Friday, April 2, 2010

Shakesblogging: Henry VI, Part 1

I must admit that I found it hard to come up with stuff to say about this play, even though I wrote large chunks of my master’s thesis about it. I think it’s essential for setting up the rest of the tetralogy, so I didn’t want to skip it, but it doesn’t grab me as much as the three sequels, in large part because Talbot just doesn’t interest me all that much. That said:

What I love about this play Evil Joan of Arc! Kicking ass and taking names! Yes, she is the villian – and either a cynical manipulator or totally deluded, or possibly both – but she’s strangely compelling. Also, she feeds fiends with her own blood (for this version of Joan is basically a witch), and there’s this gloriously creepy scene when they abandon her and refuse to do her bidding. In desperation, she offers one of her limbs, her body, and finally her soul in exchange for one last French victory. The stage directions tell a grim story in a few words: They walk and speak not ... They hang their heads ... They shake their heads ... They depart.

Immediately after this moment, we also meet Margaret of Anjou, Joan’s spiritual successor. As yet, she’s a minor character and a wide-eyed young pawn in the men’s political games, but there are a few hints of the formidable figure she will become: “To be a queen in bondage is more vile / Than is a slave in base servility.” The ambitious Suffolk falls in love with Margaret and, weirdly, determines to marry her off to the king and seduce the king through her: “Solicit Henry with her wondrous praise ... That when thou comest to kneel at Henry’s feet / Thou mayst bereave him of his wits with wonder.” The play closes with Suffolk’s final, ominous lines: “Margaret shall now be queen and rule the king; / But I will rule both her, the king, and realm.”

On a somewhat random note, I also like the awesomely assonant line: “Why ring not out the bells aloud throughout the town?”

Favorite memory: Um. Finally getting done with my MA thesis?


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

MMMmmm... I love the history plays. All of them. In 2002, I saw a conflated version of the Henvy VI plays in Stratford, Ontario, (three plays became two) and I thought they played pretty well. I do love the second tetralogy, though, much more. (Who doesn't?)

What was your MA thesis on?

Fretful Porpentine said...

I saw that production, too! It's getting a mention in the next post!

My thesis was about courtship and seduction in the first tetralogy and how they function as a kind of back-door route to power, especially for the women, but also for people like Suffolk and Richard of Gloucester.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

How funny that we saw the same plays! We went to the Stratford Festival the previous year, too, for our honeymoon. Hubby was a champ! We saw Henry IV, Part 1, and Henry V, as well as five other plays. It was great. I've never seen so much theater at once in my life. I wish we had the money and time to go back. I'm much closer to the Oregon Shakespeare fest in Ashland, but haven't been able to make it. Same reasons. Bah!