Year of Shakespeare: Henry VHistoryYear of Shakespeare

  • Abigail Rokison

This post is part of Year of Shakespeare, a project documenting the World Shakespeare Festival, the greatest celebration of Shakespeare the world has ever seen.


Henry V, Shakespeare’s Globe, Dir. Dominic Dromgoole, 8 June 2012 at The Globe, London

By Abigail Rokison-Woodall, University of Cambridge

At the end of the Globe Theatre’s ‘English’ offering, Henry V, I am left with more questions than coherent thoughts on the production. Firstly, one wonders, is this production really the finale of the Globe to Globe Festival or is it simply the start of the Globe’s new season?  If it is the former, as the pre-show announcement on Friday 8th June suggested, then it is hard to see why the production has not been subject to any of the restrictions imposed upon the other thirty six productions – a running time of no more than two and a quarter hours and no discernible ‘set’; Dromgoole’s Henry V is over three hours in length and the acting space is dominated by a scaffold that joins the stage and balcony.  The answer may well be because the production is in fact conceived as part of the Globe’s summer season, rather than as part of the Festival.  Indeed, it has a continuity with the Globe’s 2010 season in which Jamie Parker (now Henry V) played Hal in Henry IV parts 1 and 2, and with next season which will include the Henry VI plays.

The other major question lies over the choice of play.  Henry V has often been seen as Shakespeare’s most nationalistic play, and this production does little to contradict this reading, even omitting the final epilogue that undermines the apparently triumphant ending. The non-English characters are held up for ridicule – Welsh Fluellen is (albeit rather charmingly) eccentric, Scottish Captain Jamy is deliberately impossible to understand and Alice’s English pronunciation is hyperbolically absurd.  The audience, many of whom may have spent the past few weeks celebrating Shakespeare spoken in other dialects, is now encouraged to laugh at the accents of these latter two characters.  When Henry V is advertised and announced as the ‘English’ production it is unclear whether this refers to the language or the country.

Having raised these questions and concerns, however, I would add that despite the production being rather slow (largely the fault of a few actors who draw out every word) there are some engaging performances, not least from Jamie Parker in the title role.  Parker succeeded in tempering the sense of nationalistic fervor by admitting a degree of uncertainty and humanity to his King, qualities no doubt derived from having played Hal.  He is clearly nervous at the start of Act 1 scene 2 where he is seen practicing how to present himself in front of the court and when he hears of Bardolph’s execution stumbles over his assertion ‘We would have all such offenders so cut off’, before regaining his composure, clearly distressed at the death of his former friend. The production also contains some of the best trademark elements of the Globe’s in house productions – the actors’ ability to involve the audience, casting them as soldiers and citizens, using them as an extension of a character’s conscience and singling out individual groundlings to comic effect; musicians playing early modern instruments; and the use of the yard to create a sense of all encompassing action.

It is true that it might have been difficult to have given Henry V to any other country to perform at the Festival, but there is a danger that this production feels like an extension of the sort of patriotic fervor which has been abundantly evident in England this year with the Queen’s Jubilee flotilla sailing past the Globe less than a week before this production opened. All in all it is an intelligent, clear reading of the play but the Globe has opted for a traditional (albeit not original practices) production, which differs little from its customary fare.

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Abigail Rokison

Author: Abigail Rokison

Abigail began her career as a professional actor, training at LAMDA, and was a lecturer in Drama and English in the Education Faculty in Cambridge and Director of Studies in English and Drama at Homerton College, Cambridge. She is now Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies and Fellow of the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham. She is the author of Shakespearean Verse Speaking (Cambridge University Press) and Shakespeare for Young People (Continuum).