This play (and this episode) is squarely centered on the concept of revenge. Most of the players are less motivated by which monarch they feel is truly ordained by God, and more by getting vengeance for any deceased or disgraced relatives who are collateral in the Wars of Roses. Getting even at any cost is upheld as the marker of honor. Any time Henry does the opposite and refuses to act out against his enemies, his supporters and family rebuff him. Retaliation doesn’t lead to anything good in this play, only death and civil war. It’s hard to feel righteous about fighting back if your head is displayed on a pike, you know? Our own acts of retribution for the hurts and wrongs we have suffered tend to be less extreme today (less vigilante king-crowning and murdering), but I wonder if they really do make us feel any better. When is it best to blaze up in righteous indignation, and when is it best to attempt to forgive and forget?Read More
Why yes, this is my first (only?) combo post! Two for the price of one and all that.
The Hollow Crown: Wars of the Roses has finally come States-side! PBS aired the first part just before Christmas, which was a mash-up of the first two Henry VI plays. I’ve spent the past weeks reading both plays so I can jump into the mini-series head on. Big hello and how-ya-doing to all my UK pals (and any North American friends with workarounds for streaming the BBC) who saw this over the summer and have practically forgotten all about it by now!
I wasn’t taken with the themes of the Henry VI plays as much as the process of slimming them down for performance. I wondered a lot about what makes history, about facts versus perspective and what parts we decide to remember rather than leave behind. After a year that had the world reeling, it made me consider how I want to treat the history of my 2016.Read More
My choices in what to read are slowly but surely becoming more limited as I am now on my 26th play for this project! I haven’t dabbled too much in Shakespeare’s collaborative efforts, so it felt time to take a peak at a shared work. And I have to say, I was thoroughly unimpressed. The problem with this play is that it lacks any cohesive tone or theme that follows the entire story. The characters don’t have full arcs where the audience witnesses downfall or redemption. I tried my best to separate my knowledge of these historical figures and to just appreciate them as characters within a single story. Unfortunately, this play allows for very little complexity, layering, or humanity in these characters, aside from maybe Katherine. Of this play, I found myself asking, “What is the point of you, Craig?”
Seriously. What is this play even trying to say? It can’t decide what kind of story it is. It's a history play about a narcisstic and volatile king who hardly has a strong political message beside following his whims. It feels exactly as frustrating as the current US presidental election, with particular emphasis on a certain candidate.Read More
True story – my kids adore Disney’s Robin Hood. They like to play their own warped version of it, in which I always have to play the part of King John. They basically run around the park and squeal about how they refuse to pay their taxes while I pretend to throw a fit and suck my thumb (while giving the world’s worst Peter Ustinov impression). Most parents probably think I’m raising my kids to be some version of Libertarian. Anyway, some of my online Shakespeare buddies really enjoy this show, so it was time to check it out. And turns out, I really did as well. But not for the sniveling king as much as the illegitimate nephew who keeps trying to advise him. In this modern world, we should all take a page from the Bastard's book.Read More
Why This Play?:
I’m all backwards and upside-down when it comes to my reading of the history plays. I’ve been saving the first tetralogy for closer to time when the second round of The Hollow Crown comes out later this year…except I kicked off the entire canon-reading project with Richard III. I dove into the second tetralogy instead…except I skipped Richard II in favor of the Henry plays. Admittedly, I studied Richard II in college and found it boring and confusing (not so this time around). I hoped by starting with the funnier, more action-filled Henry IV Part 1, that I would somehow care for some of the characters (i.e. Bolingbroke/Henry IV) and consequences of Richard II before I dove back into the play. Or something. I don’t know, it all made sense in my head last fall when I started reading them all out of order.
Upon reading Richard II, I had the weirdest sense of déjà vu. A single person’s face kept emerging in my mind’s eye whenever I read Richard’s lines. I’m a stay-at-home mama now, but I have an eleven-year career behind me. I was very lucky in that time to have several amazing, supportive mentors and managers. Except one. And I’ll be damned if Richard II doesn’t spot-on remind me of the worst boss I ever had. Is it wrong that I find myself siding with Bolingbroke in this play?Read More
Why This Play?:
Well, we just passed the 600th anniversary of the Battle at Agincourt (Oct 25)! Plus, my Shakespeare class covered this play two weeks ago, and I’m slowly catching up. Plus-plus, it’s nice to fully round off the tale of Prince Hal's transformation to King Harry. The professor leading my online class did a marvelous job of giving a good background on the Tudor history at the time the play was actually written, comparing the character of Henry V and the reality of then monarch, Elizabeth I, as well as paralleling the battles in France with the coming of the Spanish Armada. Two stirring orators, two beloved English figures who had a myth about them even during their lifetime, two lonely leaders who make hard decisions for their nation.
The thing that struck me most about the play is that it emphasizes just how lonely it can be at the top. Everyone doubts leaders at some point – especially themselves. How can the one in charge trust that he will lead others down the correct path?Read More
Why This Play?:
Mostly, it was just time for another history play. I know I’ve been going at these plays in no real order thus far…and that’s probably going to continue. There are sure to be 0.43 readers out there who are rolling their eyes that I didn’t do Richard II prior to this play. I don’t really have any defense – my week’s selection is either based around available performances (ahem, my Netflix queue) or mere whim. While I know the basics of the War of Roses that make up 8 of the history plays, I’m also trying to write posts that would help make sense of it for someone new to the plays who had zero background knowledge (hi, Hubs!!). I promise in the case of true sequels (i.e. the Henry plays), I will not read them out of order. Probably, maybe.
Certainly the first part of Henry IV is a play about growing up. There’s Hal, messing around and acting the fool, mentored by the ultimate drunken Peter Pan. Even at the beginning of the play, Hal admits to himself that this time has to be short lived. He knows that he will eventually take up his royal obligation, and he even states of his time in the tavern: “If all the year were playing holidays,/To sport would be as tedious as to work” (I.ii.201-202). And good Lord, doesn’t every one of us know that from experience?Read More
**Side note: Bear with me, y’all. I got really excited and just kept writing. Doubt that future posts will all be this long.**
Why This Play?:
I had never read nor seen this one, which is strange because it’s so freaking famous. I have a mental block over most of the history plays, somehow thinking that if I don’t know enough about the War of the Roses then I’m not going to have any idea what’s happening. [All you really need to know about it for now – two families, Lancaster and York, spent decades trading the crown back and forth and killing each other to do so.] Tudor history I’ve got down, but the generations leading up to that? Not so much.Read More