Now to the culmination of the Herniadic cycle – once more into the breach of The Hollow Crown‘s own peculiar mark on the Shakespearean cannon.
One of the things I really appreciated about The Hollow Crown series (as I’ve indicated in my previous reflections), is that each part of the series clearly brings out its own vision of each play. There is no blandness; you may not like all of the choices but this is no lukewarm, safe production. Yet despite this, there is a shared vision between the episodes (with only Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 sharing director/screenwriters) which plays out nicely in Henry V. It is a subtler, more nuanced Henry than Kenneth Branagh’s which, in turn, is slightly less patriotic than Lawrence Olivier’s version. Each has it place; each contributes to our understanding of Shakespeare, as does this most recent addition.
I love the way the stage is set, showing Henry V out on a joyous ride as a way to let out his joyous energy without devolving back into his earlier decadent ways. Almost as a schoolboy, he runs in from his ride, pops on the crown and enters into serious matters of state and potential war with France. He retains his humanity while he takes up the mantle of kingship.
A great example of this nuanced and subtler approach is in the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech. A number of folks seem disappointed this was not like the rousing version Branagh did. It was to the captains, not the whole army and it was a more quite and intimate speech.
If you watch the series and the development of the character of King Henry V, this made perfect sense. This is not a speech to pump up the men, but rather to put steel into the spine of his leaders. The battle will be no halfhearted push with ransom in waiting if they fail; this is a day when all is on the line. This is a day for commitment. He does not speak with furor, but rather with a quieter force and conviction. He is not some mealymouthed anti-hero reluctant to do what is required. The stage was set for this speech in back in Henry IV and, later, as Montjoy gave him an offer of ransom:
Thou dost thy office fairly. Turn thee back. And tell thy king I do not seek him now; But could be willing to march on to Calais Without impeachment: for, to say the sooth, Though ’tis no wisdom to confess so much Unto an enemy of craft and vantage, My people are with sickness much enfeebled, My numbers lessened, and those few I have Almost no better than so many French; Who when they were in health, I tell thee, herald, I thought upon one pair of English legs Did march three Frenchmen. Yet, forgive me, God, That I do brag thus! This your air of France Hath blown that vice in me: I must repent. Go therefore, tell thy master here I am; My ransom is this frail and worthless trunk, My army but a weak and sickly guard; Yet, God before, tell him we will come on,
Shakespeare, William (2011-09-07). The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Kindle Locations 49697-49712). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.
So he makes clear he does not seek combat in his current weakened state, but he is ready to meet it. He is even ready to boast against the French but then apologizes for the boast. So he knows his limits and he sympathizes with his men (as is evident as he goes around the camp disguised). He will not bluster but he will also not be deterred. This is the man, without presumption, who will not wish for one more man upon the field, so that he may not share the honor:
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold, Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost; It yearns me not if men my garments wear; Such outward things dwell not in my desires: But if it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive. No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England: God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour As one man more, methinks, would share from me For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Shakespeare, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Kindle Locations 50291-50299).
So while the St. Crispin’s Day speech wasn’t the speech I expected, it was the right one for The Hollow Crown. We already have Branagh & Olivier (and we love them). If there’s nothing new to bring to the table, why make the series? No, this subtler, more understanding Henry V is still, nonetheless, a lion. He will brook no opposition, but will go to war.
He will also quietly, but with tenacity, woo Katharine.
Note the crown-less head. I love that he lets go the crown so easily, yet takes it up again just as easily. We still see the man underneath the crown. He doesn’t cling to it (unlike his father) because it is his. He does not have the usurper’s need to look over the shoulder and grip the crown.
So I celebrate The Hollow Crown and its achievement of a clear vision for the Henriadic plays with such a stellar cast that is so much deeper than Whishaw, Irons and Hiddleston. These are actors who were part of true ensemble directed by men and a woman of vision who knit together a compelling story. Cheers to The Hollow Crown.