will be interesting to see how
it plays.

When Shakespeare in Central Park last offered HENRY V in 1984 (the same year in
which the RSC mounted Adrian Noble's production at Stratford), the play was
directed by Wilford Leach, and Kevin Kline played the title role.  Leach
included the "Kill the prisoners" passage and had Kline cut the throat of
Monsieur le Fer, but he undermined its impact.  In his review, Frank Rich notes
that both director and star seemed uncomfortable with the bloodthirsty Henry of
the original text:  "The ambivalence continues after intermission, when Henry's
cruel order to slay the French prisoners is preceded--and ostensibly
justified--by a graphic, onstage depiction of an equivalent French atrocity"
(THE NEW YORK TIMES, 6 July 1984).  Reviewing the same production several weeks
later, Benedict Nightingale offered some interesting reflections:  "I always
find myself puzzled and disturbed by the passage in which he [Henry V] orders
the killing of the prisoners taken at Agincourt.  His followers interpret this
as proper retaliation for the murder of the boys guarding the English baggage;
and so, I suspect, do most members of the audience.  But if you listen
carefully, you'll find that Henry learns about that atrocity only AFTER he's
issued his command, and promptly uses it to justify a massacre actually ordered
because the French had "reinforced their scattered men."  Is this confusion and
clumsiness on Shakespeare's part?  Or could it be a sly, subterranean attempt,
of the kind noted by John Arden, to suggest that Henry is more the unscrupulous
politician than he seems?    It's hard, terribly hard, to reach across the
centuries into Shakespeare's mind, which possibly thought it reasonable to kill
your captives if your enemy is regrouping.  Yet there seems more than a little
irony in the triumphant cry of the soldier who first mistakes Henry's motives:
"Wherefore the king most worthily hath caused every soldier to cut his
prisoner's throat. Oh, 'tis a gallant king!" (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 15 July 1984,
page 3 of "Arts and Leisure" section).

Nightingale's comments will echo in my mind when I attend this summer's
production of HENRY V in Central Park--I'm sure someone will supply the precise
dates, but the play is already in previews and is scheduled for performances
through most of July, I believe.

John W. Mahon
Iona College

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brooke Brod <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 Jun 1996 10:08:04 -0400
Subject: 7.0446 Re: Henry V in the Park
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0446 Re: Henry V in the Park

Henry V begins previews today, June 18th and will run through July 14th.  The
cost is NOTHING.  You can line up for tickets at the Delacorte Theatre in
Central Park.  The lines can get long depending on the popularity of the show
(people camped out overnight for the Tempest last year), however, 9-10am is
usually a good time to get there, bring reading material and a cup of coffee or
tea.  The box office opens at 1pm, each person in line is entitled to two
tickets, they will not give you more, and then you just return that evening for
the performance.

A limited number of tickets are passed out at the Public Theatre on Lafayette
St. below Astor Pl. and this year on specific days tickets will be passed out
in the other bouroughs, call the Public box office to find out.

Timon of Athens will open sometime in August.

See you in the park,
Brooke Brod
 

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