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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: April ::
How to Play Henry V act 1 scene 2
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0742  Wednesday, 20 April 2005

[1]     From:   Arthur Lindley <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 20 Apr 2005 09:45:12 +0800
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.0733 How to Play Henry V act 1 scene 2

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Apr 2005 23:13:35 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0733 How to Play Henry V act 1 scene 2

[3]     From:   Matt Henerson <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 20 Apr 2005 00:49:06 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0733  How to Play Henry V act 1 scene 2


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Arthur Lindley <
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Date:           Wednesday, 20 Apr 2005 09:45:12 +0800
Subject: 16.0733 How to Play Henry V act 1 scene 2
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0733 How to Play Henry V act 1 scene 2

There is little reason to play the speech straight, since we have been
previously informed that it is a put up job for which the speaker and
the Church expect to be well paid.  There is also no reason to assume
that an Elizabethan audience would expect a political Catholic prelate
to be speaking honestly. Henry makes his decisions first and stages them
second, as when he uses the tennis balls as an outrageous insult which
justifies the declaration of a war upon which he is already resolved.
Canterbury in this case is just his Paul Wolfowitz.  If Henry wanted
proof that the French had weapons of mass destruction, that is what
Canterbury would provide.

Regards,
Arthur Lindley

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Tuesday, 19 Apr 2005 23:13:35 -0400
Subject: 16.0733 How to Play Henry V act 1 scene 2
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0733 How to Play Henry V act 1 scene 2

 >What continues to bother me as per earlier questions is that the Selig
[sic]
 >law speech is played for laughs more often than not, when its' content
 >is crucial in terms of letting loose the dogs of war.

What is crucial is that the archbishop presented a creditable defeasance
of the purported Salic law bar to Henry's French succession.  The exact
content and style of the presentation are not crucial, and the speech
can be played for laughs.

What enthralls me about the speech is that it is brilliant legal
rhetoric, building one argument on another until the conclusion is
inescapable.  I commend it to litigators everywhere.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Matt Henerson <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 20 Apr 2005 00:49:06 -0400
Subject: 16.0733  How to Play Henry V act 1 scene 2
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0733  How to Play Henry V act 1 scene 2

I think you can have the Salique Law speech both ways; that's to say you
can make the content of the speech heard, while satirizing the
ambitions, or the pomposity of the Archbishop.  I've done the play
twice, playing Canterbury myself the second time, and in both
productions, the speech was left uncut, played quite seriously, and
still got laughs as it progressed.  I think the laughs come from
exploiting the very un-dramatic structure of the speech.  Where the
interest of many speeches and most soliloquies lies in where they
end--Macbeth's soliloquy begins with the idea that Duncan's
assassination should be executed as quickly as possible, and ends with
Macbeth deciding, for the moment, that he just doesn't have it in
himself to do it at all--the real meat of Canterbury's speech is in the
beginning: "There is no bar to make..."  He then proceeds to cite some
pretty cogent support for his position: "Their own authors faithfully
affirm...", and if he's a bit windy about it, well he is an Archbishop,
and his audience, both on stage and in the audience smile a bit at his
prolixity, and expect the speech to end at: "...in Germany called
Meissen."  Of course it doesn't, and I could feel both audiences'
impatience with the speech as it developed through "...Eight hundred
five."  He's made his point; why doesn't the man shut up?  Or, in the
theatre audience: what could the director have been thinking to leave
all this nonsense in?

But things start to shift, and Shakespeare signals the shift, by placing
little meaningless adverbs at the beginning of the next three
sentences--"besides," "also," and again "also."  Canterbury is obviously
enjoying himself far too much to shut up.  The history of the Sallique
Law is obviously his hobby, and once he's launched, he's going to regale
us with every "interesting little fact" in his possession.  Ask a golfer
how he would navigate a tricky dogleg.  Or for that matter, ask a
Marlovian why Shakespeare couldn't possibly have written the plays.
You'd best not have anything important to do for the next little while.
  Beginning with "Besides their writers say..." each new sentence gets a
slightly larger laugh, until the invariable guffaw at "...as clear as is
the summer sun..."  The more earnest the actor, the louder the laugh.
It's all crystal clear to Canterbury.

Make him a buffoon covering for a lack of definite knowledge, or take
Olivier's tack, and make a meta-theatrical joke out of the
incomprehensibility of the thing, and you lose the impact of "The sin
upon my head, dread sovereign..."  The court must have a complicated
reaction to the sight of so crafty a politician as Canterbury is--look
at I,i--sticking his neck out as far as he does at that moment.  On the
one hand, the nobility must be relieved to see the clergy shouldering so
much of the responsibility for such an expensive and risky enterprise.
On the other, what wealth and power will accrue to the clergy at the
expense of the nobility if the war is a success, and Canterbury and his
fellow bishops become THE power behind the throne.

It will come as a surprise to nobody Shakespeare at the height of his
power can shift from high farce to political intrigue in deadly earnest
within a few lines, but it's a real thrill when you can feel it happen,
or better still make it happen on stage.  Forgive me if I've been a
little Canterbury-esque in going on so long.  It's by way of expiation
for my sins.  I wasn't particularly thrilled to be cast as Canterbury,
and only accepted the part because I would be playing both Gower and the
Constable of France as well.  I should have had more faith in a
playwright who loved actors as much as Shakespeare did.  "I'm only
giving you one scene," he may have said to the fellow playing Canterbury
in 1600, or whenever it was, "but I'm going to make it fun."

Hope this helps,
Matt Henerson

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