Thursday, May 29, 2014

Henry at Agincourt

Henry V

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre 
directed by Christopher Luscombe

Yesterday I attended the Chicago Shakespeare Theater production of Henry V by William Shakespeare.  This is one of Shakespeare's more popular plays with brilliant and subtle moments although it falls short of the excellence of the drama in the two parts of Henry IV that preceded it.  
Shakespeare based his play upon current historical information about the man who was King of England and France almost two centuries earlier.  The play focuses on the events leading up to and including the battle of Agincourt in which the English under Henry decisively defeated the French under the Duke of Burgundy.  The result was the marriage of Henry to Katherine, the daughter of Charles VI, the King of France.
The play is notable for the inspiring speech of Henry before the final battle that concludes with the famous lines:

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day." (Act IV, Scene iii)

The play notes the death of Falstaff and his absence leaves a hole that the comic relief of Bardolph, Pistol, and Nim cannot completely fill.  The production I saw portrayed the battle scenes with an over-the-top level of bombast that nearly blew us out of our seats (we held on dearly for from our vantage in the third level we would have had a long fall to the floor below).  The best parts of the play for me, and my friends, were the scenes in the second half of the play.  The scene where Henry borrows a cloak and goes among the common soldiers, disguised, the night before the Battle of Agincourt was especially effective. Though Henry, as played by Harry Judge, was impressive in Henry's speeches and as leader of the English nobles.  The combination of a good cast and production made this an excellent production to end the season at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.


Brian Joseph said...

As I had to do a major project on this one for Shakespeare class that I took many years ago it is one of my favorites.

The absolute brilliant thing about that speech you posted, is that it can read as a rousing and emotional exhortation, it really works so well. Yet perhaps it can also be read as the words of a crafty leader who is really good at getting others to die for him in order to advance his own interests.

James said...


Yes that is so true of Henry's famous speech and some of his other scenes provide further basis for the "crafty leader" interpretation.