Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Silenced Voices: A Reactionary Streamlined Henry V in the Hollow Crown

Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Silenced Voices: A Reactionary Streamlined Henry V in the Hollow Crown

Article excerpt

Multicultural Shakespeare: Translation, Appropriation and Performance vol. 12 (27), 2015; DOI: 10.1515/mstap-2015-0008

Perhaps no other play in Shakespeares oeuvre has been so misunderstood and bowdlerized as Henry V. It is nevertheless one of the most popular of Shakespeares plays and has been made into several well-known films. The film versions, however, have seen the play streamlined, with the removal or shortening of so-called episodes or throw-away scenes with a consequent misrepresentation of the issues of war, patriotism and nationalism. In addition, the minor characters, so key to reaching an understanding of the play in my reading of the work, are often silenced or neglected. I would like to argue that those elements, repeatedly cut from the film versions, actually provide possible alternative readings of the play which turn it from a flag-waving jingoistic celebration of Britains superiority over France into a profound critique of honour, nationalism and religion used to justify military aggression. I would like to use the latest film version, the final segment from the four-part, critically acclaimed The Hollow Crown series, directed by Thea Sharrock in 2012 as a study in point. Although visually spectacular and brilliantly acted, the film once again butchers the play and thereby neglects much of the subversive details and characters.

There are three previous film renderings of the play worthy of note. The first was Laurence Oliviers version from 1944 which he both directed and starred in. The film was unashamedly created as war propaganda and even dedicated to British soldiers fighting in World War II. Deborah Cartmell (96) summarizes the approach succinctly, Laurence Olivier eliminates half of the plays lines (most notably, episodes which cast doubt on Henrys motives and heroism) and produces the unity which critics had found missing.

The most faithful film rendition of the play is the BBC production from 1979 directed by David Giles and starring David Gwillim. Kenneth Branaghs version from 1989, with Branagh again as director and headliner star, was extremely popular and influential, providing the Northern Irishman with

Department of English and American Studies, Faculty of Arts, Palack University, Olomouc, Czech Republic.

David Livingstone

Silenced Voices: A Reactionary Streamlined Henry V in The Hollow Crown


David Livingstone

world-wide fame. Although willing to explore the darker aspects of the play, it nevertheless cuts a great deal of the plot and includes, in my mind, mandatory glamorous battle scenes which imbalance the story.

My reading of the play consequently argues that the episode scenes, these being almost inevitably the ones omitted or shortened in the film versions, serve as mirrors, parallel plots, to the preceding or consequent major scenes featuring King Henry. I refer to this technique as foreshadowing when the episode scene occurs before the major scene and echoing when it takes place afterwards. These episodes inevitably serve to deflate or ridicule the high-blown rhetoric voiced by Henry and the nobility. Hereward T. Price (102) has a similar observation concerning the plays in general:

Apparently loose detachable scenes, so-called episodes, are frequent in Shakespeare. They vary in function as well as in techniques, but certain features tend to recur. Many of them are [...] mirror scenes, reflecting in one picture either the main theme or some important aspect of the drama. Others offer some kind of contrast to the general run of the action [...]. Others again affect the plot by keying down the suspense.

I would like to make mention of the minor characters in the play and the various techniques for subversive commentary they provide. Falstaff disappears in Henry V despite Shakespeares promise to include him at the end of Henry IV Part 2. We do continue to have, however, Falstaffs henchmen. Pistol has the largest space in the play with his actions often aping the grandiose mannerisms of the King. …

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