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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: September ::
Re: Cartmell's Views
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2145  Monday, 10 September 2001

[1]     From:   Bruce Young <
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        Date:   Friday, 07 Sep 2001 11:02:31 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2131 Cartmell's Views

[2]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Monday, 10 Sep 2001 07:48:27 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2131 Cartmell's Views


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce Young <
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Date:           Friday, 07 Sep 2001 11:02:31 -0600
Subject: 12.2131 Cartmell's Views
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2131 Cartmell's Views

In response to Mike Jensen's original questions:

1. No, I didn't think of Darth Vader on any of the numerous occasions
I've seen Branagh's Henry V.  (But I guess I'll probably think of him
from now on.  Thanks a lot.)  I'm surprised that virtually everyone else
who has responded has make the Vader connection.  I'm VERY well
acquainted with the Star Wars movies and have probably seen them as
often as I've seen Henry V.  But I guess when I've watched Branagh's
film I've just entered into another world where it would never have
occurred to me (consciously at least) that Vader belonged.  And
honestly, Vader still doesn't seem particularly relevant--and I'd bet
Branagh would agree.  On the other hand, whenever I watch Luke
Skywalker's combat with himself (with his shadow self dressed as Vader)
in The Empire Strikes Back, I think of the Cave of Mammon in The Faerie
Queene Book 2.

2. I don't know whether the dark side of Branagh's Henry was influenced
by new historicism, etc.  But someone could ask Branagh.  He actually
answers letters--at least some of them anyway.

3. I've heard the "right-wing" claim often but have never been fully
persuaded by it.  For one thing, Branagh's film has always seemed to me
deeply ambivalent about war, emphasizing its dark and destructive side
much more than Olivier's film, which sanitizes the battle scenes, gives
a more idealized (and I think flat) version of Henry himself, and mocks
and condescends to the French much more than Branagh does.  (And isn't
Olivier pretty obviously patriotic and pro-English?  Though he doesn't
take the clergymen at the beginning very seriously, there are none of
the dark suggestions of ulterior motives found in Branagh's version.)

The difficulty with interpreting Branagh's intent seems sharpest in the
post-battle sequence in which Henry carries the boy across the field to
the strains of the beautiful Te Deum.  On the one hand, the pathos,
beauty, and touch of transcendence may distract us from the ugly
realities we have just witnessed and are still witnessing.  On the other
hand, many of the ugly realities are there before our eyes--the corpses,
Pistol falling cynically into a life of crime, the French women railing
angrily at Henry, even having to be held back from attacking him (I
assume everyone notices these details).  And I think the pathos clearly
communicated in the scene is appropriate: sorrow ought to be felt at the
loss not only of the boy, but of all the English and French slaughtered
in the battle.  In his published screenplay, Branagh says that in this
scene Henry hangs his head in shame.  So clearly Branagh's intent (in
his own mind) was anti-war.  But it's hard for viewers to know Henry is
supposed to be feeling shame--he could also be hanging his head in
relief or gratitude or reverence.

I suppose different viewers see and feel different things.  For me, at
least, when I first saw the film, it resonated with my own anti-war
feelings, and the new prominence given to the play by Branagh's version
helped shape my response to the Gulf War (which as I remember followed
hard upon), leading me to post passages from the play about the horrors
of war on my office door and to give lectures before showings of the
film on campus in which I emphasized its mixed, and in many ways harsh
and realistic, treatment of war.

Bruce Young

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Monday, 10 Sep 2001 07:48:27 -0500
Subject: 12.2131 Cartmell's Views
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2131 Cartmell's Views

In reference to the Branagh film of "Henry V," Ed Taft writes:

>Earlier in the movie, Falstaff's death is reported by the Hostess and
>the reference to Socrates made clear, he who was wrongly charged with
>the crime of "misleading youth." After battle, Branagh forces Henry to
>carry the weight of a dead boy for all to see!  Thinking members of the
>audience have a chance to ask themselves who is the real misleader of
>youth? Falstaff or Henry?

At the risk of being accused of picking nits, I would question the
adverb "wrongly." My knowledge of Athenian politics of the early 4th
century is admittedly hazy, but I believe that Socrates was a powerful
spokesman for the anti-democratic / oligarchic faction, and that he made
a concerted effort to lead youth not only into more profound ways of
thinking but into a social / political revolution.

He may have been right, of course. But he may also have been wrong. In
any case, I believe that the charges were not trumped up, but simply
reflected a radical difference in political values -- a difference that
wouldn't have mattered had it not been for the catastrophic failure of
the Pelopennesian War.

Cheers,
don

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