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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: May ::
Re: Henry VI
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1282  Friday, 10 May 2002

[1]     From:   Al Magary <
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        Date:   Thursday, 9 May 2002 08:29:05 -0700
        Subj:   West Wing & "the Henries"

[2]     From:   Marcus Dahl <
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        Date:   Thursday, 9 May 2002 11:38:19 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1270 Re: Henry VI

[3]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Thursday, 09 May 2002 15:15:46 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1270 Re: Henry VI

[4]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 9 May 2002 21:50:15 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1270 Re: Henry VI


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Al Magary <
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Date:           Thursday, 9 May 2002 08:29:05 -0700
Subject:        West Wing & "the Henries"

The fictional president on NBC's West Wing, Jed Bartlet, must be one of
the intellectually sharpest ever to occupy the office.  I missed a
couple of minutes at the beginning of last night's episode but the
president is for some reason preoccupied with Shakespeare, perhaps
because he's going to see the compressed version of the Wars of the
Roses cycle at Stratford.  So he asks one staffer, Of all the Henries,
which one do you think I am?  And a little later he asks his stunned
personal aide, How many parts in Shakespeare do you think I could play?

No literary screwups like the "middle-English Beowulf" slipup of a
couple weeks ago, but this must be the first network drama to mention a
decommissioned military installation called Fort Point--a Civil War fort
that's part of the anchorage of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I guess if Bartlet meant just Henry IV > VI, he could only play Henry V,
who's  more quick-witted way than IV or VI.  Of earlier Henries, maybe
III, who had some curious interests and kept lions in the Tower.

As this is an offshoot of the Henry VI thread, may I ask if there's a
tradition of playing him as a naive saint or wise fool, a virtual
bystander during most of the action?  The RSC's old Wars of the Roses
production sometimes showed him dressed like a monk, as if he spent all
his time offstage praying.

Al Magary

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcus Dahl <
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Date:           Thursday, 9 May 2002 11:38:19 EDT
Subject: 13.1270 Re: Henry VI
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1270 Re: Henry VI

I wonder if all the modern directors of the Henry VI sequence follow all
the modern editors' ideas and perform the plays according to their date
of authorship: 2HVI -3HVI -Contention -True Tragedy -1HVI? I bet the
punters really get into the plays that way.

Hung be the heavens with black...

Marcus

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Thursday, 09 May 2002 15:15:46 -0700
Subject: 13.1270 Re: Henry VI
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1270 Re: Henry VI

Of the HVI plays, Brian Willis wondered:

>I've never seen an abridged production, but my guess is that the Talbot
>scenes from Part
>One are heavily excised. Am I correct? Has anyone researched this and
>know the answer?

Brian, I can't answer your question directly.  Later this year (July?)
Alan Dessen has a book coming out from Cambridge University Press titled
*Rescripting Shakespeare: The Text, the Director, and Modern
Productions.*  I read the *HVI* chapter (over a year ago, which is why I
hesitate to add details), and Alan describes the choices made by a few
different directors for a few different productions.  I suspect this
book will answer your question better than the more casual memories of
list members.  I liked the chapter I saw a lot.

BTW, there is an interview with Alan in the about to be released issue
of *Shakespeare Newsletter.*

All the best,
Mike Jensen

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Thursday, 9 May 2002 21:50:15 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.1270 Re: Henry VI
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1270 Re: Henry VI

Anna raises several fascinating issues which I would love to delve into
further.

> These characters are both fabulous examples of women
> who display
> characteristics that would at one time have made
> them objects of
> censure, but that are now more likely to render them
> objects of
> admiration.  Their ability to stand up and lead when
> those nominally in
> charge falter makes them figures of tremendous
> power.

Absolutely, and the men in the plays resent them for it. More further
down...

> Joan's soliloquy in which she consults her demons is
> one of those scenes
> that strikes me as almost impossibly modern for a
> play written hundreds
> of years ago.  Highly recommended for fledgling
> thesps looking for an
> audition monologue that isn't Juliet.
>
> Both Joan and Margaret are also highly effective
> "misogynometers".  The
> castration anxiety of the critic operates in direct
> proportion to the
> need to sexualize, trivialize and demonize these
> women.

I love the fact that you used the word demonize here.  That in fact is
what the men in the Henry VI plays literally do to ALL of the women in
the trilogy. It's a reoccurring theme of the plays. It begins with Joan
in many obvious ways. Just randomly flipping through the play, I find an
interesting exchange among the English.

BEDFORD: Coward of France! How much he wrongs his fame,
         Despairing of his own arms' fortitude,
         To join with witches and the help of hell.

BURGANDY: Traitors have never other company.
      But what's that "Pucelle" whom they term so pure?

TALBOT:  A maid, they say.

BEDFORD:                   A maid? And be so martial?

BURGANDY: Pray God she prove not masculine ere long.
          If underneath the standard of the French
          She carry armour as she hath begun -

TALBOT:   Well, let them practise and converse with spirits.
(Act II, Scene I, lines 16-25).

This passage amazes me. It betrays their misconceptions of Joan, and it
also betrays their insecurity over her martial prowess. These words
reveal that they believe a woman can only be strong if she has made a
deal with the devil, and that any woman who wears armour and is
masculine must be unnatural, and most probably a whore as well. Indeed,
throughout the trilogy, women of prowess continue to threaten the
establishment and are condemned as unnatural and/or witches.

The Countess of Auvergne schemes to trap Talbot in what seems a very
seductive manner. They speak of substance and shadows, apparitions and
reality. The Duchess of Gloucester - Humphrey's wife - is literally
found consorting with spirits and condemned. She has a touching scene of
power, emotion and depth with her husband as she is enforced to walk
"with a white sheet about her, written verses pinned on her back, and
carrying a wax candle in her hand" (2HVI Act II Scene iv).

Much is made of Richard III's seduction of Lady Anne but what of the
bizarre courtship of Lady Gray by Edward IV? He basically enforces her
to marry him for financial reasons as Clarence delivers awkward comic
asides (3HVI Act III Scene ii). Richard of Gloucester, ironically,
delivers his great first soliloquy following the seduction in this same
scene. And of course, to even touch the surface of all the names that
are used to describe Margaret would take me all day. Suffice to say, her
strong character is called up as a negative quality, and she is accused
of being unnatural and a witch.

In conjunction with Richard III, there is a curious change with the
character of the women. They lose their strength and become wailing
victims. The strongest character? Margaret, who has already been through
victimhood. Richard III is the unnatural one, cursed by these women in
the same ways that they themselves were cursed in the Henry VI trilogy.

One other curious phenomenon: the complete absence of the Duchess of
York in the Henry VIs and her amazing appearances in Richard III. Like
Margaret, she can be easily overlooked but she is also proof of the grip
that the past has on the present of that play.  The younger women seem
completely powerless against Richard but his mother and Margaret seem
wiser, more cynical, and somehow above the action or plot of the play.

Seeing Richard III with the Henry VIs made me realize how much is lost
in RIII when it is done as a a stand alone piece.

Just barely touching the surface, but it intrigues me so. :)

Brian Willis

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