Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds Hello, learners. Welcome to our week four summary on Henry V. Hi, learners. This week we’ve been talking a lot about monarchy on stage and the parallels between Henry V and Queen Elizabeth. Why is it that Queen Elizabeth was never portrayed in any of Shakespeare’s plays? I think two reasons, really. One is the idea that the monarch is God’s representative on Earth makes them into a sacred person, a very special person. And so to have an actor impersonating the monarch, it would be a little bit like having an actor impersonating God, which was certainly something that was banned at the time. And a big contrast, of course, from the old mediaeval mystery plays.
Skip to 0 minutes and 52 seconds So those kind of very mystical associations of the monarchy, one reason. And then secondly, clearly the risk of giving offence, that Elizabeth was famously capricious. And however flattering a portrayal of her might have been, she could easily have taken offence at it. It’s striking, though, that very soon after she dies, King James is on the throne, she is portrayed on the stage. That the dramatist Thomas Hayward, a rather good contemporary of Shakespeare’s, did a two-part play in which Elizabeth is a character. So as soon as she dies, it’s OK. Exactly. Just as Henry VIII, Shakespeare was able to portray Henry VIII in his late play, King Henry VIII. And what do you think…
Skip to 1 minute and 41 seconds well there’s lots of stories around about Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth and his relationship with the monarchy. What do you think about that sort of thing? Yeah, I mean, it’s, I mean, stories is the operative word here. Because in the early 1700s, there is a story that goes into print, which we’re told has been handed down in theatrical tradition, that Queen Elizabeth so loved the part of Falstaff in the Henry IV plays that she commissioned Shakespeare to write a play that showed Falstaff in love, and that that was Merry Wives of Windsor, which we looked at earlier in the course. We just don’t know whether that’s true or not.
Skip to 2 minutes and 22 seconds Equally, there is a story that has quite good provenance, although it’s partly based on a letter that was supposedly seen and is now lost, that when Queen Elizabeth went down to Wilton House, which is a great house belonging to the Countess of Pembroke down the south of England, that Shakespeare was there, met her there, and a command performance was put on. Tantalising possibilities, but we don’t know for sure. And we know he performed at court, obviously. Was there a chance… would they have met? Would she have spoken to people like him? Yeah, it’s a good question.
Skip to 3 minutes and 0 seconds Because now, of course, when you get a sort of royal command performance, you know, the queen will always sort of go backstage afterwards and meet the actors. You’d have thought that that would be highly likely. But again, we don’t know it for sure. What we do know, of course, is that the act of playing at court, playing at the different royal palaces, witnessing the protocols around the monarchy gave Shakespeare and his fellow actors an enormous insight into what the world of the court was like. We’ve made a point in this course of not getting into the reasons that some people out there believe that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare.
Skip to 3 minutes and 48 seconds We concentrate on the historical evidence, and there is firm historical evidence Shakespeare did write Shakespeare. But one of the things that sort of slightly annoys me about the authorship conspiracy theorists is they say, well, how could an actor, a son of a glover from Stratford-upon-Avon, possibly have known about the ways of royal courts? Well, of course he knew about it because the actors played at court. They got the inside knowledge. A far better question would be, how would an aristocrat know about the ways of ordinary working people? How could an aristocrat have created the part of Bottom the weaver in Midsummer Night’s Dream? Or indeed, in Henry V, the parts of the common soldiers?
Skip to 4 minutes and 31 seconds Well, what about the soldiers, then, actually leads me on to my next question. How would the soldiers have been portrayed on stage? Would they have had weapons on stage with them? Would they have worn armour? Yeah, the business about weapons is where there was actually duelling on stage - I mean, the famous duel between Hamlet and Laertes, the climax of Hamlet, is the great example - there they would have used real fencing equipment. And we do know there were connections between the theatre and a very famous fencing school in London. But where you have a kind of mass battle scene, they would actually have had wooden or lath and plaster, fake weapons.
Skip to 5 minutes and 15 seconds They wouldn’t have risked having a large array of real weapons. And some, again, eagle eyed learners will have noticed the absence of longbows in this one. Yeah, it is a bit of a puzzle, isn’t it? Because the English longbow was famously, in the histories, one of the great reasons, perhaps the great reason for their success of the Battle of Agincourt. And in the Laurence Olivier film, you have that sort of wonderful scene where all the longbows are whooshing through the air. But actually, the text never mentions the longbows. Shakespeare could perfectly well have had a character among his soldiers of a longbowmen. Why didn’t he do it? I just wish I knew the answer to this question.
Skip to 6 minutes and 3 seconds I mean, one possibility, of course, would be if you’re going to have a longbow, then probably you’re going to want to shoot it off. And if you’re going to shoot it off, then there’s a risk of hurting someone. There was an incident in Christopher Marlowe’s play Tamburlaine where something went wrong in a shooting scene with an arrow, and somebody got killed. And it could be that the Elizabethan equivalent of the Health and Safety Executive came along and said, no more, no more longbows.
Skip to 6 minutes and 45 seconds We’ve touched on Holinshed this week, and that’s going to come up again and again throughout the rest of the course. What about the historical accuracy of Shakespeare’s plays? Yeah. It’s a good question, because the Tudor period really is the time where chronicle histories are being written extensively, and where there begins to be a genuine concern for historical accuracy. You get historians comparing different sources. Holinshed remember, was an editor as much as a writer. Holinshed’s Chronicles gather together lots of different sources. So there’s a real interest in historical accuracy beginning to emerge at the time. Shakespeare, of course, though, is a dramatist.
Skip to 7 minutes and 35 seconds Yes, it was Shakespeare’s plays that sort of put the history of mediaeval England into the public consciousness and made it available to those who either couldn’t read or couldn’t afford to buy the big hefty folios of Holinshed’s Chronicles. But frequently, Shakespeare will make changes in order to make events more dramatic. You know, compressed time. I mean, there’s a good example, actually. One of the things about Henry V is Henry V, the great heroic, exemplary monarch. But we get the memory in the play of how when he was a young man as Prince Hal, he spent his time in riotous youth in taverns in Eastcheap, befriending Sir John Falstaff and Bardolph and people like that.
Skip to 8 minutes and 29 seconds And he was a great disappointment to his father, which is why there’s such a strong sense of transformation once he becomes the heroic warrior king. In the Henry IV plays, which Shakespeare wrote before Henry V, King Harry, Prince Harry as he then was, is contrasted with the figure of Harry Hotspur, the son one of the rebels who’s fought against King Henry IV. And Shakespeare, in the Henry IV Part 1, makes much of this parallelism between the two Harrys. If you actually look at the Chronicles and the true history, you see that they were of different generations. They weren’t the same age.
Skip to 9 minutes and 9 seconds But in order to achieve his dramatic effect, he makes Prince Harry and Harry Hotspur the same age, and sort of almost imagines them as kind of twins. And that’s, I think, a really good example of the alteration of history for dramatic effect. And Holinshed is a good example of Shakespeare continuing to read and learn throughout his life, which you touched on the authorship stuff earlier. What other evidence is there in the plays of Shakespeare’s continued learning? Well, there is exactly the evidence of his continued use of a great variety of sources, including new books.
Skip to 9 minutes and 49 seconds So for example, in 1603, the essays of the great French thinker, Michel de Montaigne, appeared in an English translation, translated actually by the Anglo-Italian John Florio, who had very interesting connections with Shakespeare via the Earl of Southampton. And then we discover from 1604, 1605 onwards, and particularly in plays like King Lear and The Tempest, Shakespeare using words and phrases and ideas and even whole passages that he’s lifted from this translation of Montaigne that was published in 1603. So that’s very good evidence of his continuing to read. Great. Well next week’s Merchant of Venice. Some big themes in that one for people to look at. Yeah. Yeah.
Skip to 10 minutes and 41 seconds I mean, obviously Merchant of Venice has to carry a sort of health warning in that the representation of Shylock the Jew, there’s a tricky history associated with the character of Shylock, as there is with all aspects of anti-semitism down the centuries. But we’ll be looking very carefully at the character of Shylock. And I particularly encourage readers to read closely those few scenes in which Shylock actually appears. Because although he’s the most memorable character in the play, it’s only about four scenes that he’s in. And I think what we’ll discover is that Shakespeare’s actually asking questions about some of the stereotypes in the representation of Jew and Christian in the play.
Skip to 11 minutes and 31 seconds But the other dimension of the play we particularly want to focus on is the interest in money and trade. You know, the Merchant of Venice, Shylock isn’t actually the merchant. But it’s an opportunity for us to look at issues around money, commerce, business, finance, coinage, all that sort of thing in Shakespeare’s time. And we’ve got a good few filmed versions to choose from. Yeah, indeed. It’s been filmed a number of times. I particularly like the film version by the director Michael Radford that has Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons in it. I think that’s a very fine film. So we look forward… Highly recommend it. Yeah. And we look forward to next week. Thank you.
Week 4 summary
In this summary video, we bring together some of the themes and ideas from Week 4 of Shakespeare and His World.