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Life at the Globe

Life at the Globe

25 May 2019

9:00 AM

25 May 2019

9:00 AM

IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE PRINCIPAL PARTNERS OF SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE’S 2019 SUMMER SEASON
Merian Global Investors
 
‘Small Latin and less Greek’ was Ben Jonson’s verdict on Shakespeare the linguist. But as Henry V (the latest play in the Globe’s Merian-sponsored summer season) shows, he knew a bit of French, too. As well as all that blood-and-thunder stuff on the battlefield, the play contains — in Act Three, Scene Four — the only scene wholly in French anywhere in the plays; as well as his dirtiest joke.

Princess Katharine, offered in marriage to King Harry to appease him after the Dauphin’s consignment of tennis balls failed to amuse, is learning English with her lady’s maid Alice. She’s a quickish student (‘Je pense que je suis le bon écolier’) and has soon mastered the English from shoulder to fingertip: ‘de hand, de fingres, de nails, de arma, de bilbow.’


Alice, knowing which side her pain is beurré, tells her that she speaks it like a native: ‘Sauf votre honneur, en vérité, vous prononcez les mots aussi droit que les natifs d’Angleterree.’ But when Katharine asks about the English for ‘pied’ and ‘robe’, she’s scandalised. ‘De foot’ and ‘de coun’ sound in French like the obscenities we call the F-word and the C-word.

It doesn’t prevent her from saying them three times. And if Shakespeare was playing for bawdy laughs to an English crowd, that suggests it’s not just the playwright who will have known enough French to appreciate a smutty gag.

As you’ll remember the play reaches its climax on the bloody field of Agincourt – but its final act shows a medieval entente cordiale reached not through blood but marriage, as Henry woos Katharine in the French palace. His French is no better than her English, and their exchange is sweetly macaronic: a welcome lightening after the stern drama of the previous act. ‘Your majestee ave fausse French enough to deceive de most sage demoiselle dat is en France,’ says Katharine. But, assured he’s a friend to France (‘I love France so well that I will not part with a village of it,’ he says archly) she assents to marry him.

Of course, as the closing Chorus crisply reminds us, Henry’s triumph all fell apart one generation on. Plus ça change
 
IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE PRINCIPAL PARTNERS OF SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE’S 2019 SUMMER SEASON
Merian Global Investors


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