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Life at the Globe

Life at the Globe: good golly, Henry V has some thumping lines

‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more/ Or close the wall up with our English dead…’

11 May 2019

9:00 AM

11 May 2019

9:00 AM

IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE PRINCIPAL PARTNERS OF SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE’S 2019 SUMMER SEASON
Merian Global Investors

‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more/ Or close the wall up with our English dead…’ Good golly, Henry V has some thumping lines, doesn’t it? The final play in this summer’s Henriad at the Globe — partnered with Merian — shows us Prince Hal fledged as a king, and a war leader at that. The subjunctive mood of the previous plays has become indicative; even imperative. And it’s a play where British (OK, in this case English) identity comes galloping back to the fore as it has not done since John of Gaunt popped his clogs in Richard II. Our concern is no longer civil strife but foreign wars.

It’s no accident that the play has, historically, had propaganda value. The iconic screen version is Laurence Olivier’s — which came out in 1944, and in which the St Crispin’s Day speech (Agincourt) and ‘Once more’ (Harfleur) were given special poignancy and oomph with real British troops then fighting and dying in France.


It’s a tribute to the quality of Kenneth Branagh’s grittier 1989 version that it competes with Olivier’s. Perhaps the standout moment is the seemingly endless tracking shot in which Branagh, bloodied and forlorn in victory, carries the dead body of a boy across the blasted battlefield to the sound of the Non nobis.

Here’s a caution to the idea that the only way to read Henry V is as a full-throated piece of martial triumphalism. And there’s warrant in the text for that dead boy. In Act IV Scene 7, Gower and Fluellen find that French deserters have slaughtered the camp-followers: ‘Tis certain there’s not a boy left alive; and the cowardly rascals that ran from the battle ha’ done this slaughter.’

Incidentally, it’s traditionally suggested — though not established — that the play was the first to have been performed in the new Globe Theatre in 1599. So visitors to this production can enjoy a frisson when the Prologue wonders: ‘May we cram/ Within this wooden O the very casques/ That did affright the air at Agincourt?’ That ‘wooden O’? You’re sitting in it. Enjoy.

IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE PRINCIPAL PARTNERS OF SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE’S 2019 SUMMER SEASON
Merian Global Investors


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